common, but far from ordinary


Names): Brush-tailed common possum (Trichosurus vulpecula)

Band: Possums

Cut: Length 35-55 cm (body), plus a long tail of 25-40 cm. Can weigh up to 4.5 kg

Diet: Omnivorous, feeding primarily on eucalyptus leaves, supplemented with a variety of other foods.

Habitat: Found in a variety of habitats across Australia, but absent from arid areas. Introduced to New Zealand.

Conservation state: Not in danger

Superpower: Without a doubt, adaptability! These versatile marsupials can live just as well in the roof of your townhouse as in a secluded forest tree hollow. They eat everything from eucalyptus leaves to bird eggs, and can withstand both the moist summers of the tropical north and the freezing winters of Tasmania!

Brush-tailed common possum. Credit: Tom Brakefield/Getty Images

The common brush-tailed opossum is one of our most familiar opossums, instantly recognizable to most Australians. Its scientific name basically translates to “hairy tailed fox face” – for obvious reasons.

This native marsupial is the cheeky intruder you’ll hear scurrying on (or into!) your roof, or caught eating your precious patch of vegetables in the middle of the night.

But take a moment to marvel at some of the lesser-known facts about this incredibly adaptable acrobat – they just might influence your vote for Australian Mammal of the Year!

It is one of the most common marsupials in Australia, found from Perth to Port Macquarie, from Darwin to Devonport. They are important totem animals for many indigenous peoples, and opossum skin capes were once an important part of ritual and ceremonial life.

Common brushies can vary greatly in size and color; in the colder south, Tassie individuals are the heavyweight champions, weighing nearly twice the size of their more punished northern counterparts. This is a common pattern in widespread mammals and is thought to be related to the physiology and regulation of body heat in different climates.

Like many arboreal (arboreal) marsupials in Australia, common brush-tailed possums use large hollow trees as daytime den sites. But, in keeping with their extremely adaptable nature, this species is also known to hide in other surprising, and sometimes unwelcome, places where hollows are lacking, including rock crevices, mangrove roots, logs, tree burrows, other animals, and, of course, in crawl spaces and attics of urban homes.

Brush-tailed common possum with its young on its back.
Brush-tailed common possum with its young on its back. Credit: Ken Griffiths/Getty Images

Common Brushtails usually have one offspring each year, although some individuals may have two, and twins are rare but also possible. There’s even a pocket-young adoption report! Even more amazing, researchers have found evidence that female opossums can somehow manipulate the sex of their offspring based on factors such as the availability of den sites, and even their age at birth. time of childbirth!

Common brush-tailed possums have less specialized adaptations than other strictly leaf-eating marsupials such as large gliders and koalas. This means they cannot survive on leafy greens alone and supplement with flowers, nectar, eggs, and even baby birds to get enough protein and other nutrients. Of course, in urban areas, they’re notorious for scoffing at everything – I once saw one digging into a bowl of spicy beef burrito!

But that adaptability hasn’t been enough to save our most familiar fluffy flexitarian from the same menacing processes that endanger its more specialized relatives. Continued habitat loss and land use change, combined with an increased risk of predation by introduced cats and foxes, has seen the historic range of common brush-tailed possums shrink significantly since the European colonization, especially in arid areas.

So, maybe it’s time to rethink your relationship with those cheeky creatures in your garden? Wrongly maligned in urban circles, ordinary brushies are actually the most versatile opossums around and deserve your vote!

Voting for Australian Mammal of the Year is now open!

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