Difference Between Opossum and Possum (With Table)

Mammals are divided into three groups namely placental, marsupials and monotremes. Amongst these, Opossum and Possum belong to the marsupials group. Marsupials are those mammals who carry their offspring in their pouch like kangaroo and wallaby. Possum and opossum originated from the word “aposoum.” It means “white animal” in a Native American language.

Opossum vs Possum

The basic difference between a possum to an opossum is solely that an opossum is confined to North America and South America, whereas the possums are a part of Australia, China, Indonesia and New Guinea. Possum are herbivores whereas opossum are omnivores and scavengers. Therefore, Possum are smaller in size than opossum.

Opossum are marsupials belonging to the didelphimorphia endemic order. They were born in the Southern part of America and became part of North America through the Great American Interchange scheme. Opossums have body structure ranging from as small as a rat to medium-sized like a cat. These nomadic marsupials prefer residing in one place until they have abundant supplies of water and food.

Possum, on the other hand, belongs to the Phalangeridae family under Diprotodontia order of nocturnal marsupials residing in Australia, New Guinea and Indonesia. Possum are relatively smaller than Opossum, and the smallest species being the Sulawesi dwarf cuscus which is only 34 cm. This arboreal species inhabits in forests such as alpine woodland, eucalyptus forest and tropical jungles.

Comparison Table Between Opossum and Possum

Parameters of ComparisonOpossumPossum
OrderDidelphimorphiaDiprotodontia
HabitatNorth America and South AmericaAustralia, New Guinea and Eastern Indonesia
TailBare tail with coarse furThick, furry and squirrel like tail.
SizeBigger than PossumSmaller than Opposum
Body structurePointed white face, black eyes and jagged teethRound body, large brown eyes and thick golden fur
Source of EnergyOpossum are omnivorous mammals and prefer meat and vegetation according to their species.Possum are herbivores and survive on plant material, eucalyptus leaves, herbs, shrubs and fruits.

Who are Opossum?

Opossums are medium-sized, semi-arboreal marsupials found in North America and South America. These creatures belong to the category having long pointy snouts , narrow braincases , and prominent sagittal crest. Their fur is coarse and made of awn hair. The female opossums carry their offspring in a pouch. The stomach is simple, with a small cecum made to digest meat and vegetation both.

The species are sexually dimorphic which means the males are slightly bigger, heavier, and having larger canines than females. The female opossum has a reproductive system that includes a vagina, uterus, and marsupium which is a pouch. Whilst, the male opposum has a forked penis with twin glandes.

The gestation period extends to 12-14 days. After this, the female gives birth to a litter of 20 baby opossum. She protects them in her pouch. Out of 20, hardly 10-13 manage to survive and leave the pouch within 70-125 days.

Opossum are nocturnal animals, hence, they prefer dark and secure areas below ground or above in burrows or holes. Opossums do not dig up their own burrows. Though they might sometimes occupy abandoned burrows. Opossums are generally found in areas like forest, shrub land, mangrove, rainforest, eucalyptus forest etc.

Who are Possum?

Possum are small, arboreal, herbivore marsupials found in Australia, China, New Guinea and Eastern Indonesia. These creatures prefer to live in the hollows of tall trees. They have a round body, beady brown eyes and thick golden fur.

The most interesting fact about possums is that the possums from tropical Australia appear to choose just one mating partner, called monogamy. Some take multiple mates, called polygamy. Others are monogamous. Interesting fact: Mountain brushtail possums change their mating partner depending on how much food is available with them in terms of plant material, herbs and shrubs.

Similar to any other marsupials, female possums give birth. Female possum have a gestation period of 17 days. Baby possums are as small as honeybees and are born dead and blind. These female possums are called “Jills.” Male possum are called “Jacks,” and young possum are called “Joey” just like young kangaroos. Unlike Opossums, Possums can survive up till 11 years.

Interestingly, possums have a different way of communication. They use guttural and harsh coughs and sometimes even sharp hisses. They can be quite noisy and scary.

Main Differences Between Opossum and Possum

  1. Opossum and Possum are both marsupials but they belong to different orders. Opossum belong to Didelphimorphia order, whereas Possum belong to the Diprotodontia order.
  2. Opossum are usually found in North America and South America. On the other hand, Possum are found in Australia, New Guinea and Eastern Indonesia.
  3. A defining characteristics difference between Opossum and Possum is that, Possum have thick, furry, golden and squirrel like tail. Whereas, Opossum have a bare tail with coarse fur.
  4. Opossums are bigger in size than possum.
  5. Opossums have a pointed white face, black eyes and jagged teeth. While the possums have a round body, large brown eyes and thick golden fur.
  6. Possums are herbivores and survive on plant material, whereas Opossum are omnivorous and survive on meat and vegetation.

Conclusion

Opossum and Possum are similar in their features and characteristics. Despite this they vary from each other and are two different types of marsupials. The possum has a longer life span of 11 years as compared to the opossum with a life span of 2 years. Possum are herbivores whilst the opossum are omnivorous.

Alongside this, both these marsupials have a common habit which is “Playing possum.”

“Playing possum” is an involuntary action by the possums in which if they are confronted by an threats or danger, they involuntary faint in shock pretending to be dead. They start limping and drooling and eventually they emit a faint odour of dead and decaying animals. They can remain fainted from anywhere between four minutes to 4 hours. This phrase is also used for someone who pretends to be asleep, ignorant or uninterested in a situation.

This protects the marsupials from threatening situation and it is often used as a defensive technique.

References

  1. https://meridian.allenpress.com/jwd/article-abstract/39/2/418/123221
  2. https://www.cabdirect.org/cabdirect/abstract/19550100979
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