Creature Feature: The Odd-Looking Opossum

Have you ever heard the phrase “playing possum” and wondered what it meant?

Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock

Playing possum is the same as playing dead. It’s something opossums, also called possums, do to protect themselves.


When scared, an opossum will suddenly flop on the ground. It looks dead, tricking predators into passing it by.


Opossums are about the size of a house cat or a small dog. They are funny-looking animals.


They have dark bodies and white, pointy faces with pink noises. They also have long tails that look like rat tails.


Here are some other interesting facts about opossums.


Fun Facts

  • The opossum is the only marsupial in the United States. A marsupial is an animal with a pouch. After birth, baby opossums live in the pouch until they get bigger. Kangaroos are also marsupials.

  • Baby opossums are tiny. They are about the size of a honeybee at birth. The mother has up to 20 babies at once, but less than half survive.

  • Opossums have 50 teeth. That’s the most of any mammal that lives on land.

  • Baby opossums are called joeys, just like baby kangaroos. Males are called jacks, and females are jills. A group of opossums is a passel.

  • Opossums live all over Illinois and in the eastern half of the United States. They also live in Mexico, Canada and Central America.

  • Most mammals do not have thumbs, but opossums do. Their thumbs are on their back feet.

  • They use them to help them climb. The only other mammals with thumbs are humans and primates.

  • Opossums are not picky eaters. They are omnivores, which means they eat meat and plants. They eat insects, worms, small mammals and birds, along the fruits and nuts.

  • Opossums are nocturnal, which means they are active at night and sleep during the day.

  • These animals are helpful to humans because they eat ticks, which spread diseases.

  • Opossums can eat up to 4,000 ticks a week.