Western Ringtail Possum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ringtail Possum at night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Western Ringtail Possum

It is not a coincidence that our Possum Centre is based here in Busselton-, in this beautiful town in Western Australia's southwest.
Busselton is situated in the middle of 'Peppermint Country', in other words in the middle of the distribution of Agonis flexuosa, the scientific name for our Peppermint Ringtail DistributionTrees. There is no other region with this tree species anywhere else.
For various reasons Western Ringtail Possums are pretty much dependent on Peppermint Trees. They have specialised to live on Peppy leaves, so they are used to living in their canopies and they prefer Peppy twigs or branches as a long lasting building material for their dreys, the name of their nests. It is of course no coincidence, that the distribution chart for the Western Ringtail Possum looks similar to the one for Peppermint Trees and Busselton is situated in the middle of 'Western Ringtail Possum Country' too.

In Busselton Western Ringtail Possums are highly visible. Almost everyone here has had some kind of experience with them in some way and there is not much need to explain how they look like to our fellow residents. People outside Possum Country should imagine a medium sized marsupial, which means an average of one kilo body weight and approximately 40 cms body length. Their tail of an additional 40 cms length is a very important tool for climbing, carrying things around and supporting their full body weight. Their common name 'Western Ringtail Possum' is testimony to this.Ringtail Forehand
Their scientific name 'Pseudocheirus Occidentalis' explains two- different features of the Western Ringtail Possums. Pseudocheirus means something like 'False Hand', because the forefeet have two digits opposite three others, together providing a good grip especially for climbing (as if we humans would have two thumbs and just three fingers). Occidentalis means 'Western', which says that they are a species of their own. They are not to be mistaken for their east coast cousins Pseudocheirus Peregrinus or Common Ringtail Possums, which for instance are smaller and of course don't know how well Peppermint Trees taste.
Western Ringtail Possums are nocturnal. Maybe that's a reason for their soft, short and dense fur being dark brown and not very visible at night. However, the more hidden belly is usually creamy white or occasionally grey. Half of their tail is dark brown too but the other half - the tip - is shiny white .
Being nocturnal Western Ringtail Possums have to have specialised senses.
Their eyes for instance have a reflective layer at the back, in some way functioning as a light amplifier. This feature helps when spotting them at night. Their eyes reflect the shine of a torch but just within a very narrow angle. The success rate of the spotter depends on how close they have put the torch to their own eyes (physics: angle in equals angle out).
The small round ears are also highly sensitive. This is easily proofed by watching Western Ringtail Possums in care. If there is a sudden noise especially of a high frequency something like a shock goes through the whole little body, always alert to escape immediately. Our human world is overloaded with those noises.
Western Ringtail Possums spent most of their time high up in the canopies of the trees.Drey
During the day they prefer to sleep either in tree hollows or in dreys, which are nests built thoroughly, carrying twigs and branches with their tails. Less frequent they can be found in nests on the ground if there is dense understorey available or – if they don't find anything better - they sometimes sleep sitting in a fork high up in a tree.
At night they socialise and feed. Western Ringtail Possums are folivores, which means 'leave eaters'. Inland populations, without or with very few Peppermints available, survive on the leaves of mainly Eucalypts (Jarrah or Marri are favourites).
Our coastal populations here in Busselton and around are dependent on Peppermint trees for up to 90 percent of their diet. In our urban backyards they appreciate other (European) plants as well, for instance leaves (and fruits) of fruit trees or the petals of roses.
There is little knowledge of the social behaviour of Western Ringtail Possums. They are said to be very solitary and mostly live on their own. However, some people tell other stories about gregarious possums in their backyard.
The breeding frequency of female Western Ringtail Possums is usually once a year. They give birth to one to three pouch young. In most cases it will be just one, twin births happen about as often as in humans while triplets births are very rare.
Despite Western Ringtail Possums being so visible here in Busselton they are listed as a threatened species. Their legal status under the EPBC Act (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999) is "Vulnerable" and under the West Australian Wildlife Conservation Act (1950) they are listed as 'rare or likely to become extinct'.
Why is that?
Habitat loss is one of the biggest threats and major reason for the decline of the Western Ringtail Possums. Clearing for agriculture and urban development has diminished potential habitat and this is ongoing.
Other reasons are of course the increasing number of predators, such as foxes or feral cats and dogs and last but not least the increasing traffic on our roads.
We Busselton people should remember, that it is a privilege to share our backyards with a species that cannot be found anywhere else on this entire planet.