Last Reviewed and Updated on July 20, 2022
Opossums or possums are one of the coolest animals living in North America; their ability to play dead gives them quite a reputation. Learn some of the most amazing facts about opossums, from how their “playing possum” works to the unusual number of their teats.
1. They have a high number of teeth for a mammal
The number of teeth in different species varies, from having none at all to having between 20 to 40 on average. Opossums have 50 teeth which put them on the high end of the scale when it comes to the number of teeth as far as mammals go.
2. Like kangaroos, female opossums have a pouch
Opossums, kangaroos, wombats, and a number of other species are marsupials. One of the main characteristics of marsupials is the pouch that is present in the female members all of the marsupial species.
3. They instinctively play dead (“playing possum”)
What might be one of the more shocking facts about opossums is their signature behavior isn’t done by choice. Playing dead (or playing possum) is something opossums are most known for. When they are threatened or are being harmed, they will play dead. This behavior isn’t voluntary; it’s instinctively triggered. They don’t exactly “play” dead but actually lose consciousness.
They usually regain consciousness after several minutes, but it might also take hours.
4. When they play dead, they stink
They go all in with their “playing possum.” Their body becomes stiff, their lips are drawn back, and teeth are bared. Saliva foams up around their mouth. And just for that extra touch, a foul-smelling fluid is secreted from their anal glands. The scent is described as that of a decaying corpse.
5. Opossums have handy tails
Some species use their tails as a fifth limb when climbing. Juvenile opossums also commonly use their tails to dangle from the trees.
More interestingly, the tail is sometimes used to carry materials for building nests.
6. Many large opossum species are immune to rattlesnake and pit viper venom
Some large opossum species (Didelphin opossums) are immune to venom from rattlesnakes and pit vipers. These snakes are often preyed upon by opossums. They produce a specific peptide that allows them to neutralize the venom of some snakes.
7. Males have larger teeth than females
There are a few notable differences between the male and the female. Males are usually larger than females. They are also heavier and have larger canine teeth than females do.
8. They usually have 13 nipples
Some species have even more; in fact, the female shrewish short-tailed opossum has 27. What is most surprising about these numbers is that they are odd numbers. They may be the only animal with a naturally occurring odd number of nipples.
9. Water opossum is the only semi-aquatic marsupial
These animals have adapted to living near and in water. It lives near freshwater streams and lakes. They become active after dusk when they go out and swim in search of fish, crabs, and other animals, which they then eat on the bank.
They have water-repellent fur and webbed feet, which make them better swimmers.
10. Both female and male water opossums have a pouch
Last on this list of facts about opossums is a truly interesting and unique one. Water opossums have another unique characteristic. Both males and females of the species have a pouch. In all other known living marsupial species, it is just the female that has the pouch.