What is the difference between a possum and an opossum?
Some believe that possums and opossums are both the same animal.
This is quite incorrect, however.
The "possum" of North America is just a shorter name for an opossum, but true possums are different from opossums, and not related at all, except by virtue of both animals being marsupials.
- Possums belong to the order Diprotodontia and the suborder
Phalangeriformes, while opossums belong to the order
Didelphimorphia and the family Didelphidae.
- Opossums are found only in North America, although there is a "water possum", also known as the yapok, which is found in central and South America.
- True possums are found in New Guinea, Australia (including Tasmania), Sulawesi (Indonesia) and a few other small islands in the Pacific region. Although not native to New Zealand, the brush-tailed possum was introduced into that country over a century ago and has subsequently become a pest.
- The North American Opossum has a bare tail. All varieties of Australian possums have furry tails.
- There are many varieties of possums in Australia (and New Guinea), including Gliders and the Cuscus. There are more limited species of the opossum.
- Captain Cook's botanist, Sir Joseph Banks, named the Australian animal "Possum", referring to it as "an animal of the Opossum tribe" because he believed there was a physical resemblance.
- Opossums were named by Captain John Smith in 1612. He took the name from an Algonquian (North American Indian) word.