I had an email from a reader called Dottianne the other day, and she has rightly pointed out that the pictures of the possums over at my post called Strange Australian Back Garden Beastie Sound Explained are not, how can I break this to you, possums.
They are both “opossums”. Click the link above, check them out and then come back here and I’ll explain all.
What’s with the ‘O’?
Here’s the big surprise, well, for me anyway. The American possums are actually called opossums, scientific name, Didelphimorphia. But for some reason, they are more commonly referred to as possums, just like our native Australian species.
But our Australian possums are (scientific name) Phalangeridae. Both are marsupials, but that’s about it. Other than that, they are not really related at all. But I wasn’t the only one who was fooled by all this; there are still plenty of websites out there that claim possums and opossums are the same. They are not.
It seems that all the confusion was started by Capt Cook’s botanist, Sir Joseph Banks, who named the Australian animal a possum because it “looked like” the American opossum. Luckily, he didn’t travel north, otherwise our crocodiles would be called alligators.
The big difference though, for me, and you will not find this information in too many encyclopaedias or wildlife books, is that the American possum has pointy teeth and looks scary and the Australian possum is a real cutie. First, check out the two opossums on my previous post if you haven’t already, see above.
Now checkout my Australian Possum Parade, assembled following a raid over at flickr……Image above courtesy of andyroo64 Image above courtesy of Bedwetting in Australia Image above courtesy of ekai Image above courtesy of johnvw Image above courtesy of photolaps\ Image above courtesy of small Image above courtesy of wiccked Image above courtesy of wollombi
I still have my possum living somewhere in the garden. I hear him a lot, I see his pooh pooh a lot, but I very rarely see him. He is very reclusive. I’ve only ever seen him once and you can read about that experience in the same blog post that has the pictures of the American opossums.
Shame, I’d have liked to get to know him.
Oh, and just in case you didn’t check it out, here’s an American opossum…
Image Courtesy of AndrewKantor
Update March 2016
I’ve just been informed by Sam in the comments below that American opossums play dead when threatened. Sam wondered if Australian possums do the same? No, they don’t, they make a sound, you can listen to it on the following post:
Whose possums are the cutest?
Update April 2016
Just added a video post you may also like: