Honey Possum, Tarsipes rostratus

The honey possum (Tarsipes rostratus), also known as the tait or the noolbenger natively, is a marsupial that occurs in Australia. Its range is small and isolated to an area in the southwest portion of Western Australia. In this area, it prefers a habitat within woodlands and shrub lands. This possum is the sole member of its genus Tarsipes, and of its family, leading some experts to assert that it may deserve a distinct classification from its superfamily or higher. It is also thought to be the only remaining member of a now extinct group of marsupials. The honey possum appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Least Concern.”

The honey possum is small, reaching an average body length between 2.5 and 3.5 inches, with males weighing up to .3 ounces and females weighing slightly more .5 ounces. Because this possum feeds exclusively on nectar, its muzzle and tongue are long. It is primarily nocturnal, choosing to feed during the day only in cool weather. It rests within abandoned bird nests, rock crevices, or tree cavities and will enter a state of torpor during winter if food is hard to find.

The honey possum requires a variety of flower types for nectar year round, and these must be easily accessible because it cannot travel far distances like birds that feed on nectar. However, males have been recorded traveling as far as 1,640 feet in one night. This species is able to move quickly over dense ground vegetation and on trees, using its feet and tail to grip the vegetation. When not breeding, most honey possums remain in separate territories of around 2.5 acres, living in groups of up to ten individuals. Females will choose smaller territories once they become pregnant, and will guard them fiercely, even against males.

The honey possum breeds year round, depending on the availability of nectar. Females mate with many males, and as a result, males have the largest testes and sperm relative to their body size of any mammal species. After a pregnancy period of twenty-eight days, two through four young are born. When born, the babies weigh only .0002 ounces, but growth occurs inside of the mother’s pouch for about sixty days, after which the babies weigh .08 ounces and are covered in hair.

For the first few days of life outside of the pouch, the babies remain hidden in sheltered areas, during which time the mother will search for food and return shortly after. A few days later, the babies attach themselves to their mother’s back, although this does not last long when the babies become too large. Weaning occurs at around eleven weeks of age. After the first litter emerges from the pouch, a second litter begins to develop within it, a common occurrence among marsupials called diapause.

Image Caption: Tarsipes rostratus. Credit: John Gould/Wikipedia