Raccoons and possums are often confused with one another. After all, they’re both likely to spend some time sifting through your garbage cans, and they are both known for being nocturnal. So, if you hear some scampering out in the yard one night and you shine a light outside only to see a bushy tail with alternating colors disappearing under the fence, what was it? We are going to show you some of the most significant differences between the raccoon vs possum.
By the time we’re done, you’ll know exactly how to tell the two animals apart!
A quick note: possum typically refers to the Australian variant called Phalangeriformes. However, this article compares the opossum, commonly called a possum in North America, with the raccoon, an animal that shares their range. Specifically, we are using the Virginia opossum as our animal of comparison.
Comparing Raccoons vs Possums
Comparing Raccoons and Possums
Length: 16in-28in, up to 40in with tail
Length: 30in, including tail.
|-Mammal with live birth as kits, baby raccoons.
– Their young live in the marsupium, the pouch, for about 120 days.
|-Famously gray and black with a black “mask” on their face.
– Brown, cinnamon, and other colors, too.
|– Gray, white, and black
– White face with narrow snout and pink nose
|-Throughout North America, South America, and parts of Europe.
|– Eastern portion of the United States and Central America
|-Bushy, alternating bands of colors
|– Hairless, prehensile tail
The 7 Key Differences Between a Raccoon vs Possum
The main differences between raccoons and possums lie in their reproduction, morphology, and coloration. Raccoons are longer and taller than possums in a lot of cases. However, possums are heavier than raccoons much of the time.
Possums resemble rodents in terms of their body shape, hairless tails, and prominent eyes, but raccoons are more easily mistaken for cats with their triangular faces, bushy tails, and eyes.
Raccoons are gray, black, brown, cinnamon, and albino in color, but they all tend to have a black or dark patch over their face that resembles a mask, and their noses are dark. Possums are white, gray, and black, and their faces tend to be white with a pink nose.
Lastly, raccoons are mammals that give live birth to young, and possums are marsupials that give birth to live young that travel to the mother’s pouch to develop for another 4 months. These are the most significant differences between the animals, but we’re going to explore the other elements in greater depth.
Raccoon vs Possum: Lifespan
Raccoons live longer than possums by quite a bit. In the wild, raccoons can live for over a decade, and they can live up to 16 years in captivity. That is a long time for an animal that spends so much of its time avoiding predators at night.
Possums live for 8 years when they are taken care of by human beings. In the wild, they usually die after four years or so. Possums age quickly and die young. Oftentimes, they will fall victim to human beings or other predators. Either way, possums don’t live as long as raccoons.
Raccoon vs Possum: Size
Possums are frequently heavier than raccoons, weighing up to 32lbs throughout their short lives. Raccoons are longer and taller than possums, even accounting for their tails, but they do not weigh as much. Their bodies are great for climbing and squeezing into small spaces.
Raccoon vs Possum: Development
Raccoons are mammals and possums are marsupials. That means that raccoons give birth to live young that they nurse and care for but otherwise develop enough to move around on their own rather quickly.
Possums are marsupials, so their young are birthed after a much briefer gestation time, just a few weeks. The young possums then move into the marsupium, the pouch, and attach to a teat for between 3 and 4 months.
Raccoon vs Possum: Coloration
Raccoons are known for their unique coloration, especially on their face. Although raccoons can be black, white, gray, cinnamon, brown, and other colors, they typically have a darker color “mask” on their faces. Their noses are usually black. Also, raccoons can have bands of color on their bodies, alternating between a lighter and darker color, especially on the tail.
Possums have fewer color variations possible. For the most part, they have white faces, pink noses, and a mix of gray, white, and black fur throughout their bodies without any pattern to it.
Raccoon vs Possum: Location
Both the raccoon and the possum share a range in North America. However, raccoons live in South America and Europe. The Virginia Possum lives in the eastern portion of the United States along with parts of Central America. Recently, they have made their way to the west coast of the U.S., including California where they face many challenges from parasites in their new habitat.
Raccoon vs Possum: Tails
Another major difference between raccoons and possums is their tails. Raccoons have very bushy tails that integrate the colors from the animal’s fur. The tails have bands of color on them that alternate in color down the length of their tail.
A possum’s tail is hairless, but also much more useful than a raccoon’s tail. Possum tails are prehensile, which means they can be used to grab onto surfaces when the possum is climbing. Possum tails are far more useful than raccoon tails, but the latter have been used as good luck charms.
Racoon vs Possum: Threat Responses
When threatened, raccoons will typically exhibit a display that includes snarling and growling. Most of the time, they will just flee from a threat if they can. Possums “play dead” when they are faced with a threat. Contrary to popular belief, this response to a threat is involuntary.
The possum will topple over, excrete a foul smell, and not wake up for several minutes or several hours. Unfortunately, this can lead the possum to become a victim of predators that are undeterred by apparently dead creatures.
All in all, raccoons and possums are very different creatures, but they have some similarities. Their ranges overlap, they are both nocturnal, and they each play an important role in the environment. Next time you find one of these creatures going through your trash, just scare them off instead of taking more permanent measures.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Lisa Hagan/Shutterstock.com
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.