Common Ringtail Possum, Pseudocheirus peregrinus
The common ringtail possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus) is a marsupial that is native to Australia. Its range includes eastern and southwestern areas of Australia and Tasmania. It prefers a habitat within tropical or temperate regions in dense forests, showing a particular inclination for eucalyptus forests. This species is the sole member of its genus, Pseudocheirus, but it is thought to hold four subspecies.
The common ringtail possum can reach an average body length between 11.8 and 13.7 inches, with a tail length of about the same size and a weight between 1.1 and 2.4 pounds. Its fur is typically grey, although the underbelly is cream in color, and there is a white patch of fur along the sides of the face and neck, beginning below the ears. It has a prehensile tail that allows it to cling to branches which holds white fur at the tip. Its back feet also aid in climbing.
The common ringtail possum is sociable, living in communal groups known sometimes known as greyers. These groups usually consist of one male, a few females, and the offspring produced between them. The possums will build a nest within tree hollows or branches, although they will occasionally sleep outside of the nests. The group will build many nests in different areas, and is territorial over each one. The greyers are used for rearing young as well as providing a place to sleep during the day. This species spends most of its time in the trees and will communicate using high pitched, twittering vocalizations.
The breeding season for the common ringtail possum occurs between the months of April and December, depending upon its location. Most young are born in May or June. Females can breed for twenty-eight days, but if a litter dies prematurely, they can breed again. Each litter consists of two to four young, and these are born within the mother’s pouch. Their growth rate within the pouch is relatively slow, because the milk the mother produces is not particularly nutritious, but this also occurs when the young emerge from the pouch, because they must also consume sold food. It is thought that young nurse for longer period so they may be better equipped for foraging when they are weaned. The young will open their eyes at 90 to 106 days, and will emerge from their pouch at 120 to 130 days of age. Weaning typically occurs at 180 to 210 days of age, although some individuals have been weaned at 145 days. The young will be able to breed during the first breeding season of their life.
The diet of the common ringtail possum consists mainly of the eucalyptus leaves that are abundant in its range. It will consume other plant material from different types of trees, like fruits and leaves, if eucalyptus is not available. Young leaves and shoots are preferred over mature ones, and it is thought that the emergence of young possums coincides with the growth of plants in the area. Younger leaves hold more nitrogen, but the amount of protein is less than that in older leaves.
This species differs from gliders and koalas in that its digestive system allows it to gain more protein from the eucalyptus. This is also accomplished when the possum eats soft feces that are released when resting. This process also gives the possum more energy and makes it possible to survive when water is not abundant by extracting optimum amounts of both nutrients and water.
The common ringtail lemur has declined since the late 1950’s, but it is though that its population numbers could be rising. Habitat loss by deforestation is the main threat to this species, because it is so dependent upon trees to survive. It can be killed on roads or hunted by domesticated dogs and cats, although it does not inhabit manmade structures so is not common near populated regions. The common ringtail possum appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Least Concern.”
Image Caption: Ring tailed possum. Credit: Benjamint444/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)