Possum, Brushtail

Trichosurus vulpecula

This possum is Australia’s most common possum species and largest arboreal (tree-dwelling) marsupial herbivore (plant eater). It is the size of a domestic cat with a pointed face, long oval ears, pink nose and bushy black tail. The Tasmanian brushtail has 3 main colour variations: silver grey, black and gold. The very dark possums inhabit denser, wetter forests than the grey. Pure golden possums are the result of a genetic mutation and most do not survive long in the wild because they are conspicuous to predators. The Tasmanian brushtail is the same species as the Australian mainland form but has several characteristic differences such as larger size and longer, thicker coat. Lifespan is approx. 11 years.

Breeding

Main breeding time is Autumn. Most females breed annually after their first year. A single young is born 7-18 days after mating and spends 4-5 months in the pouch, attached to one of two teats. A further 1-2 months is spent suckling and riding on the mother’s back until fully weaned.

Behaviour

A nocturnal marsupial, widespread throughout Tasmania and highly adaptable to a wide range of natural and human environments. Their natural and preferred habitat is forest, where they nest in tree hollows. Generally leads a solitary life, however in areas where numbers are high and shelter is in short supply several may share sleeping places. Home ranges vary from 1 to 15 hectares. They communicate by sound and scent. Ferocious sounding screeches and guttural growls are often used to ward off intruding possums near the nest or home range. They rub secretions from glands under their chin, on the chest and near the anus to mark home ranges and define occupancy of a homesite. If a homesite is vacant or undefended because the occupant has died or been removed, then another brushtail will claim it.

Diet

They feed mainly on leaves of trees and shrubs, but they also enjoy succulent herbs, grasses and garden plants. Meat or fat may occasionally be scavenged.

Status

Secure, their main predators being owls and Tasmanian devils. The majority of brushtails killed on our roads are young males.