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Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula)
The brush tailed possum like its close relative the ring tailed possum, is widespread in Australia and is a major pest since it was introduced to New Zealand. It is an arboreal marsupial.
The brush tailed possum is one of seven species and is about the size of a cat. It has a pointy snout and a pink nose. Its whiskers are long. They can grow to as big as 550mm long plus a tail which is another 250-400mm long. The tail is prehensile and assists the sharp claws in climbing trees. They are furry and those in Tasmania are furrier as they have adapted to the colder climate. They are usually black, grey or the smaller Queensland variety is sometimes copper coloured. Such colour variations have been seen also in Tasmania and the image is of a pale copper coloured brushtail.
possums live in gum trees, their nests usually hidden away in the forks
of branches. They become quite used to suburban life, and those
Australians with corrugated iron roofs near gum trees will hear them
thumping across the roof usually soon after dark and just before dawn.
Or if you have a pergola you can watch the entire tribe wend their way
across to feed on something through the night. They will try to nest in
the ceiling if there is any gap or opening. Sometimes but not often,
they get into a house by falling down a chimney. Donít try to catch such
a possum or you will have no ornaments left and you may be ornamented
with large scratches. Rather open a clear way out and let it, with
gentle persuasion, find the back door.
They can be a nuisance in the orchard as they will nibble at any fruit. The flower garden is also attractive and there are many reports of rose buds being amongst their favourites. They use their front paws to hold and to help pick fruit and leaves. They will leave small twigs and branches strewn on the ground below. Their faeces are about 2.5 cms long as just thicker than a pencil. They are green-khaki in colour. They can be a mess on the path and a health hazard if washed off your roof into drinking water supplies.
Preventative measures can include rubbing the trunks of fruit trees with blood and bone, and likewise for roses. Or build a large cage over your garden. It like any fencing must be well constructed and the netting made very tight or your possums will get to your fruit before you do!
Apart from thumping on the roof they also can be quite noisy as they call to each other. It is a low throaty sound, like some machine being wound up. In parks and gardens trees that need protection will often be encircled by a band of hard clear perspex or metal about a metre wide. The possums canít get a grip and so the young foliage is protected.
Possums are protected in most areas and professionals trappers can catch them on your property. Research has demonstrated that if they are released somewhere in the bush, they will hardly survive for a week. The local possums will not tolerate intruders. These possums mark their territory with scent from special glands in the chests. Aboriginal people in Victoria and Tasmania sometimes used cloaks of possum skin to ward off cold winds and rain. The skins were sewn together to make a very effective garment.
The young are usually born at the beginning of winter after a gestation period of about 17 days. When born the young possum makes its way to the pouch and attaches itself to a teat. It remains in the pouch for the next five months. By then winter has gone and it will venture out and climb on its motherís back. It will travel like this for the next two months. Young females start to breed at about one year old.
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