Opossums overview: lifespan, diet, sleep, nesting, and opossum pronunciation

opossum walking in a field
Opossum is pronounced as "uh-possom." The first letter is not silent. The animal commonly known as an Opossum is the Virginia Opposum found in North America. "Possums" are a different species of animal usually found in Asia and the South Pacific.

Opossums, commonly known as Didelphis marsupialis, are tiny marsupials found in Southern, Central, and Northern America. They’ve lived in America for approximately fifty-five million years.

There are sixty different species of Opossums, most of which are the size of a domestic cat or smaller. One prominent misconception among most people is the pronunciation of the word opossum. Etymology for Opposum originates in the early 17th century from Virginia Algonquian.

This article looks at the word opossums pronunciation as well as a detailed overview of their lifespan, diet, sleep, nesting, and everything in between.

Top Opossums Facts

The common opossum typically has a long hairless tail, white, black, and gray fur, and a cone-shaped nose with a pink snout.

They have hairless ears, round dark eyes, four paws, and a long hairless tail taking over a third of their total body length. They’re the only marsupials that are found naturally in Northern America.

Most possums are around the size of a small dog, averaging around 2.5 feet nose to tail and weighing 4-6 kilograms. They are successful scavengers courtesy of their excellent immune system and adaptability.

Virginia and common opossums are found in Mexico, South America, Central America, Canada, and the United States. Possums can live anywhere but love hanging out where they stay in the trees most of the time.

Possums also prefer wet areas such as streams, marshes, and swaps. Contrary to what most people think, opossums don’t sleep by hanging on trees with their tails. This is because they don’t have adequate muscles in their tails.

Possum vs. opossums: which pronunciation is correct?

As mentioned earlier, Possums and opossums are two different mammals. The former is usually found in New Zealand, China, and Australia, while the latter is commonly found in North America.

The first o in Opossum is not silent, and the word is pronounced as “uh-possum,” where the initial vowel is voiced in English. So, in the pronunciation of Opossum, the first o shouldn’t be omitted.

The commonly known Opossum is also referred to as Virginia opossum or the North American marsupial.

opossum on dry ground

Where do opossums sleep?

Possums are mainly active at night, meaning they’re nocturnal and sleep during the day. They sleep in dens inside caves, abandoned buildings on the ground, attics, and nests in hollow trees. They dislike the daylight and often find hiding places that are dark to sleep in during the day.

Usually, any well-hidden place away from predators is ideal for an opossum to sleep in. Other areas are those close to water and food for opossums to sleep in.

Other ideal places for possums to sleep include:

Dens of other animals

Opossums are lazy when it comes to digging the ground for their nests. They prefer using dens or nests of other animals such as armadillos and moles.

Between buildings

Possums often make their nests between buildings in urban areas.


Attics are comfortable, cozy, warm, and safe from predators. For this reason, attics make an ideal sleeping place for possums.


Possums living near farmlands usually use barns to make their sleeping nests. They typically use the hay in the barn to build their nests.


Hollow trees, resulting from fungi attacks, are ideal nesting places for possums. Although many sleep on the ground, the arboreal possum species sleep on trees which keeps them out of reach from most predators.

Rock crevices

The most protected place for an opossum is a rock crevice. This is a sturdy spot where a possum can fit perfectly. Besides, most predators cannot fit into such a small area, making them a haven for sleeping in.

What do possums eat?

Possums are opportunistic omnivores eating an array of animals and plants. While they mainly scavenge, feeding on dead plants and animals, they also enjoy insects and occasionally hunting small animals such as snakes, rodents, birds, frogs, and chicks.

Opossums also feed on grain and fruit, and are known for their need for high amounts of calcium. As a result, they eat the skeletal remains of birds, rodents, and other roadkill animals.

Possums also love cat food, dog food, and leftovers. For this reason, it’s possible to come across a possum rummaging through garbage cans.

opossum in the field of grass

Opossum FAQs

Do opossums eat rats?

Yes, Opossums do eat rats.

Do possums eat snakes?

Yes, and opossums can be employed to control snakes.

Do opossums eat cats?

Possums do not eat cats or other larger mammals. They only attack when cornered or when competing for food. However, they eat dog and cat food.

Do possums eat chickens?

Opossums can eat small chicks.

Are opossums nocturnal?

The Virginia possum or American Opossum is nocturnal, sleeping in hollow or hidden nests during the day.

Do opossums hibernate in the winter?

Opossums do not necessarily hibernate but rather slow down during the winter. They find places that are well hidden and dry during winter, a time when you’ll find them in abandoned buildings and attics.

It’s a challenging time for possums since they lack the ability to hibernate, unlike raccoons and other mammals, which can bulk up on fat for hibernations. Further, they lack hairs on their tails, toes, and ears, making them prone to frostbite in those regions.

Possums make their ideal nests during winter from soft materials, dry leaves, and tree barks to insulate them from the cold.

Possum defenses

Opossums react by playing dead when threatened. This is known as “playing possum,” where they stay zoned out for long periods emitting a foul smell to keep threats at bay.

However, ringtail possums protect themselves with their sharp opossum teeth and claws.

baby opossum hanging upside-down

How to recognize a baby opossum

Opossum babies depend on their mother’s milk inside the pouch and mature for approximately fourteen weeks. These joeys or pups are born naked, blind, and around the size of a bumblebee.

How rare are golden opossums?

The golden opossums get their golden color from mutations that cause low pigment melanin levels in their fur and skin. These opossums are rare in the wild because their conspicuous appearance makes them easily spotted by predators.

They are only found in Australia, living among areas populated by humans.


Joseph Wales is a professional SEO content writer specializing in pest control, varmint removal, pets, and everything in nature. When not publishing, he’s busy teaching college and university students how to write admission essays and structure their academic papers. Writing has always been his passion, and he spends most of his time outdoors with his two lovely daughters in his spare time. He is also a skilled farmer, always traveling to his rural home to check on the livestock and corn field when he has the time. Armed with hands-on experience, Joseph uses his SEO writing skills to communicate accurate and engaging information that will also be valuable and educational, adding to the value of his readers.

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