Australia is known for its numerous species of possum. The possum belongs to the mammalian order known as Didelphimorphia. The possum has smooth and silky fur, which is used to make cushions, blankets, sofa throws, and clothing in New Zealand where they are considered a pest. It is said that possum fur is warmer than wool. Possums in Australia however are protected.
Australia is home to approximately twenty-three known species of possum, many of which can be found in our local area. Amongst them are two species that are known to invade private residence at night and growl on the rooftops. These pesky possums are known to take up residence in suburban rooftops requiring professional possum removal to evict them.
In Australia and elsewhere, a group of possums is referred to as a passel. A male possum ‘Jack’, a female ‘Jill’ while a young one is called ‘joey’.
1. The Common Brushtail Possum
This possum belongs to the Phalangeridae family. Its Greek name is Trichosurus Vulpecular and means “the furry tailed little fox’. It is referred to as such due to its furry tail. This particular possum is the second largest possum found in Australia with the size of a domesticated cat. The brushtail possum is very adaptable to any habitat. Therefore, it can be found deep in the tropical rainforest, the eucalyptus trees of North Australia.
It is also common in the urban areas where it can be seen at night on the rooftops. The color of their fur depends on its habitat. It ranges from silver, gold to black. Some of its physical features include a long black tail, a pointed face with a pink nose and long oval like ears. You can read more in great detail about Australia’s most famous possums type here.
2. The Common Ringtail Possum
Its Latin name is Pseudocherius Peregrinus which means “false hand pilgrim’. This particular possum can live in very different habitats. This is because it can feed on a diverse of vegetation, including herbs, fruits, and flowers. Their favorite habitat is on trees and is rarely found on the ground. In the trees, they live in tree hollows or build spherical nests usually called dreys. The Ringtail possum is usually sociable and therefore lives in families.
The Ringtail possum is called so due to its prehensile tail. That is, the tail wraps round branches of the tree to aid it to climb up a tree. This is usually very effective, especially for the mother possum, which usually has a pouch on the belly to carry the young ones. The possum is usually grey or dark grey in color. However, it has white color at the end of its tail, behinds its eyes and on its belly. It also has an orange spot on the tail and on the limbs.
3. Pygmy Possums
These are classified into five categories depending on their species
i. Mountain Pygmy Possums (Burramys Parvus)
These are very small in size, weighing around 45 grams. However, the males have larger body compared to the females. Their length is about 5-12 cm. The mountain possums are excellent due to their prehensile tails.
Physically, they have a thick coat which is grey in color except for their belly. They also have big eyes, which point forward and short round ears. These possums are omnivorous, feeding on insects, nectar, fruits, and seeds.
ii. Eastern Pygmy possums (Cercartetus nanus)
This particular possum is found sparingly in Australia. It is a small rodent which weighs between 15-43 grams and is around 8-11 cm in length. Its tail is relatively long with around 10 cm. This species of possum is a solitary type which is usually found is shrubs. They live in tree hollows, thumps or abandoned birds’ nests. They feed on insects but when there are no insects to feed on, they feed on soft fruits. They also use their tails to feed on nectar and pollen.
Physically, they are dull grey on the top part, but white on the lower sides. They have thick fur, but their tails are almost hairless. Due to their prehensile tails, they are very good at climbing trees.
iii. Western Pygmy Possums (Cercartetus Concinnus)
Also known as the southwestern possum, it is one of the larger pygmy possums. It grows up to around 7 cm long, as an adult. Unlike other pygmy, it it has bright colored fur on top and pure white underneath. It also has a long prehensile tail, which makes it an excellent climber. The western possum has a long tongue which helps it to catch and eat insects.
iv. Long Tailed Pygmy Possum (Cercartetus Caudatus)
This species of the pygmy possum is found in rainforests. It got its name from its very long tail which is almost twice as long as its body size. However, it is a small in size, growing up to around 10 cm. It feeds on insects, nectar, and pollens. The Long-tailed possum has rodent-like ears, which are big and pointy. During the winter season, it goes into hibernation where it appears dead during the day. However, during the night it wakes up.
v. The Little Pygmy Possum
This is the world’s smallest possum; it weighs only around 10 grams and growing up to 7.5 cm. It is found in South Australia in the Murray-Darring basin. The possum feeds on insects, small lizards, spiders, nectar and pollen mostly from the eucalyptus tree. They live in shrubs or in the forest undergrowth.
Physically, it has a short snout with long whiskers. Its eyes are relatively big and point forward. Its ears are usually mobile and are almost hairless. Their tail is usually furred at the bottom, but almost hairless towards the tip. They live in tree hollows and sometimes build dome-like nests using tree barks. This possum is solitary and as such rarely found in groups.
4. Honey Possum
Its scientific name is Tarsipes rostratus. This possum doesn’t feed on honey as its name suggests. Rather, it feeds on pollen and nectar. The possum climbs trees without the use of claws because, like its scientific name suggests, it doesn’t have any. It is a sociable animal and is usually found in the company of others. Where there is the scarcity of food, it goes into hibernation. This possum is commonly found in South-west Western Australia. In Australia, it is also known as Noolberger.
5. The Mountain Brushtail Possum
Its scientific name is Trichosurus Cunningham. This possum is also referred to as Short-eared Possum due to short -round ears. It usually has grey fur on its top part and white fur underneath. Some have black fur instead of grey. The short-eared possum is usually found in open and rainforests where they live in hollows of the tree.
Just like the Common Brushtail, the mountain brushtail has a black long tail, which helps is to climb up trees is search of food. They feed on herbs, fungi, lichen, buds and fruits. They are commonly found in Queensland and Southern Victoria. They are also found in the Lamington National park.
6. The Northern Brushtail Possum
The scientific name of the northern possum is Trichosurus arnhemensis. This Possum is usually smaller in size compared to the common brushtail. It is approximately 35-45cm in length, while the tail is around 30 cm long in an adult.
They are mostly found in forests while others are found in woodlands whereby they spend most of their lifetime in trees and rarely on the ground. The Northern brushtail has a black tail, the males are reddish-gray in color while the females are silver-gray. They are found in the northern and western Australia.
7. The Green-tail Possum
It is also known as Toolah or Striped Ringtail possum. This possum is mostly found in North Queensland and has thick fur which is soft and greenish and color. The greenish appearance is given by the combination of black, gray, yellow and white colors on its fur. However, it has white patches in the area below the eyes and ears. It grows up to a length of 36cm, with a tail almost its size. The possum feeds mostly on leaves and figs. The female gives birth to only a single young one.
8. Scaly-Tailed Possum
This particular possums found mostly in Kimberly, Western Australia, and Northwestern Australia. Its scientific name is Wyulda Squamicaudata. This species is the only one of its kind and very little is known about it. It is herbivorous and mostly feeds on leaves, fruits and flowers. It is named the scaly-tailed possum due to its almost hairless tail. It can be found in sandstones and sometimes in the woodlands.
9. Leadbeater’s Possum
Scientifically, it is referred to as Gymnobelideus Leadbeater. The Leadbeater was presumed to be extinct in 1939, after the black Friday fires. Currently, it is a highly endangered species. They are also referred to as fairy possum. This particular possum dwells in some of the tallest trees in the rain forests. It has a body approximated to by 33cm together with the tail. Their prehensile tails help them to navigate their way when they are in the tall trees.
These possums live in a monogamous pair which mates and give birth twice per year to a maximum of two joeys per birth. They live in dreys nest whereby they stay hidden during the day and only come out at night. Their diet is quite diverse as compared to other possums. Basically, they feed on spiders, crickets, termites, beetles, wattle saps, and anthropoids for proteins. Physically, the Leadbeater’s possum has gray thick fur, their tails have dark gray fur,but their lower body has whitish fur. They also have short, pointy ears which are almost hairless.
10. Stripped Possum
It is scientifically known as Dactylopsila Trivirgata. This species is found in Townsville in Queensland. It is usually referred to as so because it blacks in color with three white stripes that run from its head to the tail. The white stripes usually form a Y’ shape on its head.
Like other possums, it is nocturnal and spends most of its lifetime in the trees, rarely found on the ground. These possums live in the rainforests where they live in the hollows in trees. They feed on insects, leaves, pollen, beatles , honey of the native bees larvae and fruits. This possum is referred to as a woodpecker because its food and teeth are specifically adapted to help it feed up in the trees. Using its powerful chisel-like incisors teeth, it can tear tree barks insects from the cracks of the tree barks. Some of its fingers are also long to help it remove the insects from the tree cracks.
During the day, the striped possum rests on the branches of the trees and as such are easy to spot. At night, that is when they venture off to feed. This particular possum is also known for emitting a very unpleasant musky smell. It is not clear why they produce the odor but it assumed it is one of their adaptation features. Like the common brushtail possum, it is also very noise producing a growling noise. The striped possum has an unusual walking style, which is by walking horizontally with a rowing action.
It is a rare animal since it lives in solitary, in their nest during the night and feeding at night. It is also known for its speed since it moves quite fast except when feeding or pecking tree barks.
11. Herbert River Ringtail Possum
Scientifically, it is known as Pseudochirulus Herbertensis. They are also commonly referred to as the Mongan. There are two subtypes of this possum found in Kuranda south known as Pseudocheirus herbertensis herbertensis and the other found in Mt. Lewis North known as Pseudocheirus herbertensis cinereusI.
The possum is also commonly found in Northeastern. Queensland. The possum is usually black in color or pale brown in color. The pale brown possum has dark stripes on its head. Physically, it has a pointed face, big bright eyes with short ears, which are usually almost hairless. Its underside usually has bright or white thick fur.
The possum lives mostly in trees using its long tail to wrap around tree branches as it navigates through the tree branches. They also use their prehensile tails to carry branches when they are making living nests. They are usually found in dense rainforests and rarely found on the ground. They feed on leaves and sometimes on flowers and fruits of the rainforest trees, for example, the silver Quandong. Socially, they are shy animals and rarely seen in a group especially the adults. However, the joeys can be seen in nests as a group.
12. Lemuroid Ringtail Possum
This possum is also known as the lemur-like possum. Its scientific name is Hemibelideus lemuroides. This possum is also found in Queensland. Its tail has thicker fur when compared to other ringtail possums. It is commonly found in a dark brown color, although sometimes it is found in white color. Physically is has a short snout face and with yellowish eyes. It is fairly a big animal weighing around 800-1300 grams. When manhandled, it produces an unpleasant smell and a sticky cream liquid.
This possum is arboreal, meaning that it spends most of the time in the trees, rarely coming to the ground. In the trees, it lives in hollows only coming out to feed at night. They lead for one branch to the other when feeding and can leap up to three meters wide. This type of possum is herbivorous, strictly feeds on leaves and flowers, unlike other types which also feed on insects.
This possum is social and can be spotted in groups. In the hollows and nests, they also live as a group. Their major prey is the python.
13. Coppery Brushtail Possum
The scientific name of this brushtail possum is Trichosurus johnstonii. It is found in the areas of the Atherton Tablelands. This possum favorite habitat is the rainforest. Physically, the possum grows to a length of 400-500 mm. They have bigger females than males, but on average they weigh around 1200-1800 g. They have a thick coat of fur which is dark brown on top and light brown on the lower part. Their tails are usually bushy, with a naked underside.
Like most possums, they spend most of their time in the trees. They live in the tree hollows in the day but go to feed at night since they are nocturnal. They have sharp claws, which make it easy for them to climb up the trees. Their tails are also prehensile to help them wrap around the trees when climbing and jumping from one branch to the next.
They feed on various types of feed such as leaves, fruits, tree barks, and buds. They often communicate using different sounds and scents. During mating, they produce sharp hisses and deep coughs. These possums can be found around houses and are avid of making the growling noises at night. In Queensland the brushtail that invade the houses are protected by the law. One needs a permit in order to catch one and remove it. It is easy to differentiate between a brushtail possum and a rat since the possums usually have a distinct tail and a grey coat of fur.
14. Cinereus Ringtail Possum
This is also known as the Daintree river possum. Its scientific name is Pseudochirulus centres. It is commonly found in wet tropics of North Eastern Queensland. They can also be found along the road to Mt. Lewis Santuary. Despite its distinct difference with the Herbert River, they were thought to be similar for a long time. However, with continued research, they were identified separately. It is mostly found in tropical rainforests and can be identified by its brown color.
They are born with light brown color which doesn’t change even as adults. This is a difference with the Herbert river possum, which becomes darker as an adult. They also have a dark stripe on their head and on their underside. They also have a short, pointed stout which is usually referred to as a “roman nose’. They have long prehensile tails for ease in climbing the trees. Their tails are almost hairless to make gripping the wet tropic tress more effective. They also have hand-like feet to help them become more suited for their life under the canopy of the high trees.
It is a solitary animal which stays in its hollow den during the day. The jills carry the joeys in their pouches for a time. After the young ones leave the pouch they are carried on their mother back for some time. These possums are folivorous in nature, feeding on the leaves of the trees. There is limited data on their breeding practices.
The ringtail possums are usually quiet animals. However, the young one produces some quite noises for communication especially, when they are separated from the mother. They are also slow, moving for only short distances to go and feed. They also communicate by leaving feces at certain points or by rubbing on to something to leave a scent. Some of their known predators include the python, owls, eagles, and dingoes.
15. Rock Ringtail Possum
It is also known as the rock-haunting ringtail possum. Its scientific name is Petropseudes dahli. This species have referred to as such because it is usually found rocky escarpments. It is mostly found in northern and Western Australia. This possum has the shortest tail amongst all the other ringtail possums. Physically, it is medium in size, growing up to around 359 mm with a tail of about 200-250mm. It weighs about 1250- 2000g as an adult.
They mostly have reddish-grey fur at the top and pale grey on the underside. They also have a darker dorsal stripe that runs from the top of their head to the middle of the back. Due to their habitat they have short legs, short claws and a short, prehensile tail for grasping objects. The tail is usually half naked
These possums are social and live in small groups. However, they are extremely shy and rarely appear during the day. They have the adaptations to living in a terrestrial environment and in the trees. However, their favorite environment is on the rocks, only climbing the trees to feed. They are herbivorous; as such they feed on the tree leaves and sometimes on termites for the proteins.
The possums are usually monogamous and the family usually has a strong bond proving how strongly social this possum is. The older offspring helps to raise the young ones. However, the primary care is provided by the mother.
16. Western Ringtail Possums
The western possum is scientifically known as Pseudocheirus occidentalis. This possum is commonly found in Western Australia. It is a mid-sized animal weighing around 700grams for an adult. It has a long tail with around 30 cm which is strongly prehensile to help is forage more effectively.
This species is highly endangered and as such protected under the law in Australia. They Western Possums feed on leaves and during the day stay hidden in their nests usually referred to as dreys. Physically, they have very bushy tails, which have a whitish tip. They are usually greys on the top but white on the underside.