Common Brushtail Possum

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Brushtail Possum

There are four species with the word 'Possum' as part of their English name, the largest of which is the Common Brushtail Possum, Trichosurus vulpecular.  For some reasons Brushtail Possums have in terms of their evolutionary development become more resilient than the others. They are too large as prey for some predators and they are less specialised when it comes to finding food sources.

Actually the last part of the name 'Possum' happened to be a misunderstanding as the first European settlers have mistaken these animals for Opossums – the species to be found in America.Brushtail Distribution

In those days Common Brushtail Possums lived almost everywhere in Australia – but not in New Zealand.
This has changed significantly since. In Australia Brushtails have almost vanished from most of the arid landscapes of the centre. They now appear to be restricted to Eucalypt woodlands along rivers and creeks and their numbers have heavily decreased in the temperate woodlands of western, northern and eastern Australia.
In New Zealand it is another story. Brushtail Possums were introduced between 1837 and 1924 in a series of translocations from Australia. Because they were so adaptable and had hardly any predators at that time their numbers have increased to pest proportions.

Common Brushtail Possums have most commonly a silver-grey coat with a white or pale grey belly. But having said this, they occur in various colours and sizes. In Queensland for instance they have a short-haired fur, which is copper-coloured. Brushies in Tasmania show a quite darker more woolly fur.
But here in Australia's South West their fur is mainly silvery-grey on their back and pale-grey underneath.

All over Australia the weight of Common Brushtail Possums can vary between 1.3 and 4.5 kg for males or 1.2 and 3.5 kg for females. Their head and body length measures between 35 and 55 cm and the tail length would be between 25 and 40 cm. In our South West region they are said to be one of the smallest subspecies, called 'Koomal', and as a consequence their size might be at the lower end of the ranges above.
Males and females have long oval ears. Their tails are bushy and can have either a black or a white tip.
Brushies spend their days preferably in tree hollows either in a dead branch or in a trunk. They can be found between fallen logs, in rock cavities or even in a termite mount if it is hollowed out.
In cases where they live with us in the middle of suburbia they can be found in places where it is fairly dark during the day and if they can get between our roofs and ceilings they love it.
Brushtail Possums usually are herbivores or – as they are used to live in trees – even folivores. However,  they are able to digest the leaves of a far broader range of tree species than the Western Ringtail Possum and some of those leaves are very toxic – the Gastrolobium here in Western Australia for instance.
But that's not all. They feast on flowers and fruits as well and even would not reject insects, worms or eggs, although it is said that they eat 'meat' exclusively in captivity.

In the South West the Common Brushtail Possums have a major breeding saison in autumn and a minor one in spring.

After a short gestation period – just 16 to 18 days – the new-born Brushtail Possum baby crawls – tiny as it is – into mothers pouch, where it attaches itself to one of the two teats available. It stays in the pouch for four to five month and spends another one to two months still suckling while already riding on mum's back or wandering around on its own.

Security seems quite good in mother's pouch, because the mortality rate is very low in the first months. Life becomes more dangerous when it's time to disperse, when they have to leave mother's territory and look for their own place to live. That's not an easy task and a hard time when brushies sometimes 'get lost'.