The Opossum’s Paws and Claws (Your Questions Answered)

Opossums, the only known marsupial of North America, can be best recognized by their elongated face and snout, short dark legs, and long, almost hairless tails.

But have you ever looked at opossums and wondered about their feet, paws, and claws? What kind of paws do you think these gray, solitary creatures have? 

If you’re curious to find out the answer to these questions, join Floofmania and learn about what makes an opossum’s paws and claws unique, along with their uses. 

Opossum walking from snow to grass with its pink little toes spread out.

What Does An Opossum’s Paws Look Like? 

An opossum does not have the same paw structures on the forefeet and hind feet. 

The forefeet of an opossum have five toes with claws, making the opossum dexterous. These toes and claws allow the opossum to grasp branches and other objects like twigs and hold food items while feeding. 

So here’s the thing. The forepaw of the opossum has six pads (also called tori) which are separated by a deep midline groove.

The first digit of the forepaw bears a nail that is much closer to the rest of the toes compared to that of the first digit of the hind paw. And when you look closely, you’ll see that the midline groove is in line with the central digit of the opossum’s forefoot.

On the other hand, the hind paw of an opossum only has five pads that are also separated by grooves. And unlike the forepaw, an opossum’s hind paw does not have a midline groove that separates the pads into two sections.

The only prominent groove is the one that separates the hallux (thumb of the hind paw) from the remainder of the fingers and the paws.

Both the hind paw and forepaw are usually pink in color with little scaly-like patterns at some parts. 

Do Opossums Have Claws? 

Opossum sitting on a tree branch with its toes and claws spread out.

One thing we have constantly been mentioning in this article is that opossums are excellent tree climbers. And you know what? This is because their sharp claws aid them along with their opposable thumbs and a long prehensile tail. 

The opossums have five claws on their forefeet while only four on their hind feet. The difference was due to the hallux (big toe) lacking a claw. 

The claws of both the forefeet and the hind feet are non-retractable. So, if you happen to encounter an opossum and see that its claws are out, fret not because that does not mean they are in attack mode. Unlike animals like cats that only have their claws out when they mean to, opossum’s claws are always out. 

So you have nothing to worry about. In fact, the claws of the opossum have never been observed to be used as weapons. 

Just like the paws, these claws make it possible for opossums to pick up and grasp objects like thin branches and twigs better than other animals. 

How Many Toes Do Opossums Have? 

Like any other animal, opossums have toes that are very helpful in their survival. They have five toes, both on the forefeet and hind feet. The forefeet have toes that are of equal sizes.

However, the toes on an opossum’s hind feet are quite unusual because of their hallux or the big toe. This big toe is clawless and looks like a thumb, which makes the hind feet stand out. It is also why the opossum’s hind foot is shaped somewhat like a human hand. 

Of course, this hallux serves a function. 

  • This thumb helps opossums grasp and hold branches when climbing a tree or any structure
  • Along with using its prehensile tail, this unique feature makes an opossum an adept tree climber that can easily gather food and escape predators. 

Do Opossums Have Opposable Thumbs? 

Yes, opossums have opposable thumbs on their hind feet. Because of this feature, the opossum can simultaneously flex and rotate its thumbs and touch the tips of the other four toes.

So, yes! An opossum’s hind feet can do just what a human hand can. And these opposable thumbs serve a good purpose in the opossum’s survival as they are very helpful in grasping branches and climbing. 

Another thing. If you look closely, these thumbs are at a 90-degree angle to the other toes. So if you see the opossum’s tracks, you can easily discern the hind foot from the front foot.

Fun Fact: Opossums are the only non-primate animals with opposable first toes. 

Do Opossums Have Webbed Feet?

No, opossums do not have webbed feet. While a webbed foot is common among animals that can swim well, and opossums are proficient swimmers, they do not have this specialized feature. When you look closely at their feet, you can see that their toes on the forefeet and hind feet are widely spread apart. 

Their lack of this specialized feature is evident in their tracks. As you can see in the video below, the forefoot and hindfoot track shows that each finger is entirely separate from the other, and you can’t see anything, like a skin that connects one finger to the other. 

How Do Opossums Use Their Paws and Claws? 

Opossum being held in a person's hands. the fingers and claws of its forepaws visible.

As you are already aware by now, opossums are excellent tree climbers. Thanks to their paws and that claws that aid them in grasping and holding branches! 

But aside from this primary function, an opossum’s paws, particularly the forepaws, are very helpful in gathering denning materials. The process goes like this: the materials are collected using their mouth and forepaws, then passed to the abdomen and the hind feet.

After this, the opossum uses the hind feet to organize the gathered materials into a bundle. 

An opossum’s paws and claws also play an essential role in its grooming. To keep themselves tidy, opossums lick their forefeet and then use their forepaws to cleanse their facial hair in a fashion similar to what cats do.

Aside from this, the forepaws are also used to hold the tail, which the opossum carefully licks during grooming. Then, to get rid of the ticks and fleas from their fur, the opossums use their claws and comb them.

Opossums also utilize their sharp claws to dig shallow holes to look for food. Please take note that despite their claws’ sharpness, opossums tend to avoid digging super-deep holes. They only go for food that is easy to grab from the topsoil. 

Do Opossums Have Retractable Claws? 

If you’ve been quite focused on reading the article, then you’re probably already aware of the answer. But if not, take it easy! Because I’ll reiterate that opossums do not have retractable claws. This means that their claws are permanently out and cannot be withdrawn. Once again, these non-retractable claws make it easier for them to climb. 

Other advantages of having a non-retractable claw include faster or accelerated digging movement and an advantageous position in taking down prey like frogs. 

You might probably wonder why opossums do not have retractable claws. It’s simply because they are not actual predators. A retractable claw is a special feature among animals that hunts their prey.

Since opossums do not do this, this feature is unsuitable for them. As we know, opossums are more dependent on eating fruit, plants, dead animals, and any other food that they scavenge than preying on animals for food.

Are Opossum’s Claws Sharp? 

Yes! Opossums have extremely sharp claws. So, if you encounter them, it is advisable to avoid being perceived as a threat because they might attack you. And as you can probably imagine, an attack from these creatures with sharp claws could be painful. 

Fun Fact: Did you know that aside from having feet that resemble human hands, an opossum’s forefeet and hind feet also have friction ridges or fingerprints? Interesting right? This is unique because fingerprint similar to that of humans is only shared among primates; as we know, an opossum is not one of them.

Author: Clarisse Jane Javier

Hello, there! I’m CJ, and I’ve been writing since primary school. I love to write about a variety of topics, from pets to the arts. I have had an endless fascination for animals since I was a kid. Until today, I always looked forward to learning more about the diverse species we have on Earth.

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