Appearance and behaviour

  • Possums are in the group of mammals called marsupials, so young are born in an undeveloped state after a very short time,  and make their way to their mother's pouch where they finish their development.  

  • Possums are nocturnal, which means they are active at night.  In the day, they sleep in tree hollows.  

  • Possums are furry, and have long tails. Some have prehensile tails, which means they can hold onto branches and be used almost like an extra hand.

  • Some possums are quite common, but others are rare. Some live in very remote areas, sometimes in a very small and specific area,  and were not seen for so long that they were thought to be extinct until spotted again.

Here are notes about just a few of the many different possums in Australia:

Striped possum

Description

Black and white striped, about 26 cm long with bushy tail 35cm long.

 

 

Habitat

Highland rainforests of northeastern Queensland & New Guinea

Notes

Eats beetles and grubs: taps tree with their claws, then gnaws and claws wood to expose them. They have an extra-long finger on each hand to pick out the grubs from the wood. Shy, usually alone. May shriek and growl loudly.  No other Australian mammal has markings like this.

Read more:

http://wildlife-australia.com/spossum.htm

Leadbeater's possum, the faunal emblem of the state of Victoria. 

Description

Tiny, about 16 cm long, tail 15-18 cm. Tail wider at the tip. Grey or brown, dark stripe from face down back.

Habitat

Small areas of mountain ash forest in Victorian Central Highlands, snowfields between Lake Mountain and Mt Baw Baw, and Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve, east of Melbourne, an area just4 kms long and 120 m wide.  Only old growth (around 200 years) trees have developed hollows suitable for  nesting. 

Notes

Lives in small family groups of about 8, all sharing nest. They pair for life.  Nests are hollows in trees about 10 metres above ground, filled width shredded bark. Hollows only form in old eucalyptus trees, so 'old growth forest' essential for survival.  Travels through the forest in agile leaps. Feeds on insects, spiders, nectar and sap. Female carries 1-2 young in her pouch for 3 months.

Not sighted after 1901 & thought to be extinct till found again in 1961. 

'Black Saturday' bushfire in 2009 demolished half their habitat and their population. Numbers so small that one bushfire could make them extinct.

Captive breeding program now established to breed more and release them into the wild. Classified as Endangered.

Read more information and watch videos:

http://www.arkive.org/leadbeaters-possum/gymnobelideus-leadbeateri/

Watch a video about Leadbeater's possum in its habitat and about the conservation breeding program at Healesville Sanctuary:

http://www.zoo.org.au/healesville/animals/leadbeaters-possum

Green ringtail possum

Description

Thick tail is prehensile, used rather like an extra hand. Thick brown fur has a greenish tinge. Small white patch under each eye.

Habitat

Northern Queensland, in highland rainforest

Notes

Unlike other possums, they do not nest in daytime, but sleep sitting curled up on a branch.  Sometimes also active in daytime.  They stay high up in the treetops. Eat only leaves. Breeding June/July, usually just one young is born. After it leaves the pouch, the young is carried on mother's back for some time. Classified as Vulnerable. 

Read more information.

http://rainforest-australia.com/green_ringtail_possum.htm

Common brushtail possum

Description

Quite large, bigger than domestic cat. Pointed faces, thick furry tails which are not prehensile. 

Habitat

Southeastern Australia, wooded areas, including suburban parks and gardens

Notes

Males are territorial and fight other males entering their territory. Breed in autumn and spring, one baby born 18 days after mating. Female has two nipples in pouch but gives birth to single young. Young stays 4-5 months in pouch, then another 1-2 months riding on mother's back.

Read more information

http://www.hotkey.net.au/~perrelink/Possum.htm

Sugar Glider

Description

Measures 30 cm, nose to tip of tail. Weighs less than 150 grams. Thin skin called patagium is between front and back legs, on both sides, used for gliding. The possum leaps from a tree, spreads all four legs to stretch the patigium and glides to another tree.  When not stretched to glide, the patagium looks like a ruffle of fur at each side.

Habitat

Along eastern and northern parts of Australia. Eucalypt woodlands.  

Notes

Feeds on gum and sap of eucalypt trees. They chisel grooves in the bark of the trees with their sharp teeth, then lap the liquid. Also eat fruit, nectar, pollen, insects and spiders. Live in pairs or small groups.  Animal stretches its patagium, and glides about 50 metres,  controlling flight by varying the curve of the membrane on one side or the other.  About 3 metres from its target, it brings back legs to the body, swoops upward, and lands on 4 feet.  Female carries 2 young in her pouch for 2-3 months. They leave the nest at 4-5 months. Not endangered, but its relative the Mahogany Glider is very rare, believed to be extinct for 100 years until rediscovered.

Read more information

http://www.australianfauna.com/sugarglider.php

Ringtail possum  

Description

Body about 30 cm, and tail about the same length. Tail is prehensile and used like an extra hand, furry on top but not underneath, carried in a coil when not in use. Greyish black in colour.

 

Habitat

Common in  rainforests, woodlands and also suburban gardens of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. 

Notes

Nocturnal, sleeps in a tree hollow or a round nest called a drey, made of grass and shredded bark. Several may share the same nest. Lives almost exclusively in trees. Eats leaves, fruits and flowers of both native and introduced plants. The only species of possum where the male helps care for the young.

Read more information:

http://www.wiresnr.org/ringtail.html

American Possums?

They call them possums for short, but actually they are opossums, and they are not related to Australian possums. The scientific Latin names are different. The reason for the confusion is believed to be because Sir Joseph Banks, the botanist who came to Australia with Captain Cook, and first described many Australian animals, which of course were completely strange and weird to English people of that time, noted that these animals looked like American opossums.  Opossums have pointy teeth and look scary, while the Australian ones do not. Both are marsupials. 

 

Read the kidcyber page about Australian possums so small that they are called pygmy-possums:

Pygmy-possums