Possum

Common Brushtail Possum

The largest member of the possum family, this has also proven to be one of the most adaptable, and can often be seen in city areas.

The adaptability of these possums has been confirmed following their introduction to New Zealand during the 1830s, carried out as a means of providing fur and food. They have since decimated areas of native woodland, and frequently raid the nests of birds. These possums make a range of calls, often uttering clicking sounds. Males will indicate their territories by hissing loudly if confronted by a rival, and also by rearing up on their hind legs.

Distribution: Found in Australia, from Northern Territory and West Australia to New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. Introduced to New Zealand.

Weight: 1.2 - 4.5 kg (2.6 - 10 lb); males are bigger.

Length: 95 cm (37 in), including tail, which is almost as long as the body.

Maturity: About 1 year.

Gestation Period: 17 days.

Breeding: 1; young spend about 155 days in the pouch.

Food: Herbivorous, feeding mainly on leaves and flowers, especially of eucalypts, but may eat invertebrates, eggs and carrion.

Lifespan: Up to 12 years.

Head

The head has a long, pointed snout ending in a pink nose with prominent whiskers.

Ears

Large and oval, the ears measure up to 6 cm (2.4 in) long.

Colouration

Colour is variable, with some individuals being a coppery colour, but more often greyish or black.

Tail

The tail helps the possum to climb, with the bald area providing a good grip.

Claws

Arboreal by nature, these possums have strong claws on their toes, helping them to move around in the trees.

POISONED FOOD

The toxic chemicals present in eucalypt leaves offer no protection against them being eaten regularly by the common brushtail possum.

 

Honey Possum

This is the only survivor of a group of ancient marsupials that evolved about 20 million years ago, and is somewhat reminiscent of a tiny mouse.

Honey possums are very unusual animals. Unlike many marsupials, their life is brief, and females will mate with many males. This may be why males of this species have the largest testes — relative to their body size - of all mammals. They also produce the largest spermatozoa of any mammalian species, measuring 0.36 mm (0.01 in). Yet their offspring rank as the smallest, weighing just 0.0005 g at birth. When they finally emerge from their mother's pouch, they still weigh only 2.5 g (0.09 oz).

Distribution: Southwestern parts of Australia, occurring in areas of heathland, shrubland and light woodland where flowering bushes such as banksias and dryandras are present.

Weight: 7 - 16 g (0.24 - 0.56 oz); females are larger

Length: Females 14.5 - 19.5 cm (5.7 - 7.7 in); males 13.5 - 18.5 cm (5.3 - 7.2 in); the tail is longer than the body.

Maturity: By 6 months old.

Gestation Period: 28 days.

Breeding: 2 - 3, occasionally 4; young spend about 60 days in the pouch.

Food: Nectivorous, feeding exclusively on nectar and pollen collected from flowers.

Lifespan: 1 - 2 years.

Stripe

This is blackish and extends from between the ears to the base of the tail.

Colouration

Greyish-brown on the upperparts, with an orange suffusion on the flanks, and cream underparts.

Facial features

Facial features include a long nose, round pink ears, black eyes and prominent whiskers.

Tail

The tails is long and prehensile in part, allowing the marsup to grip stems.

Delving deep

The elongated tongue of the honey possum allows these marsupials to probe deep inside a flower to reach the nectar.

GROWING NUMBERS

A family of young honey possums. These tiny marsupials produce relatively large litters, but their lives are correspondingly short.

 

Brush-tailed Possum

Large numbers of Australasian marsupials are commonly referred to as possums, which belong to several families. These are not to be confused with opossums, which are marsupials from an entirely separate group, living in the Americas.

This possum is the most common of three possum species, all known as brush-tailed possums due to their long, furry prehensile tails. It is closely related to the cuscuses of Sulawesi, New Guinea and surrounding islands.

Brush-tailed possums come in a variety of colours, including grey, brown, black, white and cream. Males tend to have red-brown coloration on their shoulders.

The brushed-tailed possum is nocturnal and arboreal. It is a very adaptable animal, and can live in semi-desert areas in the Australian interior by sheltering in eucalyptus trees and along rivers. It even lives in large numbers in most Australian cities, hiding under the roofs of houses.

Possums generally live alone and defend well-defined territories marked with scent. Encounters often result in fights. When these animals are disturbed, they rear up to their full height on their back legs, spread their forelimbs and make piercing screams. They are fierce fighters.

Distribution: Most of Australia, including Tasmania. Introduced into New Zealand.

Habitat: Forests, rocky areas, semi-deserts with scattered eucalyptus trees and suburban habitats.

Food: Shoots, leaves, flowers, fruit, seeds, insects and occasionally young birds.

Size: 32 - 58 cm (12 - 23 in); 1.3 - 5 kg (2.8 - 11 lb).

Maturity: Females 9 - 12 months; males 24 months.

Life span: 13 years.

Status: Common.

 

Mountain Pygmy Possum

Size: 10 - 13 cm (4 - 5.2 in); 30 - 60 g (0.06 - 0.13 lb).

This species was only known from fossils until 1966, when a live specimen was caught in a ski hut on Mount Hotham in south-western Australia. It is now known that around 1,000 individuals survive high up in the mountains, and pass the cold winters in hibernation. In spring and summer, the animals forage for seeds, fruit, insects and worms at night, sometimes climbing into bushes with the help of their prehensile tails.

Gallery of Possum