Opossum is not Possum

I was reading a book about yarn the other day, when I came across the entry for possum.  My eyes widened in surprise to read the word “Opossum” and then narrowed in annoyance on noticing the illustration of a North American Opossum beside it.  I was quite dismayed and horrified.  In many respects.   (Just in case fibre enthusiasts are reading this, the book is not the The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius).

Firstly, that the author of this book did not take the trouble to get her facts right, and has probably contributed to the misperception that the possum fur in yarn is that of the beloved North American Opossum.   It is not.

Secondly, she mentioned that the yarn was produced in Australia and New Zealand.  In fact, the possum is a protected species in Australia, and some Australians are quite horrified at what is being done to their beloved critter here in NZ.

The problem is that despite its adorable cuteness, the possum is an invasive species and a terrible pest in New Zealand.  Having no natural predators in this country, they are causing extensive environmental damage to native flora and fauna, and must be controlled.  Using their fur and pelt is a good way to at least in some way, make this animal’s existence in this country come to some use.

Thirdly, I just feel sorry that she’s done so much damage to her own reputation in writing this passage.  My own regard for her work has sunk considerably.  How could she get it so wrong? Which is a shame, as I generally like what she’s doing.

To get the facts right:  The North American Opossum is Didelphis virginiana.  It looks quite different to the Australian Brush-tailed possum Trichosurus vulpecula –  the specific species which is an invasive pest in New Zealand, but protected in its native Australia.

I understand there are over 60 different species of possum, but the one we are talking about specifically for the New Zealand fur yarn industry is Trichosurus vulpecula.

The North American Opossum has a bald tail.  The Australian brush-tailed possum has a luxuriant, furry, black tail.  The two are not the same.

So if you do live overseas, and come across possum fur yarn, please do be reassured that buying this yarn is actually helping an environmental cause, and is not in any way causing the destruction or exploitation of a native species.

6 thoughts on “Opossum is not Possum

  1. This misperception has made it very challenging to sell possum yarn in America – that is, until knitters actually try it. The qualities of the yarn speak for themselves.

    1. I can imagine! Maybe Zealana should have a picture of an actual possum on the yarn label – that way people can see it isn’t the opossum!

  2. I live in Florida, USA. Opossums are ugly/cute and native here. One found it’s way into my trash bin through an open garage door. I had brought some trash out, looked in the can, saw that there was a critter”playing possum” in it, ie, pretending to be dead. I ran inside to tell my hubby about the possum [we’re just as guilty of shortening the name, but I do know the difference, having spent 3 wonderful weeks in NZ, where I learned about possum devastations to NZ nature and bought yarn]. We discovered the “dead” opossum had shifted it’s position in the bin. Laughing, we took the bin outside the garage and tipped it on it’s side and went inside. 10 minutes later, we retrieved the bin, now containing only some rubbish and no “dead” animals. We have been careful to close bins and doors since.

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