Did you know possums and opossums are actually totally different species? If you’re Australian or Kiwi you might be aware, but I learned the other week that the rest of the world is not so familiar with this fact! The rest this all came to light is because for few days there, we went up to our garage every morning to find the boxes and brooms in disarray – and then there were footprints on the car’s windscreen – and then droppings. Oh yeah, and BLOOD, both on boxes and the car bonnet, because our resident pest was, of course, a female on heat. La. Initially we’d thought the footprints were cat; although we live in a cat-contained suburb*, we have been known to have a cat wander through our backyard every so often, and assumed one had just gone into the garage one night when we’d left it open and been getting warm and cozy on the car.
*Meaning cats are not allowed to wander free outside the house.
But! The footprints were not feline (which closer examination proved), and it turned out we had a possum. NOT an opossum, something that will become very important in a minute, because we don’t *have* opossums in Australia, but instead, a possum – in this case, a regular, common brush-tailed possum 🙂 We contemplated possum traps and such like, and then one morning we didn’t have to, because my husband went out to the garage to find this:
Int she cute?? 🙂 We cornered her easily because although she wasn’t terribly fond of us picking her up, she was comparatively placid for a wild animal, and boxed her up to relocate (carefully, because possums and territories etc etc), and that was that. I told Twitter, and the world exploded momentarily. WHAT IS THIS CUTE AND FURRY CREATURE? the world seemed to ask. IT IS LIKE A GIANT, SHINY SUGAR GLIDER.
Well, yeah, actually, because they’re both Australian marsupials. This is a REAL possum, I told Twitter, a MARSUPIAL, not like common American *O*possums.
Heh. Turns out American Opossums are marsupials too. Who knew? So, to celebrate the mutual learning that went on around this experience, here is a handy-dandy list I’ve compiled for you on the difference between possums and opossums:
POSSUMS: Cute and adorable, like fluffy, furry little kitties with big, round eyes and petal-pink noses.
OPOSSUMS: Look, I’m pretty fond of mammals generally, so let’s characterise its appearance as a cross between a rat and a hedgehog. My US friends tell me this is generous.
POSSUMS: Their pee is pungent, but not, like, puke-gaggingly so. The possums themselves don’t have a particular smell from my human perspective.
OPOSSUMS: The internet says “almost like a skunk”. I’ll just leave it at that, shall I?
POSSUMS: Bold, curious, hungry.
OPOSSUMS: Rabid, demonic.
POSSUMS: Trees, usually of the eucalypt varieties (not hard to find in Australia, let’s face it). Caravan parks. If you’re unlucky, your roof. Maybe even the roof of your caravan or tent in the middle of the night? Possies are territorial and have their own demarcated areas.
OPOSSUMS: Under your house. They burrow?! (Possums that burrow, what even is this.) But generally just *around*, wherever nocturnal creatures hang.
POSSUMS: Don’t leave fruit (especially, but most food really) out at night or they’ll raid it. Mating possums in your roof are noisy and the pee-stink makes it into the house (but to be fair nesting in house rooves is common enough that we have possum removalists, but not THAT common).
OPOSSUMS: My American friends tell me that they will destroy your garbage, your hands, your lives, your sooooooouls….. Though the internet is helpfully full of organisation protesting that they’re really actually not aggressive and they only hiss to scare you off and really they’re adorable little demons, so pwecious, aren’t vey, pwiddy widdle critcher…
To end, more possum pictures, proving the difference in temperament. These are from my honeymoon (eleven years ago, yipes!) and yes, my husband did get bitten, but only because the poor critcher mistook his thumb for a bit of pineapple. The possum was appropriately contrite 😉
(And for the sake of accuracy, did you know that most problems attributed to opossums are actually usually caused by other animals?)
(Also, although the phrase is ‘playing possum’, only opossums pretend to be dead. And of course, apparently they stink while doing so 😉 :D)