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Everything You Need to Know About the Possum

Once considered pests, possums are now widely accepted in Australia as an integral part of its native wildlife. Possums belong to a group of small marsupials, which includes about 50 species. They are native to Australia and New Zealand, where they inhabit a wide variety of habitats, from alpine forests to dense grasslands.

Possums are omnivorous mammals. They consume a variety of plant material and also feed on insects, worms, snails, slugs and frogs. They sometimes visit birdfeeders and can often be found raiding fruit trees. While they do not hibernate, they are nocturnal and will seek shelter during the day.

Physical Characteristics

Possums come in a variety of sizes and shapes, ranging from the relatively large brush-tailed possums to the small sugar gliders. Generally, possums have short and stout tails that are used for climbing, and their fur is typically gray or brown in color. Their ears are prominent and their eyes are large and black.

They range in size from the common brush-tailed possums, which are about the size of a small cat, to the tiny sugar gliders, which are about the size of a mouse. Brush-tailed possums have a distinctive crest of fur on their head.

Diet and Behaviour

Possums are mainly nocturnal, spending much of the day resting in hollow logs, tree hollows and in leaf litter. They are active at night, when they emerge to search for food in a variety of habitats.

Possums feed mainly on eucalyptus leaves, fruit, flowers and other foliage. They also consume insects, grubs, small vertebrates and even carrion. They sometimes scavenge bird nests for eggs or young birds.

Habitat and Distribution

Most of the 50 species of possums live in Australia, while some varieties are found in New Guinea. They inhabit a wide variety of habitats, from alpine forests to coastal heaths, and from wet sclerophyll forests to coastal dunes.

In Australia, possums are found mainly in the eastern and southern parts of the continent. Some species have become established in urban areas, where they make their home in backyard sheds and garages.

Possum two

Conservation Status

Although considered pests by some, possums play an important role in Australia’s ecosystems. Possums help to spread the spores of fungi and pollinate flowers and fruits. Their consumption of foliage also helps to reduce bushfire risk by preventing overgrowth of combustible material.

The majority of possum species are listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. However, there are a few species, such as the mountain brush-tailed possums and the southern giant hair-tailed possums, that are classified as Vulnerable to extinction due to habitat loss and predation.

Interesting Facts About Possums

• The common brushtail possum is one of the most successful marsupials in Australia. It can live in a variety of habitats and can even survive in urban areas.

• Some species of possums are semi-arboreal, meaning they spend significant amounts of time in trees. They use their tails to balance while they climb and jump in the trees.

• While possums are omnivores, the sugar gliders are specialized nectar-feeders. They have webbed and clawed feet that they use to cling to branches while they feed.

• Possums use their tails to carry food or nesting material. A possum’s tail has more than 40 muscles and can be fully prehensile, meaning it can be used like a hand.

• Some species of possums are solitary, while others are social. The common brush-tailed possums live in family groups, with one dominant male and several females and their young.

• Possums have one of the shortest gestation periods of all mammals. After giving birth, female possums are able to give birth again within just 10 days.

• Many species of possums play dead when threatened, earning them the nickname “play possums”.


Possums are fascinating creatures that are often misunderstood and underrated. Although sometimes considered a nuisance, possums play an important role in the ecosystems of Australia and New Zealand, and the majority of species are classified as Least Concern. Despite their bad rap, possums are incredibly resilient and fascinating creatures that should be appreciated and respected.

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