Leadbeater's Possum

Leadbeater's Possum

Fairy possum

Kingdom
Phylum
Subphylum
Class
Infraclass
Family
SPECIES
Gymnobelideus leadbeateri
Population size
2,000
Life Span
7.5-9 yrs
WEIGHT
100-170 g
LENGTH
15-16 cm

These small, tree-dwelling marsupials are native and endemic exclusively to a very small area in Victoria (Australia). For about half a century, Leadbeater's possums were believed to be extinct, but in the beginning of 1960s the species was rediscovered.

Distibution

The species is found exclusively in Australia, where its range is restricted to 2 small areas, one of which is near the western end of Victoria’s Central Highland, and the other one near Yellingbo, east of Melbourne (Victoria). These animals can be found in forests, dominated by mountain swamp gum (Eucalyptus camphora), silver wattle (Acacia dealbata), shining gum (Eucalyptus nitens) and Victorian ash trees (Eucalyptus regnans). Leadbeater’s possums generally prefer damp, mountainous forests with abundance of thick plants and openings in trees.

Leadbeater's Possum habitat map

Geography

Continents
Countries

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

These possums are nocturnal and sedentary animals. Leadbeater’s possums are known to form groups of 4 - 8 individuals, usually consisting of an adult pair and their young. Members of a group share the same nest and identify each other by smells. Grooming and spread of odors are common activities, enhancing social bonds between members of a group. Each group occupies an area of 2.5 - 7.5 acres, fiercely defending its territory. These animals have a female-dominated social hierarchy with each group, having only one adult female. Meanwhile, other adult females, sharing the same nest, typically form an unstable group, members of which often engage in fight. Females usually leave their group earlier than males. They are also known for their violence and aggressive behavior towards each other and occasionally, their own daughters.

Diet and Nutrition

These animals are carnivores (insectivores), they feed upon a wide variety of arthropods such as crickets, beetles and spiders, which are found under the shedding bark of eucalypts. Leadbeater’s possums are also known to favor gum, sap and nectar of eucalypts. In addition, they consume honeydew - a sweet substance, which is made by lerps.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
REPRODUCTION SEASON
April-June, October-December
PREGNANCY DURATION
20 days
BABY CARRYING
1-2 joeys
INDEPENDENT AGE
10-15 months
BABY NAME
joey

Leadbeater’s possums are monogamous, which means that one male mates with one female exclusively. These animals have two breeding seasons: one lasts from April to June, and the other - from October to December. Gestation period lasts for up to 20 days, yielding a single or two young per litter. Newborn babies climb into the pouch of their mother, where they remain for 85 days, feeding upon maternal milk. By the end of this period, young possums are developed enough to come out of the pouch and begin to forage. Males are weaned by 15 months old, while females - earlier - by the age of 10 months. Since young females are usually not welcome on territories of adult females, unfortunately, many of them to do not survive. As a result, by the age of 2 years, when Leadbeater’s possums are sexually mature, males outnumber females three to one.

Population

Population threats

The primary threats to this endangered species are wildfire and logging, which are, in fact, interrelated: timber harvesting of the ash-type forests clears the area from large trees, causing wildfires and reseeding, which leads to destruction of natural habitat of these animals. Fires also destroy nesting sites of Leadbeater’s possums, which are located in hollows of trees. These hollows take quite a long time to form; the largest Eucalypt tree, for example, takes 150 years to develop favorable nesting sites. Thus, only one conclusion can be drawn from the consideration of the above mentioned facts: constant destruction of a few remaining nesting sites combined with long regeneration is likely to result in complete extinction of Leadbeater’s possums, which can happen in the near future.

Population number

The total number of this species' population is currently decreasing. According to IUCN Red List, there are approximately 2,000 mature Leadbeater’s possums today, 200 of which are found at Yellingbo. As a result, Leadbeater’s possum is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) species on the IUCN Red List.

Ecological niche

Constructing their nests in dead and decaying trees with abundant populations of insects, Leadbeater's possums feed upon these insects, controlling numbers of their populations and helping balance the ecosystem.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Leadbeater's possum has been the faunal emblem of the State of Victoria (Australia) since 2 March 1971.
  • These possums are closely related and similar to sugar gliders. However, these two species have a number of important differences, one of which is the lack of the skin membranes in Leadbeater’s possums; these membranes are common for gliders, helping them move by 'gliding'.
  • In spite of being rather small and shy animals, these possums are very agile, known to make long leaps from one tree to another.
  • In order to attract conspecifics, possums give out smacking sounds. When threatened, possum babies tend to hiss or sneeze.
  • Despite of poor eyesight and sense of hearing, possums perceive environment due to their keen sense of smell.
  • A threatened possum usually lies motionless or falls on its side with its eyes closed or fixed on a single point; the animal is able to remain like that from one minute to as long as 6 hours.
  • Possums are resourceful and highly adaptable animals. In addition, they are accomplished climbers due to their sharp claws as well as tails and moths, which are also used when climbing.

References

1. Leadbeater's Possum Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leadbeater%27s_possum
2. Leadbeater's Possum on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/9564/0

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