Possums are very common marsupials inhabiting bushlands and rainforests in Australia. As marsupials, they carry their young inside pouches attached to their bodies. These mammals belong to the order Diprotodontia, which makes them close relatives of kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and koalas. They are often compared to opossums, not only due to their almost similar names but because of notable similarities in their appearances. The opossum, however, is native to American countries, while possums are more commonly found in Australia and the Pacific. Of all the similarities and differences possums and opossums have, one thing can be remarkably similar between the two: their dental structure. Possum teeth and opossum teeth are somehow likened to each other, except that opossums have much more teeth than possums do. But apart from that, the structure and use of these two marsupials’ teeth are pretty much the same.
The most common possum species is the brushtail possum. They can turn up in residential backyards uninvited. Possums are furry, and despite the famous phrase “playing possum” used to describe most animals’ tactic of playing dead or going into a state of catatonia, Australian possums do not actually “play possum.” Opossums are the ones who usually use this kind of defense mechanism.
What Kind of Teeth Do Possums Have?
Like most mammals, possums have a complete set of heterodont teeth, including incisors, canines, premolars, and molars. The possum’s canines are sharp but not as sharp, pointed, and prominent as the opossum’s canines. Their incisors are more prominent and larger than their canines, with the first upper incisor being the biggest. The possum’s canine teeth are separated from the premolars and molars, collectively called “cheek teeth,” by a gap called diastema. Possums have a really strong set of teeth, aiding their feeding with their front paws.
Unlike the opossum with sharper canines visible as they open their mouths, possums have shorter canine teeth but strong incisors and molars. Their varied diet causes the difference in the tooth size of these two marsupials. Opossums eat an omnivorous diet that includes both plant materials and animal flesh. Opossums also feed on carrion meat. With this diet, opossums need sharp canines to bite their victims’ flesh or tear carrion meat apart. On the other hand, possums are arboreal and are more inclined to plant materials such as leaves, fruits, shrubs, herbs, and flowers. Possums may sometimes supplement their plant-based diet with bird eggs, hatchlings, and insects.
Possums may sometimes use their sharp canines and incisors for self-defense. Their extremely sharp claws and small but pointed teeth can rip bark trees off and damage the skins of predators or other threats.
How Many Teeth Do Possums Have?
Possums have a total of 34 teeth, with a general dental formula of Incisors 3/2, Canines 1/0, Premolars 2/1, Molars 4/4 = 34. Each number in the dentition formula represents the number of teeth in both the left and right sides of the jaw, top over bottom. As seen in the formula, possums lack canines in their lower mandible, leaving a diastema that enhances the possum’s chewing prowess.
The possum’s premolars have blade-like cutting edges, which they utilize in cutting their food up. Behind the biggest middle incisor at the top mandible are smaller second incisors. The four molars at the rear of the mouth have four main cusps, just like many other mammals.
Possums use their incisors and canines to nip off leaves from trees and cut fruits, while they use their cutting-edge cheek teeth to grind and crush their food.
Do Possums Have Baby Teeth?
Like most mammals and marsupials, possums are diphyodont, which means they only grow two sets of teeth throughout their lifetime. Kangaroos are the only marsupials that continuously replace their teeth. Possums can only grow two sets of teeth –the deciduous set of teeth and the permanent or adult set of teeth.
Like dogs, possums are born with baby teeth or milk teeth. As the possum ages, it loses its deciduous teeth one at a time, as new, permanent teeth erupt in their place. Possums are susceptible to diseases and infections, yet their dental health does not always catch problems. So possums are less likely to lose their permanent teeth to dental issues.
Do Possums Bite?
Unlike their American counterparts, possums are friendlier to humans. They mostly visit residential backyards and dwell in urban areas as they are fond of people. However, possums can still bite whenever they feel threatened or cornered in any way. Their bite might be shallow, but it can be painful and cause infections.
Possums love hiding in people’s homes and backyards as they like to forage for fruits and vegetables. These marsupials also settle in trees, which drives them to live closer to humans in human-modified environments. Brushtail possums commonly reside in highly-urbanized areas, and that is why it isn’t surprising that they are friendly and have no reservations about walking up to strangers. However, despite their fluffy fur and average bodies (ranging from 13 to 22 inches), possums can still be threats to humans.
Possums are naturally territorial. They will bare their sharp and pointy canines to anyone who threatens their territory, even if it is another possum. When trapped or cornered, possums will likely defend themselves with sharp claws and a stinging bite. Their claws are mighty weapons as they can rip off a tree’s bark using these bare claws. Possums can also lash out on dogs or other house pets if they mess with them.
Are Possum Bites Dangerous?
Like most rodents‘ bites, possum bites are not poisonous or fatal but can carry diseases and even termites, parasites, and bacterial infections. Even though these marsupials are free of rabies, their bites still carry infections that can cause serious illnesses. Apart from their bites, possums can also transmit other deadly diseases such as leptospirosis, Lyme disease, mycobacteriosis, and rickettsia.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Carolyn Smith1/Shutterstock.com
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