July 25, 2019
IN THE BLACK of night time, Australia’s 27 species of possum and glider scamper across our roofs, dart alongside branches in secluded rainforests or peer tentatively from tiny hidey-holes.
Hissing, growling or utterly silent, they carry out a circus act of acrobatic feats, the bigger gliders spreading their gliding membranes to travel greater than 100 m at a single bounce.
Some gliders have even been recorded doing a U-turn in mid-air.
With giant eyes to seize more of the sunshine at night time, they’ve adapted to watch for owls, quolls and pythons, but their largest menace – humankind – has increasingly encroached on their territory, destroying old-growth forest and its sheltering, century-old treehollow
Furry, cuddly and typically curious, possums and gliders are amongst Australia’s best-loved residents and a captivating function of night-life within the bush.
All illustrations by Kevin Stead
- 1 Larger glider
- 2 Feathertail glider
- 3 Yellow-bellied glider
- 4 Widespread brushtail possum
- 5 Squirrel glider
- 6 Daintree River ringtail possum
- 7 Lemuroid ringtail possum
- 8 Rock ringtail possum
- 9 Mountain pygmy-possum
- 10 Herbert River ringtail possum
- 11 Widespread spotted cuscus
- 12 Sugar glider
- 13 Southern widespread cuscus
- 14 Widespread ringtail possum
- 15 Green ringtail possum
- 16 Leadbeater’s possum
- 17 Mahogany glider
- 18 Mountain brushtail possum
- 19 Scaly-tailed possum
- 20 Honey possum
- 21 Japanese pygmy-possum
- 22 Lengthy-tailed pygmy-possum
- 23 Western ringtail possum
- 24 Little pygmy-possum
One of probably the most often seen gliders in spotlighting surveys on the Great Dividing Vary, the higher glider is the most important of Australia’s gliders, 40 cm lengthy, with a tail longer than its physique, and weighing up to 1.7 kg. It has long, luxuriant fur, ranging in colour from creamy grey to black, is nearly silent and feeds virtually solely on eucalypt leaves.
With a scientific identify meaning the pygmy acrobat, the fast-moving feathertail glider is the smallest of the gliding possums, weighing
solely 10–15 g. Probably the most characteristic function is its exquisite, eight cm lengthy feather-like tail that’s the similar size as its body. It also has sweat
glands on its ft that create floor pressure, so the footpads can act like mini suction cups, in a position to stick to glass.
This tiny possum weighs round 15 g and is found feeding on nectar and bugs in mallee heath and dry forest. It’s mild enough to climb and hold from long grass stems and typically moves alongside the bottom, typically sheltering in the course of the day in a leaf-lined nest in a grasstree. Its commonest indigenous identify is mundarda.
Typically referred to as the fluffy glider, adults of this comparatively mild species are about 30 cm long with a buttermilk stomach. Like some other gliders, the yellow-bellied chews holes in eucalypt timber in order to lick the weeping sap, and in north Queensland appears to do that solely on pink mahogany timber. It has a loud shriek that may be heard a whole lot of metres away.
Widespread brushtail possum
Liked and loathed in almost all Australian capital cities, the place it typically takes up residence in roofs, the widespread brushtail has turn into a despised pest in New Zealand, having been introduced there for the fur business in the mid-19th century. There at the moment are tens of hundreds of thousands of
possums there. Australian Geographic Society-sponsored analysis just lately found the red-furred coppery brushtail possum of northern Queensland is identical species.
The squirrel glider is barely bigger than the sugar glider and has a a lot fluffier tail. Due to a mistake with the labelling of an early museum specimen, the squirrel glider’s scientific identify wrongly refers to Norfolk Island. The creature isn’t found there, but in forests and woodlands of japanese Australia.
Daintree River ringtail possum
Regionally referred to as cuscus, the Daintree River ringtail possum was declared a species in 1989 after analysis proved it was genetically totally different from the Herbert River ringtail. A leaf-eater with a body size of about 35 cm, it’s found in only a handful of places in northern
Queensland, and solely above 420 m in elevation.
Lemuroid ringtail possum
This nocturnal leaf-eater lives in north Queensland rainforests above altitudes of 450 m. In a single isolated group dwelling above 1100 m on the Mount Carbine Tableland, more than 10 per cent of the inhabitants is white. In contrast to many other possums, it’s typically seen in the company of its own type.
Rock ringtail possum
This possum lives solely in rocky outcrops and at night time it climbs timber and shrubs to feed on flowers, fruit and leaves. With brief
legs and a stockier tail than most possums, it’s adapted to life on the bottom. It sleeps in family teams in well-protected rock crevices.
This is the only marsupial recognized to hibernate for prolonged durations. Found above 1400 m up to the Australian mainland’s highest level, 2228 m Mt Kosciuszko, the mountain pygmy possum hibernates for up to seven months in sheltered boulders underneath the snow. Typically referred to as
burramys – from an indigenous word which means stony place – the possum eats bogong moths, seeds and small fruits, and is taken into account rare and weak.
Herbert River ringtail possum
Black with a white stomach and mild tail tip, the Herbert River ringtail waits a full 10 minutes after dark earlier than rising from its den. Then
it’ll spend about an hour grooming earlier than shifting off to feed on the leaves of rainforest timber. It ensures it’s safely back contained in the den an hour earlier than dawn.
Widespread spotted cuscus
Weighing up to 5 kg, this inhabitant of Cape York Peninsula, New Guinea and some Indonesian islands is usually wrongly recognized as a monkey. Primarily a fruit eater, it doesn’t sleep in tree hollows, but in thick forest canopy near rivers and streams, not often using the same spot two nights in a row.
The most typical and widespread of the Australian gliders, the sugar glider is present in Australia and New Guinea throughout a spread
of habitats, together with tall wet forests, open forests and woodlands. About 18 cm long, it makes a yapping call like a small canine, and has turn into well-liked in the legal pet trade, notably in the USA.
Southern widespread cuscus
Cuscuses have lengthy canine tooth, which can recommend that at the least half of their eating regimen is carnivorous, though they eat primarily fruits, leaves and flowers. Of slighter construct than the widespread spotted cuscus, it rests in a tree hole in the course of the day.
Widespread ringtail possum
Mainly a leaf-eater, the widespread ringtail loves suburban gardens on the east coast, the place it devours launched fruits and flowers, especially rosebuds. A lengthy friction pad on the underside of its 30 cm white-tipped tail helps when utilizing the tail as an additional climbing limb or when carrying materials for its football-sized nest of sticks, typically referred to as a drey.
Green ringtail possum
The thick fur of this 1 kg possum seems dark green, providing nice camouflage within the dense upland rainforests through which
it lives. To sleep, the quiet people simply hunch right into a ball on a department. It’s the one possum recognized to eat fig leaves.
The only native mammal restricted to Victoria, Leadbeater’s possum takes its rightful place as that State’s mammal emblem. Its foremost habitat is mountain-ash forests, however the Australian Geographic Society has been sponsoring analysis into an isolated population dwelling in a lowland swamp. The Leadbeater’s possum appears very comparable to the sugar glider, however has no gliding membrane.
Extremely endangered, the mahogany glider has a very limited distribution in tea-tree swamps, and eucalypt and grasstree woodland close to Cardwell in north Queensland. It was rediscovered in 1989, having disappeared from the scientific radar for more than 100 years.
Mountain brushtail possum
Trichosurus caninus and T. cunninghamii
This widespread possum – lately cut up into northern and southern species – can also be referred to as the short-eared brushtail possum or bobuck. It isn’t restricted to mountains, but resides in tall forests east of the Nice Dividing Range south of Gladstone, foraging on the ground and within the cover. Steel-grey to jet black above and pale beneath, it’s the stockiest of the brushtails.
This most unusual possum has a tail with outstanding bumpy scales providing distinctive grip. Australian Geographic Society-sponsored analysis in the Kimberley has shown that each possum rests alone in rock crevices in the course of the day and at night time forages in timber for leaves,
flowers and seeds.
A long pointy snout and a 1.eight cm brush-tipped tongue help the honey possum attain deep into flowers for the nectar and pollen on which it solely feeds. Typically referred to as by its indigenous identify of noolbenger, the mousesized creature is restricted to sandy heathland and forest
heath in south-western Australia. The males have relatively monumental testes that take up 4 per cent of their bodyweight and produce the longest spermatozoa (about 0.3 mm) of any mammal.
The japanese pygmy-possum is present in a spread of forests and heath in Tasmania and along the mainland’s south-eastern coast, but is listed as weak in NSW. It’s about 9 cm lengthy and uses an extended tongue to feed on nectar and pollen from banksias, bottlebrushes and eucalypts, as well as insects and seeds.
Found between Townsville and Cooktown, and additionally in New Guinea, this rainforest-dwelling species is surprisingly absent from Cape York. Seldom seen, the long-tailed pygmy-possum has a 15 cm tail extending from its 10 cm body and is usually seen feeding on nectar of the bumpy satin ash. Through the day it sleeps in a spherical nest of leaves.
One of Australia’s most putting mammals, the striped possum strikes rapidly, erratically and noisily, operating alongside branches and catapulting itself between timber. It has a robust, musty odour and a very elongated fourth finger that it uses to probe deep holes and fissures for grubs and different invertebrates. The possum’s distribution in Australia is restricted to Cape York but it is more widespread in New Guinea.
Western ringtail possum
Widespread from Perth to Albany within the 19th century, the western ringtail suffered critical decline as southwest forests have been cleared, and is now listed as a threatened species, with the three most important populations dwelling in jarrah and wandoo forests close to Manjimup, and peppermint woodland around Busselton and Albany. It has brief, spherical ears, and is 30–40 cm long with an identical size tail.
The smallest of the small, the little pygmy-possum is simply 6 cm long and weighs a mere 7 g. Although it eats some nectar, it preys mainly on bugs, and typically small lizards, in a spread of habitats, from desert to forest.
Cowl image photographers: Amanda McLean, Esther Beaton, Jiri Lochman, Mark Ziembicki, Bruce Thomson and Jason Edwards
Design: Jasmine Fletcher