Possums are small to medium-sized animals native to Australia and the surrounding areas. They are primarily nocturnal and are able climbers, often traveling around through the trees. They have a pointed snout and ears, and many species have thick, bushy tails. Their appearance often leads to the question, “are possums rodents?”
This article will discover what is so unique about both rodents and possums. We’ll also learn about how possums look after their young and which animals they are closely related to, along with many other fascinating things. So join us as we find out whether possums are rodents!
Many possums are typically solitary animals who only seek out the presence of other possums during the breeding season. Possums are extremely adaptable and can be found in various habitats such as forests, bushland, and even urban areas. They are omnivorous and eat insects, seeds, leaves, and plants.
Possums range in size from the tiny Tasmanian pygmy possum, less than three inches long to the bear cuscus, which weighs up to 22 pounds. Different species of possum have other unique adaptations. Gliders are perhaps the most unique as they have large flaps of skin between their limbs, which means that they can launch themselves and glide through the air as far as 65 feet.
Possums have a number of predators, including snakes, foxes, owls, tiger quolls, cats, dogs, and humans. Some possum species have healthy numbers, but some are sadly under serious threat. In Australia alone, around one-quarter of the possum species are classed as being threatened in some way.
What are Rodents?
Rodents are mammals from the order Rodentia, and around 40% of all mammals in the world are rodents. Most rodents (although not all) have stocky bodies with short limbs and long tails. They are extremely adaptable and live in a variety of different habitats all around the world, except Antarctica. The main feature of rodents and what defines them is their large incisor teeth which grow continually throughout their lives.
As rodents’ incisor teeth continually grow, they have to gnaw constantly to prevent their teeth from becoming too long for their mouths. To help with constant chewing, their teeth are specially adapted. Rodents incisors are covered with thick enamel on the front of them, while the rear is made from softer dentin. The tougher material on the front takes longer to wear down than the back does and this creates a unique chisel shape on the tooth. As the incisors work together, they act as a self-sharpening mechanism. This mechanism helps rodents always to maintain their super sharp teeth.
Rodents have a habit of chewing pretty much anything they can get their teeth into – including wooden structures and electrical wires – which often earns them pest status. Most rodents are herbivores, although some are omnivores and eat a range of insects, fish, crustaceans, frogs, small birds, and bird eggs, as well as seeds, leaves, and flowers.
Are Possums Rodents?
Possums are not rodents. Instead, they are marsupials from Oceania (Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and surrounding islands). Possums and rodents are not related and are from completely different orders. Possums carry their undeveloped young in a pouch while rodents give birth to fully formed live young. Rodents are famous for their constantly growing teeth which possums do not have. Instead, possums have large lower incisors as well as unique hind feet. Below are detailed differences.
Possums are from a different Order
As we’ve already mentioned, rodents are from the order Rodentia. However, possums are from a completely different order. Possums are from the order Diprotodontia, which is the largest order of marsupials and includes possums, kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, and wombats. They are in the suborder Phalangeriformes, and there are currently around 70 species in the world. It should be noted that opossums – although also marsupials and commonly called possums – are not the same animal as possums. Opossums are from the order Didelphimorphia and are endemic to the Americas. Possums are not related to opossums. Instead, they are more closely related to the other Australian marsupials in the Diprotodontia order.
Two main features of Diprotodontia set them apart from animals in other orders, and possums possess both of them. All members of the order are “diprotodont”, which literally means “two front teeth.” This is because they have a pair of large incisors in their lower jaw. The jaw is short, and most members of the order also have three pairs of upper incisors.
The second feature of the order that possums also share is “syndactyly.” Syndactyly means that the second and third digits of the hind feet – the middle two – are fused together while the claws are separate. This is often thought to be an adaptation that is particularly useful for climbing.
Possums are Marsupials
One of the unique things about possums is how they raise their young. Possums are marsupials which means that they – like kangaroos and koalas – look after their young in a pouch on their front. Marsupials give birth to extremely undeveloped young. This is entirely different from placental mammals – such as rodents – who give birth to fully formed, live young. Instead, possums give birth to a tiny young joey no larger than a jelly bean. Possums have a short gestation period – usually only between 16 and 17 days. The tiny young possum then crawls into its mother’s pouch and attaches itself to a teat. Its mouth usually fuses onto the teat. This is so that it can remain latched on for several months while it continues to develop.
Young possums stay in their mother’s pouch for around 4 to 5 months before they begin to leave it. Once the joey is old enough to leave the pouch, it is usually carried around on its mother’s back until it is towards a year old. Eventually, the young possum graduates to accompanying its mother on foot and starts to become more independent.
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