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Australia’s Magical Marsupial: the Brushtail Possum

2 June 2011 No Comment

Cradle Mountain wildlife Brushtail Possum

When you stay at Cradle Mountain, one native creature you often encounter near your accommodation is the brushtail possum. Most hotels are set in native forest with paths that meander through the grounds. Keep a look out for these inquisitive creatures in the evening and at night. They love to scavenge for food or peek in windows!

The brushtail possum is one of the best known Australian animals. Australian children grew up with Mem Fox’s delightful story of “Possum Magic”: the little possum that became invisible despite his grandmother’s best magical efforts to make him visible again. What follows is a fun journey through Australia’s favourite foods to find the ‘magical’ solution.

The brushtail possum can also claim the prestige of being the most common possum of the species and the largest tree-dwelling (arboreal) plant eating (herbivore) marsupial.

BESPOKE DESIGN WITH TREES IN MIND

Roughly the size of a domestic cat, the brushtail possum has a pointed face, long oval ears, a pinknose and a very bushy black tail. You’ll find that the Tasmanian brushtail will come in one of three colours that make it blend into the forest: silver/grey, black and a much rarer gold. The dark possums prefer the denser wetter forest more than the silver/grey do.

Living in trees requires specialty equipment: fur that blends into the background so that you can easily sleep the day away or sneak around foraging for food; sharp claws for climbing; a strong,flexible tail (called prehensile) for curling around branches and tree limbs and an unusual hand-likeback foot to grasp at branches.

PURE AUSSIE GOLD

While a pure gold coat might win the brushtail some best dressed awards, having such a conspicuous coat doesn’t help in the Tasmanian Wilderness. Golden possums generally don’t survive long in the wild as their coat makes them too easy for predators to spot them.

The possum skin industry valued the Tasmanian Brushtail it for its warmth and thickness and also for the greater size and longer thicker coat that its mainland cousins.

HOUSING IN CRISIS?

Brushtails naturally prefer to inhabit forests so that they can nest in tree hollows. However, brushtails, like other possums, are highly adaptable and so can be considered quite adventurous and rather cheeky around human environments. Having a possum living in your roof is not unknown as they will happily cohabit with humans in cities and towns where the warmth and protection ofbuildings provide shelter.

While possums prefer the single life, if you are truly fortunate, you might have more than one possum living with you as they will share if shelter is scarce. Also, mums and bubs stay together for up to six months.
The downside to having a possum as your flatmate is that they are not selective eaters and are happy to munch on your exotic plants, herbs, vegetables and pasture grasses as well as native plants.

The best time to see young possums when you’re out walking is between September and November,when the young are riding around on mum’s back.


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Image: B1SHOP via Flickr

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