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Tech & Science Bison or buffalo? Possum or opossum? What's the difference?

03:00  24 january  2020
03:00  24 january  2020 Source:   nationalgeographic.com

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What is the Difference Between and Opossum and Possum ? While it’ s common for people to use these two spellings interchangeably, opossum and The popular phrase to play possum or playing possum is a reference to a defensive mechanism employed by opossums where they play dead or

Introduction Possums and Opossums belong to the group of mammals known as marsupials. Marsupials, like other mammals, are covered with hair and give live birth although they do not have long

a bird sitting on a rock: A Virginia opossum (pictured in Michigan) is a far cry from the possums of the Pacific islands. © Photograph by Steve Gettle, Minden Pictures

A Virginia opossum (pictured in Michigan) is a far cry from the possums of the Pacific islands.

Butterflies fly during the day, and moths come out at night. At least, that’s what conventional wisdom says. But is this a good way to tell the difference between butterflies and moths?

Not really, says Akito Kawahara, an entomologist and curator of Lepidoptera—the order of insects that includes butterflies and moths—at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

a small bird perched on a tree branch: A ringtailed possum climbs a tree in Mount Field National Park in Tasmania. © Photograph by Bill Hatcher, Nat Geo Image Collection

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Opossum and possum sound much similar, and both of them are marsupials, but the differences are many between them. It would be fascinating to understand the particular differences between opossum and possum with regard to some of the biological aspects.

What ’ s the Difference Between Possum and Opossum ? A possum is a type of marsupial, native to Australasia. People will often use the terms interchangeably, a bit like buffalo and bison , but it is important to Use possum or possums when referring to the marsupials, Phalangeriformes.

In fact, there are tons of moths that fly during the day, says Kawahara, as well as butterflies that come out at night. Take the family Hedylidae: These Neotropical insects seem to tick off all the moth boxes—their wings are covered in mottled browns, their antennae lack tiny clubs at the end, they’re nocturnal, and they have even evolved a hearing organ that helps protect them against bats. And yet…

a herd of cattle standing on top of a snow covered field: The American bison (above, an animal roaming the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming) is not closely related to true buffalo of Asia and Africa. © Photograph by Charlie Hamilton James, Nat Geo Image Collection

The American bison (above, an animal roaming the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming) is not closely related to true buffalo of Asia and Africa.

“It turns out that, using DNA evidence, we now know that they’re actually a butterfly,” says Kawahara, who is also an associate professor at the University of Florida.

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The opossum ( or ) is a marsupial of the order Didelphimorphia () endemic to the Americas. The largest order of marsupials in the Western Hemisphere Opossums originated in South America and entered North America in the Great American Interchange following the connection of the two continents.

Both bison and buffalo belong to the Bovidae family, which consists of more than 100 species of hoofed mammals called ungulates, including buffalo , bison But even though bison and buffalo are similarly large, cattle-like animals, there are striking physical differences that distinguish them.

If you want to get technical, butterflies are really just a small subset of specialized, day-flying moths. There are 160,000 known species of moths and butterflies, and only about 20,000 of those are butterflies.

“The bottom line is all butterflies are moths, and there's no such thing as butterflies,” says Kawahara.

You see, the more you look around the animal kingdom, the more examples of confusing nomenclature you’ll find—whether it’s turtles and tortoises or alligators and crocodiles. These sorts of divisions may seem trivial, but they can also be a learning opportunity. Too many people, says Kawahara, will appreciate a popular insect like the monarch butterfly, but not the wonderful things moths do.

a close up of a cow: The African buffalo is the most populous herbivore in Africa. Above, an animal is seen in Botswana's Okavango Delta. © Photograph by Beverly Joubert, Nat Geo Image Collection

The African buffalo is the most populous herbivore in Africa. Above, an animal is seen in Botswana's Okavango Delta.

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Or were they buffalo ? Is there a difference between the two? "In North America, the names are used interchangeably for the species Bison bison ," Ross MacPhee, Curator of But though both bison and buffalo are bovids, or members of the cattle family, there are some definite differences between them.

Is it Possum or Opossum ? The real answer to the possum vs opossum quandary is that the word opossum is a name used for more than 100 different species of marsupials across North, Central and South America (members of the family Didelphidae and Caenolestidae) including the Virginia

“They’re all amazing. Let’s look at the things we don’t typically look at,” he says, “because there’s so much we don’t know about the world.”

Toady frogs and froggy toads

Many people grow up learning that frogs have bright, smooth, shiny skin, and toads are characterized by drab, rough, wart-covered skin. But what of the South American harlequin toads, which sport an array of vibrant colors? (Read about the rediscovery of the starry night harlequin toad.)

“There are many exceptions to the stereotypical, big, brown, bumpy toad,” says Jodi Rowley, curator of amphibian and reptile conservation biology at the Australian Museum Research Institute in Sydney and National Geographic Society Explorer.

And just as it’s fair to say all butterflies are moths but not all moths are butterflies, so can you say that all toads are frogs but not all frogs are toads.

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The possum and the opossum are both hunted animals and possess an instinct to play dead, or “play possum ” when threatened. Whether the sharp-toothed furry critter who rustles around outside your garbage cans at night is a possum or an opossum may simply come down to where you are in the

' Possum ' and ' opossum ' are sometimes synonyms—but sometimes they refer to different animals. However, the word without the o refers to something very different outside of North America. While possum is sometimes a synonym of opossum , it can also refer to a completely different species that

There are 52 families in the order Anura, Rowley says by email. One of those families, Bufonidae, includes the “true toads,” which generally tend to crawl rather than hop, have bumpy skin, and display visible glands on their neck and shoulders.

But to really divine the difference, you must go inside the toad. For instance, most toads have what’s known as a Bidder’s organ in front of their kidneys, which helps regulate sex hormones. They also lack teeth in the upper and lower jaws, have fat bodies in their groins, and possess highly ossified skulls, says Rowley. (Read more about the wide diversity of amphibians.)

Bison, buffalo, and opossums, oh my

People commonly refer to these large horned beasts of the American prairies as “buffalo,” but they are actually “bison.” In fact, the animal’s scientific name, Bison bison, drives the point home twice. (See beautiful pictures of bison.)

While buffalo and bison are both mammals within the Bovidae family, the two are not all that closely related. So-called “true buffalo” include the African buffalo and water buffalo, native, respectively, to Africa and Asia.

In the same vein, it may seem as if the words “opossum” and “possum” can be used interchangeably. But opossum typically refers to the Virginia opossum and its cousins in the genus Didelphis, all of which live in North and South America. Conversely, possum refers to a suborder of tree-living marsupials native to Australia, New Guinea, and Sulawesi. These include honey possums, brushtail possums, and ringtail possums. (Read about nine animals with misleading names.)

What’s in a name?

In some cases, discerning between two types of similar-looking creatures is important, as in the case of Australia’s invasive cane toad.

That's because people sometimes mistake toad-like native frogs for the invasive cane toads—leading to many well-meaning, but unnecessary, frog deaths.

It's worse for the predators that eat toads thinking they're frogs. Since predators haven't evolved to process cane toad toxins, accidentally eating one can be fatal.

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