The Striped possum is a marsupial noteworthy for its prominent striped black and white pattern. Its coarse coat has 3 longitudinal variable stripes of black. Juvenile and sub-adult animals show a sharp contrast between their black and white markings. Adults have fur that has a more gradual transition between black and white, and the white areas turn more gray with age. Striped possums have a number of unique characteristics: they have a long tongue and fourth finger, their incisors are long, and they have a rounding of their braincase.
Striped possums occur in Indonesia, Australia and Papua New Guinea, and on some nearby islands. On the mainland they live just in northeastern Queensland, from the top of the Cape York Peninsula down to Mt. Spec. They live almost exclusively in tropical lowland rainforest and adjacent woodlands. In this habitat, they typically inhabit riparian woodlands, vine forests, and monsoonlands. Individuals are seen sometimes feeding in more open melaleuca and eucalypt woodlands.
Habits and lifestyle
Striped possums are nocturnal and arboreal insectivores. They are most active from the time of 21 00 hours to 05 50 hours, spending up to 9 hours each night looking for food. They forage in trees of varying sizes. While looking for food and feeding, striped possums move quickly through the canopy of trees, jumping long distance from bough to bough with precision. Adult males are usually solitary, except during the breeding season. Females and juveniles often den together. Females are dominant and are aggressive towards males apart from during the breeding season. This species dens during the day in tree hollows in dry leaf nests or on mats made up of epiphytes. Males and females both use a number of sites for dens, spread throughout their home ranges but always in forest trees.
Diet and nutrition
Striped possums are generalist insectivores that eat mostly social insects, such as termites and ants, and the wood-boring larvae of moths and beetles. They also eat flowers, pollen, nectar, sap, and fruit. In captivity they have been seen eating small mammals.
Not much is known regarding the mating system of the Striped possum, as due to its shy nature and fast movements, it is difficult to observe. It seems that there is intense rivalry among the males for breeding females. They chase each other and when in close contact make threatening, raucous vocalizations. They mate in the dry season and in Australia this is between February and August, peaking in June-July, whereas in New Guinea it is as early as January until as late as October. The females have well-developed pouches and two mammae. They bear one to two young, almost always two. There is no detailed information available about the development of the young or the age of sexual maturity. Females carry their offspring with them on their backs once they are weaned, but for how long is not known.
In Australia: February-August, peaks in June-July; in New Guinea: January-October
Overall there are no major threats to this species. It is hunted for food but this is not seen as a major threat.
According to the IUCN Red List, population size of Striped possums has not been quantified, but it is believed to be large. Currently this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List, but its numbers today are decreasing.
Striped possum is a host to many species of parasites. It also may limit insect populations.
Fun facts for kids
- Amongst marsupials, striped possums have the biggest brain relative to their body weight.
- Striped possums produce at least two different types of vocalizations. They often call with a guttural raspy "gar-gair, gar-gair", which may have a role in mating and seems to be used also for other social groupings. They also use a distress call, a series of croaking “frog-like” calls descending in pitch, used repeatedly in a threatening situation.
- The Striped possum gives off a sweet strong musk-like odor, the specific purpose for this not being clear.
- Striped possums eat nosily and often are only detected by their slurping and chewing noises.
- Where there are coconut palms, the Striped possum may cause a commotion when using its chisel-like teeth as it gnaws through bark and leaves foraging for insects, with shreds of trunk and leaves falling to the ground around it. It also bites into fallen logs or dead branches to get at grubs or borers.
- The striped possum has a prehensile tail, which makes it a "mammalian woodpecker".