Possum and opossum are often confused due to their similar names and some shared traits. Here’s a breakdown of the key differences between these two marsupials:

Origin and Habitat:

  • Possum: These marsupials are native to Australia, New Guinea, and surrounding islands. There are several species of possums, including brushtail possums, sugar gliders, and spotted cuscuses.
  • Opossum: Opossums are native to North and South America. There is only one species of opossum, the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana), commonly referred to simply as “opossum.”


  • Possum: Possums come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Many species have bushy tails, while some, like sugar gliders, have gliding membranes. Their fur can be grey, brown, black, or even spotted.
  • Opossum: Opossums are generally larger than possums, with a pointed snout and coarse grey fur. They have a hairless, prehensile tail that they can use for grasping branches.


  • Possum: Possums are mostly omnivorous, feeding on leaves, fruits, insects, and even small animals.
  • Opossum: Opossums are also omnivorous, with a diet that includes fruits, insects, carrion, and small animals.

Playing Dead:

  • Possum: While some possum species may hiss or bare their teeth when threatened, playing dead (also known as thanatosis) is not a common behavior among Australian possums.
  • Opossum: Opossums are famous for their “playing dead” act when threatened. They will go limp, drool, and even emit a foul odor to deter predators.


  • Possum: Possums are more closely related to kangaroos and wallabies, which are also found in Australia.
  • Opossum: Opossums are not closely related to Australian possums. In fact, they are the only marsupial species native to North America.

In a nutshell:

  • Possums live in Australia and New Guinea, while opossums are from North and South America.
  • Possums have a wider variety of appearances, while opossums have a more uniform look.
  • Both are omnivores, but possums are less likely to play dead than opossums.
  • Possums are related to kangaroos, while opossums are the only marsupial native to North America.

So, the next time you encounter the term “possum,” consider the context to determine if it refers to the furry critters of Australia or the unique opossum of the Americas.