Possums are small marsupials, most often known for playing dead when distressed. However, there’s so much more about this family of mammals.
In this article, we’ll be learning about the 18 types of possum species spread around the world.
- Woolly Possums
- Black-shouldered Possums
- Chacoan Pygmy Possums
- Water Possums
- Savanna Gracile Possums
- Large American Possums
- Gracile Possums
- Patagonian Possums
- Lutrine Possums
- Mouse Possums
- Brown Four-eyed Possums
- Short-tailed Possums
- Gray and Black Four-eyed Possums
- Fat-tailed Mouse Possums
- Gray Mouse Possums
- Bushy-tailed Possums
- Kalinowski’s Mouse Possums
Note: Possums are ranked in no particular order.
Table of Contents
1. Woolly Possums
Scientific name (genus): Caluromys
There are three species of woolly possums: the bare-tailed woolly possum, the brown-eared woolly possum, and Derby’s woolly possum.
Derby’s woolly possum is the largest of the woolly possum, and it is only found in the forests of Central America.
The other two species of woolly possums are found in South America, where they primarily inhabit forests, where they live a secretive, nocturnal, and arboreal life. Because of this, they’re difficult to study.
All species feed mostly on fruits and vegetables, but also small birds and reptiles, providing the opportunity.
2. Black-shouldered Possums
Scientific name: Caluromysiops irrupta
The only member of its genus, Caluromysiops, the black-shouldered possum is only found in forest pockets in western Brazil, Colombia, and southeastern Peru.
There, they spend the majority of their life high up in the trees, and they hide throughout the day.
They mostly feed on fruits and small rodents. They can be recognized by a gray coat and a bushy tail.
These types of possums in Brazil usually don’t grow longer than 13 inches, while the tail is often longer than that.
3. Chacoan Pygmy Possums
Scientific name: Chacodelphys formosa
This species was only recently discovered, so very little is known about. Until the beginning of this millennia, the only specimen ever collected was caught in 1920. Since 2004, however, it was collected and described in greater numbers.
The Chacoan pygmy possum is the smallest possum in the world, with a head-to-tail length of less than 3 inches, and a tail that’s barely 2 inches long.
Unlike most other possums, its tail is shorter than its body and it is only found in a very small area in Argentina, where it is now considered near-threatened.
4. Water Possums
Scientific name: Chironectes minimus
Although possums know how to swim, most of them avoid water (unless
They usually hunt for fish, crabs, and other prey found in bodies of water.
They can grow up to 13 inches, while the tail can grow to 16 inches in length, and their coat is usually a combination of grey and black.
To become aquatic, these possums have developed waterproof fur, webbed feet, and a watertight pouch to keep their young dry when swimming (males also have a pouch).
Water possums are found in Mexico and parts of Central America, northwest and northeast South America, as well as parts of Argentina and Brazil.
5. Savanna Gracile Possums
Scientific name (genus): Cryptonanus
This genus of possums contains four living species, all found in parts of Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. They’re some of the smallest (although not the smallest) possums in the world, usually weighing barely more than an ounce.
Since they’re so small, arboreal, and nocturnal – it’s very difficult to spot them in the wild. Their fur is usually red or grey and it’s almost impossible to tell one species from another based on physical characteristics.
6. Large American Possums
Scientific name (genus): Didelphis
The six species within this genus are very large possums, the most famous of which is the Virginia possum, found in the United States and Canada.
Possums usually prefer warmer climates, which makes these types of possums in the United States the northernmost possums in the world, fully adapted to colder temperatures.
Similar to raccoons in feeding behavior – possums can wreak havoc by digging through trash, opening bags of dog and cat
These possums are most famous for ‘playing possum’ – feigning death in hope that a predator will lose interest.
This is usually a secondary reaction to threats, as their primary reaction is to fight back (hissing and showing their teeth).
Their ‘playing possum’ defense mechanism is involuntary – it is only induced by extreme levels of fear and it can last for hours; possums have no control over it.
It is believed that killing the prey is a stimulus for eating, and predators leave possums alone because they believe the animal is already dead.
7. Gracile Possums
Scientific name (genus): Gracilinanus
There are six species of possums in this genus, widespread across South America, with most of them not coming in contact with one another. They’re known for their very long, thin tails, and large, black eyes.
These small possums inhabit forests and coffee plantations, but they’re becoming harder to find because of deforestation due to sugar production. They mostly feed on insects and fruits.
8. Patagonian Possums
Scientific name: Lestodelphys halli
The opposite of large American possums, Patagonian possums are the southernmost possum species, only found in Patagonian and Monte Provinces in Argentina.
The dietary preferences of these types of possums in Argentina set them apart from their cousins – although they can eat fruits and insects like all other possums, both of these foods are scarce in their natural habitat.
Because of this, they’ve started hunting birds and mice and are almost exclusively carnivorous. Predatory behavior is extremely rare with possums, but with Patagonian possums – it’s extremely common.
9. Lutrine Possums
Scientific name (genus): Lutreolina
Lutrine possums share more physical similarities with otters than they do with other possums – their bodies are long with short legs and a long tail.
Although they aren’t aquatic like the water possum, they are great swimmers when the need arises.
Just like Patagonian possums, lutrine possums are almost exclusively carnivorous, mostly feeding on rodents, birds, and insects. They can even kill venomous snakes, given the opportunity.
10. Mouse Possums
Scientific name (genus): Marmosa
There are 27 recognized species of mouse possums, all spread throughout South America and parts of Central America.
Taking Robinson’s mouse possum as an example, these arboreal possums are very small and they’re equipped with a very long tail – usually longer than the body itself.
Mouse possums are mostly nocturnal, often climbing up to 90 feet in the trees. There, they hunt insects, gather fruit, and build nests (while they can also build nests on the ground).
Some mouse possums can burrow, as well as climb.
11. Slender Possums
Scientific name: Marmosops
All twenty-one species of slender possums are small and nocturnal, and unlike many other possums – they’re often seen on the forest ground.
They’re usually found between Panama and southern Brazil, often hiding under plants and avoiding the rain.
The diet of slender possums is different each season, but they mostly feed on insects and fruits.
Although the females become extremely territorial after giving birth, these animals will migrate to escape predators.
12. Brown Four-eyed Possums
Scientific name (genus): Metachirus
There’s currently some debate as to whether this is a single species or if there’s more than a single species of the brown four-eyed possum because of molecular phylogenetics.
Either way, these possums are found in Central and South America – even reaching Argentina.
They’re called ‘four-eyed’ because of the white spots above their eyes, while they also don a tail longer than the body.
Four-eyed possums are terrestrial animals, rarely venturing into the canopies, usually feeding on fruits and very small animals.
13. Short-tailed Possums
Scientific name (genus): Monodelphis
As the name suggests, this group of possums doesn’t have long tails, unlike most other possums with tails that are usually longer than their bodies.
They’re only found in South America, and aside from short tails, they’re also known for chemoreceptive communication.
Essentially, two possums will rub their snouts together and exchange information, which allows them to recognize scents from the same species.
14. Gray and Black Four-eyed Possums
Scientific name (genus): Philander
These types of large possums have white spots above their eyes – hence the ‘four-eyed’ name. There are nine recognized species befitting this description, all of which are nocturnal and solitary.
Gray and black four-eyed possums usually feed on small animals and fruits, and they are a stark contrast to the large American possum.
These possums do not feign death, but are very aggressive fighters that don’t back down when threatened.
15. Fat-tailed Mouse Possum
Scientific name (genus): Thylamys
Fat-tailed mouse possums are called that because they store fat in their tails, which is a characteristic only found in this genus.
They’re both arboreal and terrestrial, depending on the individual situation, and they usually live in nests. Their fat tail is very effective when it comes to climbing, despite its fatness.
In the wild, they’ll feed on larvae, insects, and fruits. Some species can grow tails longer than 5 inches, with the body usually being shorter than that.
Aside from being incredibly long, some tails can become very heavy because of the far accumulation.
16. Gray Mouse Possums
Scientific name: Tlacuatzin canescens
This 14-inch-long species of possum is the only member of its genus. It’s endemic to Mexico, usually inhabiting forests and grasslands, while it’s also found in agricultural lands.
Although it’s a mouse possum, they’re partly arboreal and are good climbers. These solitary animals mostly feed on bugs, but also fruits, such as figs and oranges.
Gray mouse possums are nocturnal, usually resting in their nests during the day.
17. Bushy-tailed Possums
Scientific name: Glironia venusta
Found in Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, this possum usually inhabits tropical forests. Since they heavily depend on trees, living and hunting in the foliage, they’re threatened by deforestation in these areas.
Bushy-tailed possums are named after their tail. It’s very long (up to 9 inches), and very bushy at the base, becoming less bushy towards the tip.
The tail is usually noticeably longer than the body, which normally isn’t longer than 8 inches.
In the wild, these possums mostly feed on insects, eggs, and plants.
18. Kalinowski’s Mouse Possum
Scientific name: Hyladelphys kalinowskii
This species of possum is very rarely seen and it’s only found in parts of Brazil, Peru, Guyana, and French Guiana. There, they’re a nocturnal species, usually occurring in rainforest lowlands.
Almost nothing is known about this species because of how secretive they are.
Although the large American possum is known for feigning death when threatened, not all possums use this mechanism to escape predators. In fact, some of them are highly aggressive fighters, while the smaller species are very capable climbers.
Certain possums have adapted to completely carnivorous diets, while there are species of possum that have adapted otter-like characteristics and could be described as aquatic.