What Is The Difference Between Possum and Raccoon?

What is the difference between possum and raccoon? The former is a tree-dwelling Australasian marsupial with a prehensile tail while the latter is a greyish-brown American mammal that has a foxtail face with a black mask and a ringed tail.

Possum and raccoons are urban mammals. These furry pests can adapt to different environments due to their capabilities to eat a variety of foods. Telling the difference between these urban mammals can be challenging due to their close similarities.

I wrote this article to highlight the hidden differences and similarities between possum and raccoon. Take the time to read the entire post for better understanding. Be sure to share with your friends or family via any other social media platform.

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Difference Between Possum and Raccoon With Table

Basic Terms Possum Raccoon
Description It is a tree-dwelling Australasian marsupial that has a prehensile tail It is a greyish-brown American mammal that has a foxtail face with a black mask and a ringed tail
Family Didelphidae Procyonidae
Habitat Australia and the Indonesian islands of New Guinea and Sulawesi Easter North America
Reproduction Marsupial mammals Placental Mammals
Gestation Period 16-18 days 63-65 days
Offspring 1-2 offspring 2-5 offspring
Lifespan 15 years 2-3 years

What is a Possum?

A possum, often spelled as opossum in North America, is a marsupial mammal found primarily in the Americas. Possums belong to the family Didelphidae and are known for their unique characteristics, including their prehensile tail, pouch (in females), and adaptation to a variety of ecological niches.

Physical Characteristics

Size and Appearance: Possums vary in size, with adult individuals typically ranging from about 6 inches to 20 inches (15 to 50 centimeters) in length, excluding the tail. They have a relatively long, pointed snout and a pink, hairless tail that is often prehensile, meaning they can grasp objects with it.

Coat: The fur of possums varies among species but is generally coarse and can range in color from gray to brown, black, or white, depending on the species.

Habitat and Distribution

Geographical Range: Possums are primarily found in the Americas, with the greatest diversity of species occurring in Central and South America. However, one species, the Virginia opossum, is found in North America and is well-known in the United States and Canada.

Habitat: Possums are adaptable creatures that can inhabit a wide range of environments, including forests, grasslands, swamps, and urban areas. They are often opportunistic in their choice of habitat.

Marsupial Reproduction

Like all marsupials, possums give birth to relatively undeveloped live young, which then continue to develop outside the womb, typically inside the mother’s pouch.

Female possums have a pouch in which they carry and nurse their offspring. The number of young, or joeys, born in a litter can vary depending on the species.

Diet and Feeding Habits

Possums are omnivores, which means they have a varied diet. They feed on insects, small vertebrates, fruits, nuts, and plant matter. Their diet can vary by species and habitat, and they are known for their opportunistic feeding habits.

Nocturnal Behavior

Most possum species are primarily nocturnal, meaning they are active during the night and rest during the day. This behavior helps them avoid daytime predators and reduces competition with diurnal animals.

Defense Mechanisms

When threatened, possums may exhibit defensive behaviors, such as hissing, growling, and showing their teeth. They may also “play possum,” a behavior where they go limp and appear dead to discourage predators.

The “playing possum” defense is especially well-known in the Virginia opossum, which can fall into a catatonic state when frightened.

Ecological Role

Possums play important roles in their ecosystems by helping control insect populations, dispersing seeds, and serving as prey for various predators.

Conservation Status

Many possum species are not considered endangered, but their populations can be affected by habitat loss, road accidents, and other human-related factors, especially in urban areas. In some regions, possums are considered pests and can be subject to control measures.

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What Is a Raccoon?

A raccoon (Procyon lotor) is a medium-sized, highly adaptable mammal native to North America. These creatures belong to the family Procyonidae and are known for their distinctive physical characteristics, including a masked face, ringed tail, and dexterous front paws. Raccoons are well-known for their ability to thrive in a wide range of habitats and their clever problem-solving abilities.

Physical Characteristics

Size and Appearance: Raccoons typically measure between 16 to 28 inches (40 to 70 centimeters) in length, excluding their bushy tail, which can add another 7 to 16 inches (18 to 40 centimeters). Adult raccoons can weigh between 10 to 35 pounds (4.5 to 16 kilograms).

Coat: They have dense fur that is typically grayish-brown, with a distinctive black “mask” of fur that covers their eyes and extends down their cheeks. Their bushy tail is ringed with alternating black and light-colored bands.

Habitat and Distribution

Geographical Range: Raccoons are native to North America, where they are found throughout the United States, Canada, and parts of Mexico. They have also been introduced to other regions, including Europe and Japan.

Habitat: Raccoons are highly adaptable and can thrive in a variety of environments, from forests and wetlands to urban areas. They are often associated with water sources and are excellent swimmers.

Diet and Feeding Habits

Omnivorous Diet: Raccoons are opportunistic omnivores, which means they eat a wide range of foods. Their diet includes fruits, nuts, insects, small mammals, birds, fish, and even garbage when available.

They are known to wash their food in water before eating it, a behavior that has contributed to their name, as “raccoon” is derived from the Algonquian word “arakun,” which means “he who scratches with his hands.

Nocturnal Behavior: Raccoons are primarily nocturnal, which means they are most active at night when they forage for food. This behavior helps them avoid daytime predators and human activity.

Dexterous Front Paws

Raccoons have highly dexterous front paws that they use for manipulating objects and food. Their ability to open lids, turn knobs, and perform other tasks has earned them a reputation for being clever and resourceful.

Social Behavior

Raccoons are generally solitary animals, but they can be social when not raising their young. They may form loose groups, especially in areas with abundant food resources.


Raccoons typically give birth to a litter of 3 to 5 kits (young raccoons) in the spring. The kits are born blind and helpless and are nursed by their mother in a den. After several weeks, they start to explore their surroundings and learn to forage.

Predators and Survival Strategies

Raccoons have a few natural predators, including larger mammals like coyotes, bobcats, and great horned owls. To evade predators, they rely on their climbing ability and agility, as well as their habit of denning in trees, attics, and other elevated locations.

Urban Adaptation

Raccoons are highly adaptable to urban environments and are known for rummaging through trash cans and scavenging for food in cities and suburbs. This adaptability has led to human-wildlife conflicts in some areas.

Conservation Status

Raccoons are not considered endangered, and their populations are generally stable. However, they can be susceptible to diseases like rabies and distemper, which can impact local populations.

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Main Difference between Raccoons and Possum

  1. Possum belongs to the family Didelphidae while the raccoon belongs to the family Procyonidae.
  2. Raccoons live in North America while possum in Australia and Indonesian Island
  3. Possum is a marsupial mammal while raccoon is a placental mammal
  4. The gestation period of the raccoon is about 63-65 days while that of a possum is about 16-18 days
  5. Raccoon give birth to 2-5 kits while possum give birth to 1-2 kits
  6. Possum has a longer lifespan than the raccoon

Similarities between Possum and Raccoon

  1. Both are urbanized mammals with rat-like body
  2. Both have the body covered with fur
  3. Both are furry pests
  4. Both show nocturnal behavior
  5. Both are omnivores
  6. Both prefer living in areas near water
  7. Both male species are larger than their female counterparts

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In Conclusion

In conclusion, raccoons and possums are both fascinating wildlife species, but they exhibit distinct differences in terms of physical characteristics, habitat preferences, behaviors, and ecological roles. Raccoons are medium-sized mammals with a masked face, ringed tail, and dexterous front paws. They are highly adaptable omnivores known for their clever problem-solving abilities and are often found in both natural and urban environments.

On the other hand, possums, also known as opossums, are marsupial mammals with unique features such as a prehensile tail, a pouch (in females), and a varied diet that includes insects, small vertebrates, and plant matter. Possums are typically found in the Americas and can inhabit a wide range of terrestrial habitats, displaying nocturnal behaviors and intriguing defense mechanisms like “playing possum.”

While both raccoons and possums contribute to the ecosystems they inhabit, they occupy different ecological niches and face distinct challenges. Understanding these differences is essential for appreciating the rich diversity of wildlife in our natural world and for effective wildlife management and conservation efforts.

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