AskDefine | Define possum

Dictionary Definition



1 nocturnal arboreal marsupial having a naked prehensile tail found from southern North America to northern South America [syn: opossum]
2 small furry Australian arboreal marsupials having long usually prehensile tails [syn: phalanger, opossum]

User Contributed Dictionary



Corruption of opossum, from wapathemwa.


  • , /ˈpɒsəm/, /"pQs@m/
  • Rhymes with: -ɒsəm


  1. Any of marsupials in several families of the order Diprotodontia of Australia and neighboring islands.
  2. Popular form for the opossums, the marsupials of the family Didelphidae of the Americas

Related terms



pot- + sum, ‘I am’’


possum, posse, potui
  1. I am able; I can.

Extensive Definition

For the Western Hemisphere marsupial, see opossum.
A possum is any of about 64 small to medium-sized arboreal marsupial species native to Australia, New Guinea, and Sulawesi (and introduced to New Zealand). The name derives from their resemblance to the opossums of the Americas. (The name is from Algonquian wapathemwa, not Greek or Latin, so the plural is possums, not possa.) Possum is also used in North America as a diminutive for the Virginia Opossum. The possum's rank odour is due to its large musk glands located behind each ear.
Possums are small marsupials with brown or grey fur, ranging in size and weight from the length of a finger or 170 grams (6 ounces) (pygmy possums and wrist-winged gliders), to the length of 120 centimetres (four feet) or 14.5 kilograms (32 pounds) (brushtails and ringtails). In general, though, the larger possums are about the same size as a well-fed domestic cat. All possums are nocturnal and omnivorous, hiding in a nest in a hollow tree during the day and coming out during the night to forage for food. They fill much the same role in the Australian ecosystem that squirrels fill in the northern hemisphere and are broadly similar in appearance.
The two most common species of possums, the Common Brushtail and Common Ringtail, are also among the largest.

Interaction with humans

The animal has been a part of Australian culture and folklore since the original indigenous inhabitants of the country. Indigenous Australians once used possum hides whilst playing the traditional game of Marn Grook. Possum-skin cloaks were important clothing for Aborigines from the south-east, as well as being important clan heirlooms.
In modern times, the phrase "Hello possums!" made famous by satirist Barry Humphries' character Dame Edna Everage has become a celebrated catchphrase.
Possums are commonly found in suburban areas, where they are often considered pests owing to their habit of eating fruit, vegetables, flowers and tender young shoots from gardens, and nesting in roofs. The loud hissing, crackling territorial call of the male Common Brushtail may also be a problem for suburban residents. Natural deterrents which play upon the possum's acute sense of smell are often employed to discourage them. These include cloves of garlic, camphor or naphthalene. As a native species in Australia, possums are protected by Australian regulations, even when they reside in urban neighbourhoods, and cannot be baited. They cannot be killed as pests, and if captured, the regulations stipulate that they must be released within a small radius of that locality since they are territorial creatures. Preventative measures such as blocking off their access to the roof spaces or building a possum nesting box for an alternative home are instead recommended.
Although the Common Brushtail and (to a lesser extent) ringtail possums have adapted well to the urban environment, many of the lesser-known species are reduced in number, threatened, or endangered.

Introduction into New Zealand

The Common Brushtail Possum was introduced to New Zealand by European settlers in an attempt to establish a fur industry.
They soon escaped into the wild where they have thrived as an invasive species with great numbers: around 60 million individuals estimated. There are no native predators of the possum in New Zealand. There have been numerous attempts to eradicate them because of the damage they do to native trees and wildlife, as well as acting as a carrier of bovine tuberculosis. For New Zealand, the introduction of possums has resulted in as much of an ecological disaster as the introduction of rabbits has been in Australia.


About two-thirds of Australian marsupials belong to the order Diprotodontia, which is split into three suborders: the Vombatiformes (wombats and the Koala, 4 species in total); the large and diverse Phalangeriformes (the possums and gliders) and Macropodiformes (kangaroos, potoroos, wallabies and the Musky Rat-kangaroo).


possum in Arabic: بوسوم
possum in Catalan: Pòssum
possum in Czech: Possum
possum in German: Possum
possum in Spanish: Phalangeriformes
possum in French: Possum
possum in Indonesian: Posum
possum in Italian: Possum
possum in Hebrew: פוסום אוסטרלי
possum in Lithuanian: Medlaipiai sterbliniai
possum in Dutch: Koeskoezen
possum in Japanese: ポッサム
possum in Polish: Pałankowate
possum in Russian: Поссумы
possum in Finnish: Pussikiipijät
possum in Swedish: Klätterpungdjur

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Cape polecat, ape, bar, bear, cavy, chimp, chimpanzee, coon, ferret, foumart, glutton, groundhog, guinea pig, hedgehog, monk, monkey, mousehound, opossum, polecat, porcupine, prairie dog, quill pig, raccoon, skunk, weasel, whistle-pig, wolverine, woodchuck, zoril
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