The Brushtail Possum is one of the most widely known Australian marsupials, that is – a mammal with a pouch. Initially, they lived only in Australia, but in 1858 they were also introduced to New Zealand, where their numbers have grown to 25 million. These small mammals live in the trees and in the past they were a common target for fur sellers and poachers.
A drawing of the common Brushtail Possum
This tree animal reaches a length of 35-60 cm, with a tail half the length of it. The thick, soft fur is very valuable and they are a very profitable source of income for fur sellers. During the economical crisis in 1930’s, many unemployed people made their living off catching these Possums. The Brushtail Possum is equipped with five-fingered hands that allow the animal to grab and hold branches, and the sharp nails help hunting.
These cat-sized marsupials lead solitary lifestyles in the trees. Their hands and legs are always moist, which is why the animal can climb trees with excellent speed and agility. Although spending most of their lives in the trees, they can not jump from one tree to another, thus every time they want to move to a new growth, they first have to climb down. They’re also highly territorial and try to avoid other individuals, although fights are quite rare.
Brushtail Possum starts feeding at dusk and keeps searching for food until the sun rises. Every night the animal measures a distance of about 2,5 kilometres, orientating by smell and taste. Their diet consists of leaves and bugs, as well as sprouts, fruits, flowers and even eggs, small birds or carrion. When feeding, the tail is an invaluable offset for the Possum, as it allows them to hang free the hands for grabbing food, while hanging only in the tail, which is wreathed around a branch.
The mating period usually lasts March through May. The couple stays together for only a month, thus a single male can mate with multiple females during this time. After a gestation period of 17-18 days, a single baby is born, which as for other marsupials, is poorly developed and immediately crawls in the pouch, where it continues developing. Only five months later is the young Possum ready to come out of the pouch, while still returning there at night. They reach sexual maturity at the age of 18 months.
A Brushtail Possum female with her baby
Since the massive hunting has ceased, the Brushtail Possums have experienced a great population boom, and because of their excellent skills in adapting to various conditions, they now inhabit almost all Australian areas, even country houses and parks. In New Zealand, one square kilometer can be home to even 600 Brushtail Possums. Unfortunately, such large populations can severely damage forests, destroying young trees and all sprouts, thus they are often eradicated as pests. Currently, their population is stable and in no danger at all.