1. In North America, opossum and possum describe the same thing, but in Australia the word possum refers to a completely different animal. Among the most well known of their respective types are the Virginia opossum and the brushtail possum. Both are small to medium sized, omnivorous marsupials, but the similarities end there.
  2. Marsupials—mammals that carry and nurse their young in pouches—are absent from much of the world, and in Canada and the United States opossums are the sole representatives of the group. Like other marsupials, mother opossums give birth to tiny, underdeveloped offspring (called joeys) that immediately crawl into a pouch where they live and nurse during their first months of life.
  3. Perhaps the most famous characteristic of the opossum is its tendency to play dead in front of predators. When the animal experiences intense fear in the face of danger, it seizes up and flops to the ground where it can remain for hours staring blankly ahead and sticking out its tongue.
  4. A picture of a opossum playing dead doesn’t really do it justice. To get the full experience, you need to be standing over to it to smell the putrid odor it emits when pretending to be a corpse. The smelly substance it secretes from its anus is just one more reason for foxes and bobcats to look for their dinner elsewhere.
  5. Even if opossums aren’t the cutest creatures in the forest, they should be a welcome addition to your backyard. Unlike other mammals that carry ticks, and therefore spread Lyme Disease, opossums gobble up 90 percent of the ticks that attach to them. According to the National Wildlife Federation, a single opossum consumes 5000 of the parasites per tick season.
  6. Opossums have impressive memories—at least when it comes to food. Researchers found that opossums are better at remembering which runway led to a tasty treat than rats, cats, dogs, and pigs. They can also recall the smell of toxic substances up to a year after trying them.
  7. While most animals look at a snake and see danger, a opossum sees its next meal. The animals are immune to the venom of nearly every type of snake found in their native range, the one exception being the coral snake. Opossums take advantage of this adaptation by chowing down on snakes on a regular basis.
  8. Researchers have been trying to harvest opossums’ antivenom powers for decades. A few years ago, a team of scientists made progress on this front when they recreated a peptide found in opossums and and found that mice given the peptide and rattlesnake venom were successfully protected from the venom’s harmful effects.
  9. While opossums aren’t totally immune to rabies (a few cases have been documented), finding a specimen with the disease is extremely unlikely. Marsupials like opossums have a lower body temperature than the placental mammals that dominate North America—in other words, their bodies don’t provide a suitable environment for the virus.
  10. Opossums are one of a handful of animals with prehensile tails. These appendages are sometimes used as an extra arm: They can carry grass and leaves for building nests or grip the sides of trees to provide extra stability while climbing. Baby opossums can even use their tails to hang from branches upside down as they’re often depicted doing in cartoons.
  11. Thanks to their whole acting-and-smelling-like-a-corpse routine, opossums aren’t known as the most sanitary animals in nature. But they take cleanliness seriously: opossums, like housecats, use their tongue and paws to groom themselves frequently. They largely lack sweat glands, and this behavior is believed to help them cool down. It also has the added effect of rendering them odorless.
  12. One of the opossum’s most recognizable features is its pair of opaque eyes. Opossum eyes do have whites and irises, but because their pupils are so large, their eyes appear completely black from a distance. The exaggerated pupil dilation is thought to help the nocturnal animals see after the sun goes down.
  13. It was long assumed that opossums like to keep to themselves, but a study published in the journal Biology Letters suggests they have a social side. Researchers at the Federal University of Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil observed some opossums in captivity sharing dens even if they weren’t mates. In one case, 13 white-eared opossums of various age groups were cohabiting the same space.
  14. The way it gives birth and raises its young isn’t the only thing that’s interesting about the opossums reproductive life. Females have two vaginal tracts and two uteri, and males in turn have a forked or bifurcated penis. This is fairly typical for marsupials, but when European colonizers first landed in North America centuries ago, they didn’t know what to make of the confusing genitalia.
  15. Opossums are usually 15-20 inches in length and weigh between 4-12 pounds.
  16. Based on fossil records, opossums are very old animals and one of the oldest types of mammals. They were present on the Earth at the same time when dinosaurs lived.
  17. Their body is covered with white-grayish fur. In rare occasions it can be black, brown or albino colored.
  18. Opossums have more teeth than other mammals: 50.
  19. They are omnivores. Insects are usually on their menu, but they also like reptiles, amphibians, eggs, fruit, and berries. They often dig through trash cans to find food. Since they eat carrion, dead animals on the road can be a perfect meal for them.
  20. Main predators of opossums are dogs, foxes, coyotes, hawks and owls. They also die in car accidents as well as by parasites and diseases.
  21. They are not territorial. They move constantly and search for food in different locations. Opossums dont dig holes; they use abandoned dens and shelters.
  22. Opossums are nocturnal animals. They have poor eyesight and sense of hearing, so they rely on their sense of smell during the hunt. Luckily, their sense of smell is excellent.
  23. A group of opossums is called a "passel".
  24. They have sharp claws that can be used against predators, but they have another more efficient technique that can help them survive dangerous situation: they pretend to be dead! Most animals avoid eating carrion and they will rather leave dead animal untouched. Opossums can lay motionless from one minute to 6 hours.
  25. Males produce specific sounds to attract females. After mating, it takes only 14 days for young opossums to be born. At birth, they are as small as a honeybee. One litter usually consists of 20 babies. Only a few babies usually survive.
  26. Babies crawl to the mothers pouch and stay there until they are fully developed. After 67 days, they can leave the pouch for the first time. After 75 days, they are ready to eat solid food. While they are young, mother opossums carry their babies on her back during the hunt.
  27. Opossums live up to 2 years in the wild and up to 4 years in captivity.