While baby possums and opossums have similar names, they are not the same animals. Both are marsupials, but they have different features and live on different continents. One difference, is that possums have furry tails and are smaller than the bare tailed opossums. They also belong to different taxonomical orders.
You are also more likely to find little possums living quite close by to human settlements. They may even feel brave enough to pay your yard a visit, or take up residency in a nesting box if you are kind enough to put one out for them.
If you see a possum baby, it’s hard to believe that these tiny, fragile and vulnerable little creatures grow into their adult form.
In this guide we take a look at some amazing baby possum facts, and offer some answers to some of the most frequently asked questions. So let’s get started!
6 Amazing Baby Possum Facts
Baby Possums Are Called Joeys
Baby possums are called ‘joeys‘, and they are not the only baby animal to go by this name. Other marsupials such as baby kangaroos and baby koalas are also known as joeys. They crawl into their mother ‘pouch‘ when born. Most possums create dens in hollowed out cavities of tall trees, but some species build a type of den called a ‘drey‘.
As they grow up, female possums are known as a ‘jill‘ and male possums are known as a ‘jack‘. There is no collective noun specifically for a group of joeys, but a group of possums in general are called a ‘passel‘ of possums.
Baby Joeys Are Born After Just 17 Days!
Possums are usually born between 16-19 days after conception. There is slight variation across the species, but this is the average. Common brushtail possums give birth after around 17 days, but the other most prominent species, the common ringtail possum has a slightly longer gestation period of between 20-26 days.
While this may seem like a short pregnancy, baby joeys arrive in a pretty vulnerable and undeveloped state in comparison to animals – such as humans – that have longer pregnancies.
The majority of joeys are born either in autumn (March to May) or spring (September to November), although Common brushtail possums can breed at any time of year. Most possums only have one joey at a time, however twins and triplets do occur too. Triplets are very rare however.
Common ringtail possums however, can have between one to four joeys per litter (sometimes twice a year depending on conditions) as well as having multiple sub-adult joeys living in their drey.
Joeys Live In Their Mothers Pouch Once Born
After the birth, similarly to wallabies and kangaroos, the young joey will quickly crawl to the pouch of the mother. They will not leave the pouch for around 4 to 5 months (between 120-140 days). All the while they are growing and developing, feeding on their mothers milk.
Even once they leave the pouch, they will continue to stay close to their mothers, riding on her back to get around. They do this until they reach around 7-9 months of age. Both parents take turns in caring for the young. The father will carry the young on his back while the mother is feeding.
Joeys Are Very Vulnerable When Young
When baby possums are born, they are incredibly vulnerable. They are both blind and deaf, and only start to vocalize and open their eyes at around 3 months of age. A week or two before leaving their mothers pouch.
Baby possum joeys are also born naked, and don’t have the ability to regulate their own temperature. They need their mothers pouch, not only for safety from predators during this infantile stage, but also to keep them warm and comfortable until their own fur comes in.
Some Baby Possums Live In Large Family Groups , But Not All
Baby common ringtail possums are usually born into larger family units. Their older brothers and sisters from the previous breeding season will usually live and forage with them, and the parent possums. They will live together in a communal nest called a drey, which they tend to build in low scrub as opposed to up in the trees.
Most possums however, are solitary animals outside of the breeding season and when not rearing their young. Females are more likely than males to live close to their mothers, as males travel further afield to find a new mate. Most possums including the common brushtail don’t live in nests.
Baby Possums Learn Many Vocalizations
At first, baby possums are unable to make any sounds, but they develop their voices before they leave their mothers pouch. These young joeys learn a lot of different vocalizations. They use them along with urinating to mark territory
Possums can make all sorts of noises, from hisses, grunts and growls to clicks, coughing and screeches. Some can be territorial but not aggressive. A male brushtail possum for example, will make a loud, throaty call to warn other males of its presence in its home range.
Baby Possum FAQs
What Is The Lifecycle Of A Baby Possum?
Possums are marsupials, which means that their young are born very premature and incomplete. After only 17 days of development in the womb, the baby possum is born and crawls its way up its mother’s fur to her pouch. There, it attaches to one of her four teats and begins to nurse.
Young possums generally stay in the pouch for about 4 months, after which they will start to ride on their mother’s back. At around 7-9 months of age, they will be weaned from their mother’s milk and will reach adulthood by the time they reach 10 months old. By their first year, or first breeding season, they will be able to have joeys of their own.
The lifespan of possums can vary widely between the species. The common ringtail possums tend to live around 6 years on average in the wild. The common brushtail possum on the other hand lives around 12-13 years in the wild.
How Many Baby Possums Are Born From A Pregnancy?
Possums usually breed once per year. Usually they give birth to a single joey, but twins are also common and triplets have been known to occur less frequently. Some can breed any time of year but most are born in the autumn season.
How Big Do Baby Possums Grow?
All possums start life very small, often compared to be around the size of a ‘jellybean’, up to around 1.5 to 2 cm long and about 2 grams in weight.
In maturity, an adult common brushtail possum can reach around 1.2-4.5 kg with males being larger than females. They will grow to about 32-58 cm in size with an additional 25-40 cm for their tail.
While starting life at the same size, the common ringtail possum doesn’t grow to be as large as the common brushtail possum. In maturity, they measure around 30-35 cm from nose to tail base. Both possums typically have tails of similar length. Common ringtail possums grow to around 1 kg in weight in maturity.
Across the full range of possums from the Tasmanian pygmy possum to the bear cuscus, size can vary between 10 grams to 7 kg in adulthood!
What Do Baby Possums Eat?
Baby possums eat insects, fruits, and leaves. They also eat small lizards and birds, as well as scavenge for food like eggs. As they grow older, they will also start to eat more plant matter such as grasses, fungi, bark, flowers, and leaves.
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).
Because possums have a slow metabolism, they tend to put on weight easily in captivity. Their diet should stick to native plants.
Where Do Baby Possums Live?
Possums are native to Australia, as well as Papua New Guinea and Sulawesi. Some species have been introduced to other countries too such as New Zealand and China, but they are not native to these regions.
As babies, possums will live in their mothers pouch, and depending on the species, they will take shelter either in tree hollows or drey nests.
In terms of habitat, these marsupials live in a variety of environments, including eucalyptus forests, mangroves, woodlands, shrubland, and forests. They live in lowlands, mountainous regions, as well as desert, semi-arid, temperate, and tropical climates.
How Many Species of Baby Possum Are There?
There are up to 30 different species of possums in Australia alone – 13 of which reside only in Victoria. There are up to 70 different species across the full range of possums though, scientifically known as ‘phalangeriformes’, which is a suborder of the ‘marsupialia‘ infraclass.
The most common species are the common brushtail possum and the common ringtail possum, but the largest is the bear cuscus possum.
What Are The Natural Predators Of Baby Possums?
Common Ringtail Possums are an easy meal for birds of prey, particularly owls when they’re in trees. On the ground they’re vulnerable to being killed by foxes as well as feral or unconfined domestic cats and dogs. They also suffer fatalities from human habitats and urban development, particularly due to contact with power lines.
With possums living close by to human settlement, the most common danger to possums is caused by domestic cats and dogs. Cat scratches can be particularly dangerous to possums as they can become infected from even a slight scratch. Any possum attacked by a cat should be taken to and checked out by a vet.