The Awesome Opossum: 5 Common Opossum Myths Debunked

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If you live in or have spent any time in Texas, the chances are that you’ve seen a dead opossum on the side of the road, or witnessed one scurrying around the trash cans at night. There are lots of myths out there about these curious creatures, and some people even fear them. It’s time to debunk some common opossum myths once and for all.

1. Is It Opossum or Possum?

opossum or possum

Photo: Flickr/TexasEagle

First up, let’s get their name correct. The opossum (pronounced ə-pos-em) is a North American marsupial with a long, white face and gray, fuzzy body. The opossum (scientific name: Didelphidae) was named so by English colonist John Smith of the Jamestown in Virginia colony. For this reason, the opossum is still commonly referred to as the Virginia North American Opossum.

 In contrast, the possum (pronounced pos-em) is a different animal entirely and lives in Australia.

2. They’ve Been Here Way Longer Than We Have

Been here longer

Photo: Flickr/Heather Paul

Opossums are some of the oldest animals in the New World. Some scientists call them “living fossils” because they have survived relatively unchanged for at least 50 million years.

3. Very Rarely Have Rabies

rarely have rabies

Photo: Flickr/Kara Jones

While people often associate opossums with rabies, it’s actually very rare for them to carry the disease, thanks to their low body temperature and super-powered immune systems.

4. Most Teeth in North America


Photo: Flickr/Florida Fish and Wildlife

The opossum has 50 teeth – more teeth than any other mammal.

5. “Playing Possum”

playing opossum

Photo: Flickr/Professor Batty

When threatened or harmed, these animals will “play possum,” mimicking the appearance and even the smell of a sick or dead animal. They might foam at the mouth and secrete a foul-smelling fluid from their anal glands. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, “this defense mechanism is actually a completely involuntary and automatic physiological response to danger.”

If you find an injured or dead-looking opossum, leave it in a quiet place with plenty of space to get away. It’s likely that over time, the opossum will regain consciousness and escape safely on his way.