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As North America’s only marsupial, opossums stand out in the realm of wildlife for their distinctive appearance and behaviors. Active predominantly at night and known for their “playing dead” defense mechanism, these creatures are often misunderstood and unfairly maligned. In this guide, we’ll cover important details about opossums, from their identification to their habitat, diet, and even methods for their prevention and control.


Opossums, generally medium-sized marsupials, boast a range of distinguishing features. They usually have a body comparable to the size of a domestic cat, weighing between 4 to 12 pounds. Their fur is predominantly coarse and grayish-white, though some variations might carry hints of black or brown. A pointed snout houses 50 teeth, a record number for any North American mammal. Their ears are black, hairless, and significantly larger than their heads. Their most notable feature is their long, hairless tail, which is prehensile and frequently used for gripping branches and maintaining balance. The “thumbs” on their rear feet, opposable in nature, are another standout feature, aiding them in various activities.

Common Opossums Species

Linnaeus's Mouse Opossum

Named after Carl Linnaeus, this small opossum species mainly resides in the tropical forests of Central and South America. Recognized for its delicate size and long tail, Linnaeus's Mouse Opossum is primarily nocturnal and spends most of its time up in the trees hunting for insects and small fruits.

Robinson's Mouse Opossum

Native to Central America, especially in Panama, the Robinson's Mouse Opossum is another small species. With a dark dorsal stripe and a pale underbelly, they are nocturnal tree-dwellers, often in search of insects, fruits, and even small vertebrates.

Gray-bellied Slender Mouse Opossum

This species, predominantly found in Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru, stands out due to its slender build and grayish belly. Mostly dwelling in subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, their diet is insect-centric, supplemented occasionally with fruits.

Slaty Slender Mouse Opossum

Inhabiting areas like Colombia and Ecuador, the Slaty Slender Mouse Opossum is known for its dark, almost slate-colored fur. Preferring montane forests, this species predominantly feeds on insects.

Brown Four-eyed Opossum

Distinguished by the appearance of 'four eyes' due to white spots above their eyes, the Brown Four-eyed Opossum is found extensively across South America. They are ground dwellers with varied diets, including plant materials and small animals.

Alston's Woolly Mouse Opossum

This species is renowned for its soft, woolly fur, contrasting sharply with other opossum species. Native to Central and South America, Alston's Woolly Mouse Opossum is predominantly arboreal, with a diet rich in fruits and insects.

Sepia Short-tailed Opossum

This opossum species is quite distinctive with its short tail and sepia-toned fur. Native to South America, particularly Argentina, they are nocturnal and prefer grasslands. Their diet leans heavily on insects.

Gray Four-eyed Opossum

Similar to its brown counterpart but with a grayish hue, the Gray Four-eyed Opossum carries the characteristic white spots above the eyes, giving an illusion of four eyes. Inhabiting areas across Central and South America, this species has a diverse diet ranging from fruits and plants to small invertebrates.

Grayish Mouse Opossum

As the name suggests, this opossum has a grayish tint to its fur. Predominantly found in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, the Grayish Mouse Opossum thrives in subtropical or tropical dry forests. It’s largely insectivorous but doesn't shy away from indulging in fruits.



Opossums are opportunistic feeders, meaning they’ll eat various foods based on availability.

  • Natural Diet: Includes insects, snails, small rodents, eggs, fruits, plants, and grains.
  • Urban Settings: They might rummage through garbage cans or eat pet food left outdoors in urban areas.
  • Carrion: They’re known to consume dead animals, earning them the title of “nature’s cleanup crew.”


Opossums are highly adaptable and can thrive in various environments, though they prefer places with water sources nearby.

  • Natural Settings: They like wooded areas, especially near streams or wetlands.
  • Urban & Suburban Areas: Opossums have become common in these settings due to their adaptability. They might live under decks, in attics, or garages.
  • Shelters: They create dens in hollow logs, tree cavities, or burrows made by other animals.

How to eliminate Opossums

If opossums become a consistent problem, consider the following control methods:

  • Trapping: Use live traps baited with fruit or cat food. Once trapped, they should be released at least 5 miles away from your property.
  • Repellents: Various commercial repellents might deter opossums, but their efficacy varies.
  • Professional Help: If an opossum becomes a persistent issue or if you feel uncomfortable handling the situation, it might be time to consult a professional wildlife control company.


Are opossums and possums the same?

While both are marsupials, opossums are native to North America, whereas possums are native to Australia. The names are often used interchangeably, but they refer to different species.

Do opossums carry rabies?

Opossums are less likely to carry rabies compared to other wild mammals. Their body temperature is slightly lower than most placental mammals, making it difficult for the rabies virus to survive.

Why do opossums 'play dead'?

It's a defense mechanism called "playing possum" or "tonic immobility." Opossums might collapse and remain limp when threatened, deterring predators who prefer live prey.

Are opossums beneficial for my garden?

Yes, they are often called "nature's clean-up crew." Opossums eat pests like beetles, slugs, and even small rodents, making them beneficial for gardens.

Do opossums hang from trees using their tails?

While opossums have prehensile tails, which they use for balance and to carry nesting materials, they don't usually hang from trees by them for extended periods. The myth likely stems from seeing them use their tail briefly for such purposes.

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