How Do I Recognize An Opossum? (Here’s What To Look For)

Are you seeing some strange tracks in the soil or snow around your property, where one out of five toe prints looks like a human thumb? Or have you noticed your garbage untidily scattered on the ground when you wake up the next morning?

If yes, then there’s probably an opossum lurking in the area around your house while you’re sound asleep at night.  

Identifying an opossum might not be as easy as you think because they behave similarly to other animals like raccoons. But fret not, because Floofmania is here to provide you with all the necessary information to know how to recognize an opossum. 

An opossum walking in the grass close to the snow, with its delicate fingers visible.

What Do Opossums Look Like?

Being the only marsupial found in North America, you can easily recognize an opossum through its distinct features.

An opossum has an elongated pointed face and snout, sharp teeth, hairless black ears with pink or white tips, four short dark legs, and a long, almost hairless tail. Their fur is typically gray in color, with black and white spots in certain areas. Opossums grow to sizes comparable to house cats, which range from 12 to 16 inches. 

For female opossums, a pouch on their stomach is a distinguishing feature. It is used to carry and nourish newborns, a little like more well-known marsupials such as the kangaroo!

What Color Is An Opossum?

An opossum’s typical color is gray, although it can also have red, brown, or black hues. The overall gray color is caused by the mixture of hairs that are dark gray or black with white tips, and hairs that are white with grayish tips.

An opossum sniffing the ground in front of a garden fence.

How Big Are Opossums?

While opossums are often confused with rats, their size is much larger. In fact, an opossum’s size is comparable to that of a house cat.

Male opossums are noticeably larger than their female counterparts. Including their tail length, male Virginia opossums can grow up to 40 inches (100 cm) but average about 30 inches (76 cm).  However, female Virginia opossums grow to about 28 inches (72 cm) on average.

Of course, given their length, male opossums are relatively heavier than females. Males’ weight ranges from 4.6 to 6.2 pounds, while females’ weight ranges from 4.2 to 4.6 pounds. 

Yes, folks. They are that big. But you have nothing to worry about because, despite their size, opossums are generally harmless and will not attack you unless provoked. 

What Do Opossum Tails Look Like?

The tail is one of the most useful parts of an opossum’s body. It is of such great utility that it has been considered by many as the opossum’s fifth limb or hand. 

An opossum’s tail is quite similar to a rat’s tail, although it is larger. For reference, this is what a typical opossum’s tail looks like. 

ShapeRounded
SizeAround eight to thirteen inches. 
Fun fact: an opossum’s tail is commonly about one-third the size of its whole body. 
ColorRanges from white to gray
Texture Scaly
Hair volumeScant but not completely hairless

This tail is also flexible, making it possible for opossums to use it for carrying materials like bundles of leaves and twigs. These materials are used for lining up their dens. 

An opossum’s tail is “prehensile”, which means that it can be used for grasping and wrapping around things like tree branches as if it was a hand.

What Do Opossum Legs and Feet Look Like?

Like most mammals, opossums have four legs that are black in color. These legs are short and thick and are also covered with fur

Attached to an opossum’s legs are its unique feet, typically colored pink and scaly. Each of these feet has five toes. All of those toes have claws except for the first toe on the hind or rear foot.

This toe is opposable and looks like a thumb. This means that their thumb can be placed opposite the fingers of the same hand. Having an opposable thumb is useful as it allows opossums to grasp branches and climb more easily. 

If you look at it closely, an opossum’s feet resemble small hands with five widely spread fingers.

What Do Opossum Ears, Nose, and Eyes Look Like?

Aside from their tails and feet, opossums’ ears, noses, and eyes also have features that make it easier to distinguish them from other animals. Refer to the bullets below and be sure to remember these features to easily recognize an opossum. 

Ears

  • Have a leathery texture
  • Are typically thin
  • The color is black with pink or white tips
  • Are cone-shaped 

Nose 

  • Opossums have pointed snouts
  • Their noses are colored pink
  • The snouts have a soft texture  

Eyes 

  • Opossums’ eyes have whites and irises that appear round and dark black from afar during the day
  • They have large and wide pupils that help them see better at night
  • Colors turn to shades of green in the dark
  • When exposed to bright lights like headlights, their eyes reflect light, resulting in a pinkish-red to red eye shine

What Do Opossum Teeth Look Like?

Although these cute creatures don’t look too dangerous, you should still be careful and not be fooled by their appearance. Opossums have sharp teeth, so a bite from them can be painful. These teeth are perfectly adapted to their omnivorous diet.

Opossums have 50 teeth, making them the most-teethed wild mammal in North America. They have five pairs of incisors that are quite small, one pair of slender and curved canines, and molars and pre-molars on the upper and lower jaw that are also small but sharp. 

To avoid being bitten by these sharp teeth, make sure to avoid any sudden movements around them. 

An opossum emerging from a pile of hay with its mouth open and barred teeth.

What Sounds Does An Opossum Make?

For animals, communication is vital for survival. And since they aren’t able to speak like humans, most of them, like the opossums, make sounds to communicate. 

Opossums make various sounds depending on the circumstances. Although generally quiet, they make sounds when they are scared, mating, or calling for their young or their parent’s attention. 

Refer to the table below to know what it means when an opossum makes a particular sound

Clicking Opossums make this clicking sound when they are trying to attract mates. Parent opossums also use this sound to call the attention of their young. 
(see video)
These clicking noises are similar to the sound we produce when we click the tongue against the roof of our mouth. 
Hissing and growlingOpossums make a low growling noise or a hiss when they are angry or feel threatened. 
(see video)
Screaming/ScreechingOpossums also screech and scream loudly when they are intimidated. These loud noises are made to warn off threats and discourage an attack. 
Sneezing Joeys (baby opossums) use a “choo” sound that sounds like a sneeze to call their mothers’ attention. 
(see video)

What Other Animals Do Opossums Look Like?

While opossums have distinct features, it is common for some people to confuse them with other animals. Some of these animals are: 

  • Hedgehogs. These cute creatures are considered the closest British analogs to opossums. Like opossums, they have elongated faces and short legs. Their spiny bodies and smaller size are the most obvious features that separate them from opossums.
  • Rats. Opossums are often mistaken as big rats because of their similar elongated faces, cone-shaped ears, and fur colors that are typically gray to black. Both of their tails are also nearly or actually hairless.
  • Rodents. Opossums resemble other rodents with their long faces and big rat-like tails. 

Opossums are, however, completely unrelated to both hedgehogs, rats, and other rodents.

Author: Clarisse Jane Javier

Hello, there! I’m CJ, and I’ve been writing since primary school. I love to write about a variety of topics, from pets to the arts. I have had an endless fascination for animals since I was a kid. Until today, I always looked forward to learning more about the diverse species we have on Earth.

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