Possums are small marsupials with brown or grey fur, ranging
in size and weight from the length of a finger or 170 grams (6
ounces) (pygmy possums and wrist-winged gliders), to the length
of 120 centimeters (four feet) or 14.5 kilograms (32 pounds) (brushtails
and ringtails). All possums are nocturnal and omnivorous, hiding
in a nest in a hollow tree during the day and coming out during
the night to forage for food. They fill much the same role in
the Australian ecosystem that squirrels fill in the northern
hemisphere and are broadly similar in appearance.
The two most common species of possums, the Common Brushtail and Common Ringtail, are also among the largest.
The animal has been a part of Australian culture and folklore since the original indigenous inhabitants of the country. Indigenous Australians once used possum hides whilst playing the traditional game of Marn Grook. Possum-skin cloaks were important clothing for Aborigines from the south-east, as well as being important clan heirlooms.
In modern times, the phrase "Hello possums!" made famous by satirist Barry Humphries' character Dame Edna Everage has become a celebrated catchphrase.
Possums are commonly found in suburban areas, where they are often considered pests owing to their habit of eating fruit, vegetables, flowers and tender young shoots from gardens, and nesting in roofs. The loud hissing, crackling territorial call of the male Common Brushtail may also be a problem for suburban residents. Natural deterrents which play upon the possum's acute sense of smell are often employed to discourage them. These include cloves of garlic, camphor or naphthalene. As a native species possums are protected by regulations, even when they reside in urban neighborhoods, and cannot be baited. They cannot be killed as pests, and if captured the regulations stipulate that they must be released within a small radius of that locality, since they are territorial creatures. Preventative measures such as blocking off their access to the roof spaces or building a possum nesting box for an alternative home are instead recommended.
Although the Common Brushtail and (to a lesser extent) ringtail possums have adapted well to the urban environment, many of the lesser-known species are reduced in number, threatened, or endangered.
The Common Brushtail Possum was introduced to New Zealand by
Europeans to establish a fur industry.
They soon escaped into the wild where they have thrived as an invasive species with great numbers: around 60 million individuals estimated. There are no native predators of the possum in New Zealand. There have been numerous attempts to eradicate them because of the damage they do to native trees and wildlife, as well as acting as a carrier of bovine tuberculosis. For New Zealand, the introduction of possums has resulted in as much of an ecological disaster as the introduction of rabbits has been in Australia.
This Possum Page is Copyright The Animal Web Guide © 2004 - 2009 Chuck Ayoub