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Last updated on April 23, 2014 at 11:05 EDT

Common Brushtail Possum, Trichosurus vulpecula

The common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) is a species of marsupial that is classified within the Phalangeridae family. It can be found in Australia in a range that extends from northern, eastern, several eastern areas of Australia, Tasmania, and a number of islands like Barrow Island and Kangaroo Island. This species was introduced into New Zealand in 1840, where it has now become an abundant species. It prefers to reside in a variety of habitats including semiarid areas, forests, and areas inhabited by humans like cities or farmlands. This species holds five subspecies including T. v. vulpecula and T. v. johnsoni.

The common brushtail possum reaches an average body length of up to 1.9 feet, with a tail length between 9.4 inches and 1.3 feet and a weight between 2.6 pounds and 9.9 pounds. Its coloring varies depending upon the subspecies from red, greyish silver, cream, and brown. The fur on its sides is typically lighter in color while the nose holds patches of dark fur.  Males hold reddish fur along their shoulders and are typically larger than females, displaying a sexual dimorphism. The tail of this species is furry, the trait from which it derived its common name.

The common brushtail possum is active during the nighttime hours and spends most of its time within the trees. It thought to be solitary, residing in separate home ranges and communicating through scent markings and some vocalizations including hisses, grunts, and clicks. This species chooses dens that are in natural formations, like caves or tree hollows, but it can sometimes be fund in the rooftops of manmade structures. These dens are occasionally shared by more than one individual, but this is not common. This species prefers to consume vegetation like eucalyptus, fruits, leaves, shoots, and seeds, but it will also consume bird eggs, insects, and small vertebrates.

Although the common brushtail possum can breed throughout the year, it typically breeds between the months of September to November and from March to May in a few areas of its range. This species does not gather in pairs and males will breed within many females throughout the breeding season, although it is common for more than half of the male population to produce no young. The pregnancy period lasts between sixteen and eighteen days, after which time one young is born. Young remain in their mother’s pouch for about five months, developing in safety. Once the young are old enough to leave the pouch, they may cling to their mother’s back, remaining with her for up to nine months of age.

Sexual maturity is reached in females at about one year of age, while males reach sexual maturity at two years of age. It is thought that females have a higher survival rate due to their tendency to establish home ranges closer to their mother’s home ranges, while males travel farther to establish home ranges. Young females in the Orongorongo population are known to interact with their mothers once they have left their den and some have even inherited major den locations. The average lifespan of this species is about thirteen years.

In many areas of its range, the common brushtail possum is thought to be a pest. In New Zealand, where it has been introduced, it thrives despite yearly culling and high mortality rates due to contracting bovine tuberculosis. In Australia, its population numbers are significantly lower due to past overhunting. It is protected in the Australian mainland by law, but only slightly protected on Tasmania. Habitat loss has damaged population numbers, but this species has shown an ability to live in human inhabited areas. Trapping laws in many areas allow individuals to be trapped and released when certain requirements are met, like in South Australia where a permit must be obtained. The common brushtail possum appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Least Concern.”

Image Caption: Common Brushtail Possum, Austin’s Ferry, Tasmania, Australia. Credit: JJ Harrison/Wikipedia

Common Brushtail Possum Trichosurus vulpecula