The Great American Marsupial, However You Spell It

Channel-surfing last week, I stopped to watch a yapok on the Discovery channel.

I confess, I didn’t know it was a yapok when I first saw it. I just knew it was a neat-looking animal that could motor in the water. It has a coat like a black and silver tabby cat, and webbed hind feet. The scientists call it Chironectes minimus. It being the only aquatic marsupial in the world, it is also called a water opossum.

Which brings me to my next question: possum or opossum?

I found what at first appeared to be a respectable answer, from The Plant & Pest Diagnostic Laboratory at Purdue University. The State Director of the Indiana Wildlife Services says it is Opossum. Then I noticed the information I just read “is valid only for the state of Indiana.”

Continuing to investigate this crucial issue, I found out more about opossum or possum first aid than I really wanted to know. (Should you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to make a baby possum pee, follow that link and learn how.) The folks providing this information (the National Opossum Society) want you to follow their advice inside and outside Indiana, and also prefer opossum to possum, but did use ‘possum.

Turns out, opossum is the more formal, but not latin, name of the critter. People just like to say possum. Google, as always arbiter of ridiculous disputes, proves people like possum better.

Of the over five dozen types of opossums in the Americas, only one kind “plays possum.” (See, that “o” would just sound funny there, wouldn’t it?)

I even found a bizarre biblically-inspired rant on possums. And if you don’t agree with them, well: “Those who don’t know these things about the possum have a problem with reality.”

I think family of critters that is immune to the venom of pit vipers can’t be all bad.

Especially the ones with webbed feet.

2 thoughts on “The Great American Marsupial, However You Spell It

  1. Thanks for writing this article I needed this information for the water possum/yapok/chironectes minimus for a school project. This was extremely well written and well researched. Thanks again.

    Morgan Burch

  2. Hi, in fact, all the marsupials in South America are called “possums” and the others, mainly in Australia are called “opossums”. I know because I’m studying them, actually I’m studying C. minimus!

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