Are Possums Dangerous And Other Strange Facts

The possum is an extremely strange animal.

Looking rather like an oversized rat, there is certainly something unsettling about this malevolent looking creature.

Are possums dangerous, though?

This is one of the first questions posed by many people when they are faced by the fierce teeth of this unusual marsupial.

We will look today at this issue along with some other facts about this bizarre animal.

Are Possums Dangerous?

are possums dangerous
If you are ever confronted by a possum, fifty teeth bared as above, it is only natural that you might feel threatened.

Usually, possums have easy-going and laid-back temperaments. The exposed snarling grimace is simply a smart defense against would-be attackers. If you approached the animal, it would be highly unlikely to do more than back off and cower away.

You must face facts, though: if a possum is cornered by a human or another animal, there is an outside chance it might defend itself by lashing out. When we are talking about a wild creature the size of a cat with claws and teeth – all fifty of them! – like razors, it pays to err on the side of caution.

If you have any pets at home, make certain to keep them well clear of any possums on your land.

The next time someone asks you, “Are possums dangerous?” you will be able to answer confidently that, normally, they are not.

How else, then, do possums protect themselves?

What Does Playing Possum Mean?

playing possum

Source: Deviant Art

The expression playing possum is often used when a child is playing and feigns being dead. The phrase has been around for generations but people tend to think it’s nothing more than an alliterative myth.

When a possum is in any kind of trouble, its first course of action is to bare that vicious set of teeth growling at the aggressor. It compounds this fearsome effect by belching and will also urinate or defecate in an attempt to confuse and disgust the predator.

If all else fails, something is triggered in the possum’s brain and it suffers from a temporary paralysis. This is more like the animal fainting than a natural response and it works very well.

The animal on the attack will see the possum roll and fall over. They tend to close their eyes or stare vacantly into space. This alone would be an inadequate defense mechanism. The attacker would perhaps approach and try to eat the possum.


Saliva foams up around their exposed teeth. Their glands secrete a rancid odor.

The overall effect of the animal “playing possum” is to allow the opponent to believe they have triumphed and the possum has somehow died.

This state of catatonia can last for several hours. The sight and smell of the seemingly-dead beast is more than enough to put any marauding predator off the thought of trying to eat it!

Is A Possum The Same As An Opossum?

are possums dangerous

The word opossum was first coined in the early 1600s by Captain John Smith. This Jamestown colonist borrowed the word from the native Algonquian language in which opassum meant white animal.

Just a few years later, in 1613, the name appeared in print for the first time. The “o” had been dropped and the world was introduced to the possum! They

So… the animal which was first known as an opossum is widely referred to as a possum.


A possum is actually a different animal, one of several species of nocturnal, tree-dwelling marsupials found in New Guinea and Australia. The story goes that Captain Cook named them after their North American cousin the opossum.

Today, the Australian possum holds claim to the true scientific title of possum.

The animal from North America is strictly speaking an opossum.

That said, old habits die hard. Most people refer to the American marsupial as a possum so the name has stuck. The words are technically different but in real terms they are used practically interchangeably.

What Do Possums Eat?

Opossum are omnivores. They quite happilys eat both meat and plants.

They eat a surprisingly varied diet including:

  • Rodents
  • Carrion
  • Snails
  • Slugs
  • Eggs
  • Birds
  • Fruits
  • Grains
  • Plants

If none of the above are available, opossum will readily eat human scraps, dog or cat food along with any other scraps they can find. These animals are highly versatile and will never starve!

They are scavengers by nature but opossum will also hunt if forced into it. They are quite capable of bringing down birds, snakes and other small animals.

Possums also have an elevated need for calcium. This leads them to gnaw on the bones of road kill to take more on board.

How Many Babies Do Possums Have?

Alongside a desire to know if possums are dangerous, another frequently asked question concerns the number of babies they have…

Marsupials, female possum have pouches and give birth to large litters of babies. The moment they are born, these babies climb directly back into the mother’s pouch. It’s from here that they grow and develop.

Litters can contain up to 20 babies but normally only half of these survive. Nature if often a numbers game. The possum protects itself by having more than enough offspring to guarantee that enough will live on and escape the rigors of entering the world outside the mother’s pouch.

Possums Have Remarkable Immunity

are possums dangerous

The possum has a remarkable immune system. This is rugged enough to protect them against the venomous bites of snakes like the rattlesnake, cottonmouth and viper.

They are practically immune from contracting rabies. You are far more likely to see a rabid dog than a possum!

The Possum Is Very Smart

Not all animals are created equal when it comes to intelligence.

Possums possess incredible memories. They can easily remember where they found food. This helps them to stay on top of their food supply. Adult possums move around alone seeking out whatever food comes their way.

In controlled tests, opossums navigate mazes far more confidently than cats or rats.

Possums Have Opposable Thumbs

possums opposable thumbs
Opossum have exceptional climbing abilities.

This is helped along by their “thumbs” which are opposable like a human’s. These are called hallux and are situated on the rear feet.

Possums are the only animals except for primates that boast opposable thumbs.

Natural Pest Killers

Rather than worrying whether or not the possum is dangerous, you should actually welcome them into your garden.

They munch on the beetles, slugs and snails that can ravage your grass.

Possums compete for food sources with rats and cockroaches. They will kill both of these vermin if they venture into their territory. In this way, it could be said that possums are dangerous to some!

Aside from protecting your pets from any harm, you should be glad if you have possums on your property.


In response to the age-old query, “Are possums dangerous”, the answer is a qualified, “No.”

These fascinating animals have a lot more going for them than they are given credit for. Just be careful not to approach and corner one and you will have no problems.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions about the opossum or any other aspect of gardening. We will get back to you as soon as possible.

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