Silver-gray brushtail possum
The Common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) is a nocturnal, semiarboreal marsupial native to Australia. It is the second-largest of the possums. It is mainly a folivore and in most Australian habitats, eucalyptus leaves are a significant part of the animal’s diet. The Common brushtail possum is the Australian marsupial most often seen by city dwellers, as it is one of few that thrive in cities and a wide range of natural and human-modified environments. It was introduced to New Zealand in the 1850s to establish a fur industry, but in the mild subtropical climate of New Zealand, and with few to no natural predators, the Common brushtail possum thrived to the extent and became a major agricultural and conservation pest.
The Common brushtail possum has large and pointed ears. Its bushy tail (hence its name) is adapted to grasping branches, prehensile at the end with a hairless ventral patch. Its fore feet have sharp claws and the first toe of each hind foot is clawless but has a strong grasp. The possum grooms itself with the third and fourth toes which are fused together. It has a thick and woolly pelage that varies in color depending on the subspecies. Color patterns tend to be silver-grey, brown, black, red, or cream. The ventral areas are typically lighter and the tail is usually brown or black. The muzzle is marked with dark patches. In addition, the coat of the male tends to be reddish at the shoulders. As with most marsupials, the female brushtail possum has a forward-opening, well-developed pouch. The chest of both sexes has a scent gland that emits a reddish secretion that stains the fur around it. Males of this species are generally larger than females.
This possum is widely distributed across Australia, Tasmania, and many offshore islands such as Barrow Island and Kangaroo Island. The animal is also introduced and fairly common in New Zealand. The Common brushtail possums occur in a wide variety of habitats such as woodland, dry eucalypt forest, pine plantations, savanna, cultivated areas, rural gardens, and suburban and urban areas.
Common brushtail possums are arboreal and solitary animals, marking their home ranges through scent secretions. However, due to the very high number of their populations, they often have overlapping home ranges. In spite of being solitary, Common brushtail possums have been known to display dominance hierarchies with co-dominants of the same sex typically avoiding each other. However, direct aggression among individuals is very rare. These nocturnal animals spend their daytime hours resting in hollow logs or trees, while those in urban areas may rest wherever they feel secure, even in attics of houses. Brushtail possums are highly vocal animals. They interact with conspecifics through a wide variety of calls such as clicks, grunts, hisses, alarm chatters, guttural coughs, or screeching.
These possums are mainly herbivores (folivores, frugivores, granivores). They feed upon leaves, shoots, and flowers, supplementing their diet with clovers, seeds, and garden fruits.
Common brushtail possums exhibit polygynandrous (promiscuous) mating system, in which both males and females have multiple mates. Mating usually depends on location. Thus, in some areas such as northern Australia, they usually breed throughout the year. In other areas, these possums mate with peak periods, occurring in spring, from September to November, and during the autumn months, from March to May. Meanwhile, in some areas of their range, they can give birth in both seasons. The gestation period lasts for 16-18 days, yielding a single, tiny baby, which climbs into the pouch of its mother without any help. The baby remains in the pouch for about 4-5 months, after which it is left in the den or may ride on the back of its mother until 7 - 9 months old. Females of this species are ready to mate at 12 months old, while males are mature at 2 years old.
Presently, the Common brushtail possum suffers from the loss of its natural habitat. The animal is hunted by dingoes, foxes, cats, and dogs. The Common brushtail possum also competes for food and home sites with other possums and animals.
According to IUCN, the Common brushtail possum is locally abundant and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Although this species is currently classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List, its numbers are decreasing.