Opossums vs. Raccoons: The Fascinating Differences and Similarities Between These Two Species

There are times when raccoons and opossums are confused with one another. When this happens, it’s probably because of the slight similarities in their color or their scavenging behaviors at night. 

If you’re one of those who get confused between these two, stay with us here in Floofmania as we show you the similarities and significant differences between a raccoon and an opossum. 

We will ensure that you can easily separate these two once you’re done reading the article! 

What Are Some Similarities Between Opossums And Raccoons? 

Opossums (Didelphimorphia) and raccoons (Procyonidae) are unrelated to one another. However, these two have many more similarities than you probably expect. 

  • Both are nocturnal, which means that they are most active during nighttime. Raccoons and opossums tend to wander at night because their eyesight is adapted to low-light conditions. Often, they spend their nights looking for food. They search through any food sources, including garbage. 

    So, if you’re wondering why your trash is spread out all over in the morning despite disposing of it in a tidy way before sleeping, then you’ve probably been visited by a raccoon or opossum.
  • Both are skilled climbers. Their unique features make climbing one of their best traits. For raccoons, their strong, durable claws and innate strength aid them in climbing many kinds of obstacles including trees, walls, roofs, and fences.

    On the other hand, opossums are aided by their two big toes on each foot, known as halluxes. As good climbers, raccoons and opossums can quickly get away from predators that might threaten them.
  • Their colors have slight similarities. If you look at the photo above, you probably notice that their furs are a mixture of gray and black colors, although the distribution is slightly different.
  • Both are omnivores. Interestingly, none of these animals are picky eaters! They can eat pretty much anything. Their diets go from fruits and vegetables to leftovers and garbage. They also eat dead animals.
  • Both make screeching and hissing sounds when they are scared and intimidated. As we all know, animals make varieties of sounds depending on the situation they are in. For opossums and raccoons, the most common of these sounds is screaming or screeching. 

    They make them whenever they encounter threats that make them angry or scared. So folks, if you experience any opossum or raccoon making these sounds, don’t dare to approach them, or you’ll be in danger!
  • Both are scavengers. It is common among raccoons and opossums to eat carrion. As omnivores, decaying animals are part of their diet, and raccoons are one of the most well-known scavengers in the world!
  • Both love drinking water! Well, all animals need water. But these two are voracious water drinkers, which is why they prefer to live near freshwater sources such as ponds, rivers, and streams.

    If freshwater is not available in their area, they can make do with water from fountains or water bowls. If you don’t want them turning up in your yard, you should remove or cover any available water sources.
  • Both go into a state of torpor during winter. We’re very familiar with animals hibernating during winter. Opossums and raccoons don’t do that. They only enter a condition known as torpor.

    In this state, bodily functions are slowed and reduced, particularly their body temperature, metabolism, and heart rate. The slowing of some bodily functions helps them conserve the energy that they will need to survive. Yes, it might be rare to spot raccoons and opossums actively moving during winter but it’s not impossible because they still need to regularly look for food and water.

How Do Raccoons Differ From Opossums? 

While they have a lot of similarities, raccoons and opossums also have significant differences that you might look into in trying to distinguish them from each other. 

Which Are Bigger? A Raccoon Or An Opossum?

I know the answer’s pretty apparent, folks! You can already tell it based on the photo above. Raccoons are generally much bigger than opossums, although their length and weight aren’t that far from each other. 

Adult raccoons are 23 to 38 inches on average and can weigh up to 23 pounds, while adult opossums are around 24 to 26 inches on average and can weigh up to 12 pounds. 

But while their sizes are pretty close, raccoons still appear bigger because they tend to stand upright. Opossums can’t do that. 

Which Are Smarter? Raccoons Or Opossums?

If you’ve encountered raccoons and opossums before, you might probably have the inkling that raccoons are smarter. There are several aspects of their behavior that might make you think that. Well, you’re not wrong! 

Raccoon as a placental mammal is smarter than an opossum, a marsupial. This is because there are significant differences in their brain structure, particularly the absence of the corpus callosum in the opossum’s brain

It is an essential part connecting the left side of the brain to the right and is relatively large among intelligent animals. Due to its absence, opossums tend to move slower and lack an immediate reaction to the changes in their environment. 

Raccoons might be the smarter ones, but don’t ever think that opossums are totally dim-witted. Yes, they exhibit characteristics that make them look unintelligent, but several studies show that they excel on intelligence tests. 

Fact: In a 1907 study of raccoons by psychologist Lawrence W. Cole, it was concluded that raccoons are much smarter than dogs and cats and their mental attributes are close to those of monkeys. 

How Is The Behavior Of Raccoons And Opossums Different?

As solitary and nocturnal creatures, raccoons and opossums share many similarities in behavior. However, they differ in particular in their response to threats. 

You might wonder, who’s more confrontational? Is it the raccoon or the opossum? Well, the easy answer is the raccoon. While both try to avoid their predators and other threats as much as possible, raccoons are more than willing to fight, especially if escape is not an option.

On the other hand, opossums are much less inclined to become aggressive and often resort to playing dead or retreating to trees and other covers. 

When it comes to social groupings, a social hierarchy exists among raccoons but not among opossums.

The hierarchy among raccoons is established through dominant behavior where males fight each other to know their positions in the hierarchy. This hierarchy is non-existent among opossums because they mostly spend their lives alone. Yes, they are extreme loners! 

They also differ in personalities. Raccoons are often considered more curious, mischievous, and playful than opossums. 

Do Opossums Or Raccoons Live The Longest?

Raccoons live longer than opossums. On average, raccoons live around two to five years, while opossums only live around one to two years in the wild. 

Both lifespans are short, and in many cases, this is, unfortunately, because of predators and human interference. Many raccoons die because of traffic accidents. Let’s be extra cautious, folks!

Interestingly, both animals can live longer when held in captivity. Raccoons are able to live twice as long as their lifespan in the wild. Opossums’ lifespan grows longer too, but only by around 1 to 2 years. 

Where Do Opossums And Raccoons Live?

For opossums, raccoons, and of course, any other animal out there, having a safe and secure habitat makes them live longer. Since that’s the case, let’s look at what environment raccoons and opossums live best. 

Both are adaptable animals, so they can live almost anywhere, from the wild to urban and suburban areas. However, there is always the best habitat for each. 

Raccoons thrive the best in the woods, particularly in moist woodlands. Since there are lots of trees around, they can easily climb one anytime and protect themselves from the threat of predators. There is also plenty of food available in these areas. 

Just like the raccoons, opossums also prefer to live in wooded areas, usually, those that are near streams, lakes, and ponds, because these are closest to food and water sources. 

If they prefer to live in these areas, you probably wonder why they’re so common around humans. Well, it’s simply because they get attracted to the food available in your area. But both try to avoid neighborhoods as much as possible because they’re instinctively quite afraid of both humans and pets. 

How Do Opossums And Raccoons Look Different?

Distinguishing an opossum from a raccoon is relatively easy because of significant differences in their appearance. The differences are as follows:

FaceThey have black masks across their face. Pointed/elongated faces with white to light gray colors.
ColorTheir color ranges from gray, to black, and brown. They are gray in color with black and brown hues. 
TailThey have large, bushy tails with black rings. They have long, rounded, scaly, and almost hairless tails.
LegsTheir legs are relatively lean, and long, and are covered with fur. Their hind legs are longer than their front legs. They have short, thick legs covered with fur. 
Raccoon standing in a green field with its back curved.

Are Opossums And Raccoons Related?

Raccoons and opossums are unrelated. While both are native to North America, they belong to two different families. Raccoons are from the Procyonidae family, known as tree-climbing mammals, while opossums belong to the Didelphidae family, a subcategory of marsupials.

Raccoons are more related to bears and cats, while opossums are quite unique because they are more closely related to kangaroos than any other mammal in North America. 

Do Raccoons And Opossums Get Along?

Raccoons’ and opossums’ relationship can be a little complicated. They aren’t exactly friends but are also not each others’ primary enemies. 

Because of similarities and habits, opossums and raccoons tend to cross paths with each other quite often. Since they are both nocturnal, they usually bump into each other at night while looking for food. They may engage in fights at times when they are in the same area and get attracted to the same food. 

Quite complicated, right? Let’s just say they aren’t friends but they can tolerate each other. 

Do Opossums And Raccoons Fight Each Other?

Yes, opossums and raccoons sometimes get into fights. Neither are specifically confrontational, but they sometimes fight over food sources when push comes to shove.

Fact: Did you know that a male opossum is called a jack while a female is called a jill, and their baby is called a joey? It sounds like a family straight out of a fairy tale, right? 

Are Opossums And Raccoons Aggressive?

If they fight, does that mean they are aggressive? No. Neither is an aggressive animal. They don’t usually attack unless provoked by predators or other threats. 

Raccoons and opossums only put up a show to intimidate their opponents. They defensively hiss and bare their teeth to look vicious. Opossums even play dead when they are terrified. 

For raccoons, it is only when they have no choice but to face their opponents that they choose to attack. 

Who Would Win In A Fight Between An Opossum And A Raccoon?

When comparing the abilities and physical characteristics of an opossum and a raccoon, it becomes obvious that raccoons have an upper hand. This is because: 

  • Raccoons are generally larger and heavier than opossums. They have been known to hold their own in fights with dogs around 80 pounds, so they can definitely take on a 12-pound opossum.
  • Raccoons are faster than opossums. A raccoon can run around 10 to 15 mph while an opossum’s top speed is just 7 mph. This advantage makes it easier for raccoons to chase down opossums, but again, if the opossum starts to run away, it is unlikely that the raccoon would chase after it.
  • Both have fangs and claws that can be used to injure each other, but a raccoon’s fangs and claws are more prominent and sharper.
  • While opossums can deter a raccoon from attacking them by playing dead, there’s a good chance that raccoons are smart enough to see through the opossum’s act.

This slight upper hand can have dire consequences for an opossum. 

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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