One of the most recognisable Australian creatures is the possum. They are stunning nocturnal animals that can expertly and with astonishing agility move through lofty trees. These adorable little animals are among the well-known fauna of Australia, along with kangaroos and koalas.
They have a cute, fluffy appearance, and when combined with their non-aggressive disposition, they are a favourite with wildlife fans worldwide.
Even though the terms “possums” and “opossums” are frequently used interchangeably, they have different meanings. The term “opossum” only applies to American opossums.
Contrarily, the term “possum” designates the Australian species with the scientific name Phalangeriformes. Despite being members of separate orders, they are both marsupials.
Possum and opossum are both translations of the Powhatan word “aposoum”, which means “white animal” in English.
Possum Scientific Name
The scientific name for a possum is Phalangeriformes. This comes from the Greek word phalanger, which means spider’s web. This description comes from the fused digits on the hind feet.
About 70 species of tiny to medium-sized arboreal marsupials, native to Australia, New Guinea, and Sulawesi, make up the paraphyletic suborder Phalangeriformes. The species is sometimes referred to as cuscus, gliders, and possums.
Because of their likeness to opossums in the Americas, numerous Phalangeriformes species go by the common name “possum.” The trioks, gliders, ring-tail possums, and pygmy possums are among further varieties. Opossums are marsupials too, although Australasian possums are more closely related to kangaroos and other Australasian marsupials.
10 Possum Facts
#1 – Australia over 30 different species of possum. The common ringtail possum and the common brushtail possum are the two species that are most prevalent.
#2 – Young possums are referred to as “Joeys,” male possums as “Jacks,” and female possums as “Jills.”
#3 – The cuscus is the largest species of possum.
#4 – A group of possums is called a passel.
#5 – Possums are primarily herbivorous animals, but they have also been observed eating insects and bird eggs.
#6 – With the exception of when they are caring for their young, most possums live alone, but ringtail possums prefer to live in family groups of three or more.
#7 – In Australia, possums are protected as wildlife. Possum trapping, hunting, and killing are all prohibited without specific permits.
#8 – While some possum species are widespread and common, others are in danger of extinction, including the severely endangered black-spotted cuscus.
#9 – Along with being a native species in Papua New Guinea and Sulawesi, possums have also been introduced to China and New Zealand.
#10 – Eucalyptus and other leaves are what possums eat the most. They also consume fruit, flowers, and nectar.
Different Kinds of Possums
Bushtail Possums –
The most common marsupial in Australia and possibly the most well-known possum is the brushtail possum. It has a long thick tail, as their name suggests, and features a prehensile tip and a furless region on the underside that enable them to cling to tree branches.
These solitary, nocturnal animals, in contrast to many other possum species, have evolved to live close to people, even in densely populated cities like Sydney.
They have also developed the ability to eat plants that would be poisonous to other animals, just like koalas. Eucalyptus leaves make up a significant part of their diet, but are definitely not the only thing they eat. Insects, tiny invertebrates, and eggs are all possible prey items for possums. It is mainly a folivore, but has been known to eat small mammals such as rats.
The four colour variations of the brushtail possum are silver-grey, brown, black, and gold.
Ringtail Possums –
The ringtails are a different species of possum that live in colonies known as dreys. Dreys, which live in tree branches and hollows, frequently have a female and a male adult, as well as two pairs of twins: one set is still nursing, and the other is slightly older but still reliant on the adults.
They consume a range of native and exotic plant leaves, as well as flowers, fruits, and sap.
Additionally, this possum consumes a unique kind of faeces that is produced while it is sleeping in a nest during the day. This behaviour, known as caecotrophy, is comparable to that of rabbits.
Although fewer people are familiar with cuscuses, these animals are among the biggest possums. For example, the Ailurops ursinus bear cuscus of Sulawesi, so named for its thick, dark coat, can weigh up to 22 pounds.
Tasmanian pygmy possum
The Tasmanian pygmy possum, commonly referred to as the little or tiny pygmy possum, is the tiniest possum in the entire world. Oldfield Thomas initially identified it in 1888 after discovering that a museum specimen labelled as an eastern pygmy possum actually represented a species that was then undiscovered by science.
Being nocturnal, possums typically feed between dark and sunrise. They are generally solitary animals.
Brushtail possums will only seek out companionship when they wish to reproduce.
With ringtail possums, they live in bigger families where one male and one or two females will share a den, forage for food together at night, and share parental responsibilities. The only possum known to now assist in raising its young is the male Ringtail Possum.
When a Ringtail or Brushtail possum is born, the young one will crawl to the mother’s pouch and nurse from a teat there for around 4-5 months. Before fully weaning, the young leave the pouch and continue to nurse for another 4–8 weeks while riding on their parent’s back.
Possums begin to have sexual activity at the age of 13 months. Possums have a long reproductive cycle with an average lifespan of 6-7 years and a maximum lifespan of 11 years. The Common Ringtail Possum can have up to 3 joeys at a time.
Possums have amazing agility! They have been reported to leap from a tree to a roof up to 4 metres distant and can climb vertical walls! They have the strength to remove roof tiles and fit through tiny openings. They have been observed balancing on delicate branches and strolling alongside power lines.
Possums use both sound and smell to communicate with one another and with prospective enemies. Screeches, hisses, clicks, grunts, and howls are all part of their repertoire of alarm calls, mating calls, and location calls. To mark their territory, they also have smell glands on their chest.
They are as nimble and creative as they are! One possum duo was seen balancing like acrobats as they lowered the other down the tree while clutching the other’s hind legs in its front paws in order to get their hands on some delectable garden vegetables.
Distribution of Possums
Possum species vary in their distributions and home ranges. Some species are found throughout vast areas, while others are restricted to a limited area or a few islands. Naturally, Australia, Sulawesi, and New Guinea are home to the numerous kinds. Some species have been introduced by humans into China and New Zealand.
Possum and Humans
Different species of these marsupials are affected by human interaction in various ways. Some species have extensive home ranges and are unaffected by human interaction. Other species, which may be found in gardens, parks, and farms, actually prefer to reside close to humans.
Unfortunately, human interaction harms a wide variety of possum species. Population decline is a result of several anthropogenic factors, including habitat destruction, poaching, capture for the exotic pet trade, climate change, and many others.
Because there are so many different species, environment preferences vary greatly. Since the majority of these species inhabit trees, their habitats must contain some mature vegetation.
These marsupials live in a variety of habitats, including eucalyptus forests, mangroves, woodlands, shrubland, and forests. They live in lowlands, mountainous regions, as well as desert, semi-arid, temperate, and tropical climates.
Possums often consume only plants or both plants and small animals, respectively, making them herbivorous or omnivorous. While some species focus only on a few types of plants or foods, others eat almost anything. Insects, invertebrates, leaves, buds, fruits, berries, seeds, nuts, nectar, flowers, and more are all part of their varied diets.
Possums have evolved to prefer an omnivorous diet that includes insects, eggs, and other plant materials, some of which are harmful to other animals. They will also scavenge on food that other animals and people have left over if given the chance.
They are best described as opportunistic because the precise nutritional composition fluctuates depending on the food supply in each place. To ferment and digest their diet of foods high in fibre, several possum species have an expanded cecum (a pouch in the intestines). Sharp points on the molar teeth enable them to efficiently chew through tough plant material.
Possum FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions About Possums
What are Possums’ main prey?
Possums are omnivores and consume a variety of foods, including insects, rodents, birds, and dead animals. In addition, they consume grains, frogs, plants, fruits, and eggs.
Possums require large levels of calcium in their diet. As a result, possums quickly consume the skeleton remains of rodents and other creatures that have died on the road.
What predators do Possums have?
Dogs, raccoons, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, big hawks, and great horned owls are among the main predators.
Dingos, as well as snakes and lizards, may prey on Australian possums. It’s not out of the question that some species of birds may potentially kill and consume a possum.
Do Possums make good pets?
No, these animals are not suitable as pets. Possums are wild animals even though they have a lovely and cuddly appearance. A lot of places forbid keeping one as a pet.