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When is a Possum Not an Opossum?

Other than both being marsupials, the Australian Brushtail Possum and the North American Opossum are very difference from each other.

They are not even the same species, genus, subfamily, family or order from a scientific classification perspective.

Australian Common Brushtail Possum: Trichosurus Vulpecula

NZ Brushtail Possum

  • Introduced to New Zealand from Australia, to establish a fur industry from 1837-1921. Unique to New Zealand and Australia.
  • Up to 90cm (35”) long (incl. tail) and up to 6kg (13.2lb) for a really fat one. The Brushtail Possum is one of the largest varieties of possum in the world.
  • Reddish brown, dark brown or grey with beige undercoat, very furry face and furry prehensile tail.
  • Fur is a medium length (5-10cm) plush type fur, with a dense warm cushioned undercoat. Fur is hollow and highly insulating.
  • A nocturnal marsupial. Traditionally Aboriginal people in Victoria and Tasmania sometimes used cloaks of possum skin to ward off cold winds and rain. The skins were sewn together to make a very effective garment.
  • Average natural lifespan 5-6 years.
  • Generally disliked in New Zealand because it is killing the native forests and impacting on native birds and wildlife. Considered a pest. Also a nuisance in urban areas. Has a horrible crackling growling territorial call at night. Protected in some states of its native Australia.


 Virginia North American Opossum: Didelphis Virginiana

USA Opossum

  • Native to the eastern United States but now spread through to western United States. Also in Central American. Original ancestors where most likely from South America.
  • Around 38-51cm (15-20") long (incl. tail) and 4-5kg (9-11lb)
  • Silver grey to grey black fur with white pointed face, pink nose, feet and bald prehensile tail.
  • Fur is coarse with long flat hairs. Not suitable for clothing or interior décor.
  • Solitary and nocturnal marsupial, when frightened and unable to flee may fall into an involuntary shock-like state that makes it appear dead, "playing possum", they often recover after a few hours and make a safe exit.
  • Average natural lifespan 2-4 years.
  • Generally disliked because it resembles a rat (but is not related to rats) and is ugly, can be a nuisance in urban areas getting into trash cans and nesting in roofs. Considered a pest. Can appear vicious if cornered but is not generally dangerous.

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