What's the Difference Between a Possum and an Opossum?

iStock.com/erniedecker
iStock.com/erniedecker

In the mid-17th century, a creature of curious proportions was caught in Virginia and brought to the Royal Society in London for observation. The furry animal had a pointed snout, sharp teeth, and, most remarkably, a pouch in its belly. Unsure how else to describe it, those who saw it described it a cross between a fox and an ape.

This bizarre animal turned out to be the only marsupial native to the U.S. and Canada. Now, we know them as opossums—derived from the Algonquian word aposoum, meaning “white dog” or “white beast." (Despite the vicious-sounding nomenclature, opossums are rarely dangerous. They’re actually a boon to gardeners because they eat pests like beetles and slugs, and also help control tick populations.)

So where do possums fit into this narrative? You may occasionally refer to the pink-nosed animal trotting along the road as a possum, which is an acceptable truncated version of opossum. 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 lives in New Guinea, Australia, Indonesia, and elsewhere in the Pacific. Though possums and opossums have a lot in common—including the fact that they’re nocturnal, omnivorous, tree-dwelling marsupials that are known to play dead, or “play possum,” when threatened—they look quite different. Here’s what an Australian brushtail possum looks like (while the above photo is the more familiar opossum):

A brushtail possum
iStock.com/DerekJWalker

As for the pronunciation, it’s a common misconception that the first o in opossum is silent. Merriam-Webster, Grammarly, and Dictionary.com all note that the word is pronounced uh-possum, with the first vowel voiced. However, if you’re opting for the shortened version, possum, then it’s fine to omit the o sound. Unless you’re speaking with an Australian, it’s likely you’ll be understood either way.

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What Is the Shelf Life of Donated Eyes?

iStock.com/Pedro_Turrini
iStock.com/Pedro_Turrini

Zoe-Anne Barcellos:

I can only answer for cornea and eye donation.

The FDA does all oversight (no pun intended) of organ disposition.

The main organs—heart, liver, pancreas, lungs, etc.—are transplanted within hours. They are just not viable if they are not being perfused constantly.

The other tissues—like bone, skin, tendons, etc.—do not need to be transplanted immediately. But I am not sure on the regulations of when they need to be transplanted.

With the eyes, there are four tissues that can be recovered.

We recover whole eyes for research and education purposes. These usually go much faster, but we can hold them up to a year.

Conjunctiva can also be recovered; conjunctiva is a clear covering over most of the eye (it is what gets irritated when you have pink eye). I have been working as a recovery tech for five years, and our office has not had a request for "conj" in all that time. I believe it is mostly used for research, but I could be wrong.

Sclera is the white area of your eye. It is fairly thick and flexible. If you have ever touched a reptile egg, that is what it reminds me of. We recover sclera for transplant. They use it for several things, but mainly to patch punctures. Similar to if you pop the inner tube of your bike and repair it. Sclera can also be used to repair ear drums. We can hold on to this for up to a year.

The main thing we recover is corneas. In the U.S., we must transplant these within seven days of recovery. (Recovery is usually within hours of death, but we can push it up to 20 hours after if needed.) Sometimes we have more corneas than we need, and then they are shipped overseas and transplanted up to 14 days after recovery. There is no real different outcome with the later transplant time, but the FDA in the U.S. made the rules. (You can sign up to be an organ, tissue, and eye donor here.)

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?

iStock
iStock

Legend tells of St. Patrick using the power of his faith to drive all of Ireland’s snakes into the sea. It’s an impressive image, but there’s no way it could have happened.

There never were any snakes in Ireland, partly for the same reason that there are no snakes in Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand, Greenland, or Antarctica: the Emerald Isle is, well, an island.

Eightofnine via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once upon a time, Ireland was connected to a larger landmass. But that time was an ice age that kept the land far too chilly for cold-blooded reptiles. As the ice age ended around 10,000 years ago, glaciers melted, pouring even more cold water into the now-impassable expanse between Ireland and its neighbors.

Other animals, like wild boars, lynx, and brown bears, managed to make it across—as did a single reptile: the common lizard. Snakes, however, missed their chance.

The country’s serpent-free reputation has, somewhat perversely, turned snake ownership into a status symbol. There have been numerous reports of large pet snakes escaping or being released. As of yet, no species has managed to take hold in the wild—a small miracle in itself.

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