types of opossum
HOME · Biodiversity

12 Types of Opossums: Species, Facts and Photos

Diverse and broadly distributed opossums are North America's contribution to the marsupial family. The various types of opossums, from the classic Virginia variety to the semi-aquatic kind from Central America, reflect the adaptability of these creatures. 

Now, people often interchange opossum with possum, but they point to different marsupial species. So, in our article about opossum diversity, we'll shed some light on the Aussie marsupial that's equally intriguing in its own right.

Opossum Classification

Opossums are part of the Didelphimorphia order, a grouping of marsupial mammals. This particular order is home to 93 extant species belonging to the single-family Didelphidae. 

Now within Didelphidae, these species are divided into four subfamilies: Caluromyinae consisting of four species, Glironiinae and Hyladelphinae each with a single species, and Didelphinae, brimming with 87 species across 14 genera.

Although South America hosts the majority of these creatures, you can also spot them in Central America, Mexico, and, thanks to the versatile Virginia opossum, even as far north as Canada.

The sections below discuss the distribution range, distinguishable features, and unique adaptations of some of these American marsupials' most common or interesting species.

Related Read: Opossum Facts.

12 Types of Opossum Species

1. Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)

Virginia Opossum
Photo by Cody Pope on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 (Cropped from original).

The Virginia opossum, or North American Opossum, is the only marsupial native to North America and is also the world's northernmost marsupial. It lives in forests, open woods, and farmlands.

They exhibit a defense mechanism, famously termed "playing possum," where they mimic death to deter predators. So, locals often mistakenly refer to them as possums. 

Adult Virginia opossums can grow up to 22 inches in body length, and males typically outsize females. Their coats are grayish brown, with white faces providing a contrast.

They also have a 21.3-inch prehensile tail, void of hair, that aids in grasping branches and small objects. These opossums are also equipped with 50 teeth, more than any other North American land mammal, and a small thumb on their rear limbs. 

Females possess 13 nipples in a circular pattern, with one in the middle. Once they give birth to 4-25 offspring, the young opossums will climb into their mother’s pouch; however, not all will survive.

These opportunistic omnivores primarily have a plant-based diet. However, they also feed on small invertebrates, carrion, eggs, and other small animals. Often, proximity to human dwellings gives them easy access to food sources like trash cans or pet food.

Related to their size and metabolic rate, they have a surprisingly short lifespan, 1.5 to 2 years, in the wild. Moreover, the Opossum Society of the United States reports that keeping these marsupials as pets is illegal in many states. 

2. Common Opossum (Didelphis marsupialis)

Common Opossum
Photo by Juan Tello on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Common Opossum, also called the Black-eared Opossum or gambá, inhabits many environments throughout its expansive geographic range spanning from Mexico to Argentina. 

It appears disheveled, with fur varying between dark hues while its underpart is cream. It boasts a tail slightly longer than its body, sharp claws, and a facial accent of a dark stripe. Visually distinctive, it has a pair of large black ears.

Though these solitary creatures are terrestrial, observing opossums up trees is not uncommon. Their diet is diverse, consuming leaves, fruit, and various vertebrates or invertebrates.

Unlike its North American counterparts, the Common Opossum does not play dead when faced with danger.

3. Big-eared Opossum (Didelphis aurita)

Big-eared Opossum
Photo by Christian Roger Dockhorn on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

Big-eared opossums thrive in forests from Brazil to Argentina and Paraguay. Their habitat includes not only rainforests but also areas disrupted by urbanization or deforestation.

Their fur is easily distinguished: dirty yellow with a black or gray tip, complemented by notable facial markings. However, the black line running down their forehead and bare, black ears stand out.

Having a flexible diet, these creatures will eat almost anything, from fruits and arthropods to small vertebrates. These crafty animals adapt in urban settings, sometimes foraging in trash for sustenance.

Their tails, often longer than the hind legs, are an additional limb useful for gripping. This tail is bi-colored, half black and half white, and has a furry base setting it apart from the common opossums. 

4. White-eared Opossum (Didelphis albiventris)

White-eared Opossum
Photo by Alex Popovkin on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The White-eared Opossum is a nocturnal creature found in dense forests and suburban areas in eastern South America, specifically in  Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

They have white ears, a white face, and a black stripe running from the forehead to the nose. Moreover, they are opportunistic feeders, eating insects, small rodents, and carrion. Their long, prehensile tail allows them to climb trees and search for food alone at night. 

5. Brown Four-eyed Opossum (Metachirus nudicaudatus)

Brown Four-eyed Opossum
Photo by Haplochromis on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

Brown Four-eyed Opossum, found across Central to South America, is a marsupial with no pouch but instead has a large skiing fold that can carry the young. Their fur falls in a gradient from reddish to yellowish-brown to light fur on the sides, with two distinct white spots above their eyes.

Their mechanisms of building nests from dry leaves and twigs are rooted in terrestrial habits. Solitary in nature, they rely on the forest floor, feeding primarily on insects - beetles, ants, earwigs, among others.

6. Gray Short-tailed Opossum (Monodelphis domestica)

The Gray Short-tailed Opossum primarily calls areas south of the Amazon River home. From Brazil's southern, central, and western regions to eastern Bolivia, northern Paraguay, and north Argentina's Formosa province, it adapts to various environments.

Physically, these creatures resemble voles, with a greyish-brown fur covering their tiny bodies, fading to a paler shade underneath. They have virtually hairless feet and tails; unlike other marsupials, females lack the characteristic pouch.

Their diet includes rodents, frogs, reptiles, invertebrates, and fruits. They rely heavily on their sense of smell, scavenging through vegetation in search of prey.

For researchers in marsupial studies, the Gray Short-tailed Opossum is an excellent model, offering valuable insights about mammalian systems. Their attributes, coupled with their ease of breeding and exposed offspring due to the absence of a pouch, make them invaluable in developmental and immunological research.

The Gray Short-tailed Opossum‘s genome was fully sequenced in 20071.

7. Water Opossum (Chironectes minimus)

Water Opossum
Photo by Pedro Aguilar on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Water Opossum, or the "yapok," is a semi-aquatic marsupial in Central and South America. Its waterproof fur and webbed hind feet enable it to paddle efficiently in the water. 

These types of opossums feature marbled gray and black fur with a distinctly black muzzle, eyestripe, and crown. Its webbed hind feet aid swimming, while its non-webbed forefeet, coupled with sensory facial bristles, help detect and catch prey underwater.

The yapok is nocturnal and feeds on fish, crustaceans, amphibians, and water insects. It uses its long tail as a rudder while hunting. 

Moreover, the Water Opossum has a watertight pouch, which enables female yapoks to swim while carrying their young. 

8. Brown-eared Woolly Opossum (Caluromys lanatus)

Brown-eared Woolly Opossum
Photo by Nayeryouakim on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Brown-eared Woolly Opossum inhabits the lowland forests of South America. It has a thick, wooly coat that can be reddish-brown to pale brown and naked brownish ears. During the day, this animal seeks refuge in tree hollows and remains still. At night, it becomes active.

This type of opossum is a versatile omnivore, consuming a diet mainly composed of fruits and complemented by vegetables, insects, small vertebrates, and tree sap or gum. During dry seasons, it drinks flower nectar, potentially aiding in pollination.

9. Andean White-eared Opossum (Didelphis pernigra)

Andean White-eared Opossum
Photo by Awkiku on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Andean White-eared Opossum is a medium-sized marsupial commonly found in South America, particularly in the Andean region. 

Andean white-eared opossums have distinct white facial fur, pronounced black facial markings, and lengthy black guard hairs. Their standout feature is their completely white, elongated, and hairless ears.

10. Gray Four-eyed Opossum (Philander opossum

 Gray Four-eyed Opossum
Photo by Bernard DUPONT on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Gray Four-eyed Opossum is a Neotropical marsupial native to forested areas from northeastern Mexico to southeastern Brazil. The characteristic "four-eyed" look stems from white spots above each eye on its gray coat. 

Hair coloration features gray upperparts, with off-white to yellow underparts. Its prehensile tail is partially covered with grayish fur. Two distinct, dark-eye masks contrast the creature's light cheek and chin hues. 

Their diet comprises small animals and plant matter, showing distinct seasonal variation. Insects become a large portion of their meal during the dry season, while plant-derived food prevails in the wet season.

11. Bushy-tailed Opossum (Glironia venusta)

The Bushy-tailed Opossum, a rare South American native, calls the expansive Amazon and Paraguay basins home. Sporting a dense, bushy tail 5.5 to 6 inches in length, these creatures exhibit other traits similar to the Marmosa genus.

Their fur ranges from reddish-brown to gray, is either wooly or velvety, and extends fully to the tail. It is longer in the middle, giving them the bushy tail appearance. 

Despite its rare presence and limited count of 25 known specimens, it is classified as Least Concern due to its large, widespread population and protected habitat occupancy. Knowledge about its behavior remains limited.

12. Pygmy Short-tailed Opossum (Monodelphis kunsi)

The Pygmy Short-tailed Opossum, a relatively unknown species, can be found in Bolivia, Brazil, and likely Peru. They claim the title as the smallest among their genus, ranging from a mere 0.01 to 0.06 pounds in weight.

You can identify these tiny creatures by their warm brown short fur on the back, contrasted by white patches on their belly. Their tails are a mix of colors - a darker upper side, a lighter lower side, and a hair-free tip, which aids their sense of touch. 

These opossums are likely to be insectivores based on characteristics such as build, size, and dentition, similar to the Soricidae family.

What are possums?

While opossums are often called possums in North America, they are from a completely different marsupial group of species living in the Australasian region. They bear the same name since some possum species resemble the North American marsupials.

These Australasian marsupials fall under the order Diprotodontia. Their ranks include the common brushtail possum and the smaller Tasmanian pygmy possum. Also called gliders and cuscus, these creatures share a distant kinship with their marsupial brothers, kangaroos, and koalas.

Exhibiting long tails and four-footed strides, possums range dramatically in size. The petite Tasmanian pygmy is around 0.02 pounds, while the large bear cuscus can tip the scales up to 15 pounds. These nocturnal animals live in forests, urban settings, and other green habitats.

With varied palettes, possums are general herbivores or omnivores. Some have even developed a sweet tooth, extracting nectar from their surroundings. 


Mikkelsen, T. S., Wakefield, M. J., Aken, B., Amemiya, C. T., Chang, J. L., Duke, S. E., Garber, M., Gentles, A. J., Goodstadt, L., Heger, A., Jurka, J., Kamal, M., Mauceli, E., Searle, S. M. J., Sharpe, T., Baker, M. L., Batzer, M. A., Benos, P. V., Belov, K., . . . Lindblad‐Toh, K. (2007). Genome of the marsupial Monodelphis domestica reveals innovation in non-coding sequences. Nature, 447(7141), 167–177.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

Photo by csbonawitz on Pixabay.
Pin Me:
Pin Image Portrait 12 Types of Opossums: Species, Facts and Photos
Sign Up for Updates