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Common brushtail possums

Common brushtail possums - Burumin

What are common brushtail possums?

Common brushtail possums are native Australian marsupials found all over the country as well as New Zealand. They have thick, black bushy tails and come in a variety of colours. Brushtails can be silvery grey, brown, golden or reddish in colour. They can be distinguished from other possums by their yellowish belly fur. They range in body length from 35 to 55 centimetres and weigh between 1.2 to 4.5 kilograms. Their tails can be 25 to 40 centimetres long. 

The scientific name for brushtail possums is Trichosurus vulpecula which means furry tailed.

The Dharug name for possum is burumin.

Where do common brushtail possums live?

Brushtail possums are arboreal animals which means they live in trees. They prefer forest habitats and woodlands but are also well adapted to residential areas. They often need to be discouraged from setting up home in people’s rooves!

Competition for tree hollows to shelter in can be fierce as more trees are removed from natural habitats. In their natural habitat, brushtails also create their ‘dens’ in fallen trees and rock cavities (spaces inside rocks).

Common brushtail possums are also found living in city buildings, urban parks and gardens.

What do common brushtail possums eat?

In the wild, brushtail possums feed on leaves, blossoms and fruits. They forage in the lower levels of the forest and on the ground. Occasionally their diet will include insects, baby birds and bird eggs.

In urban areas, brushtail possums have a more varied diet.

What role do common brushtail possums play in the ecosystem?

Common brushtail possums are a known food source of tiger quolls, large pythons, powerful owls and goannas.

Brushtail possums will fertilise the flowers of many trees and plants as they move between these plants carrying pollen in their fur.

How are common brushtail possums adapted to their environment?

Common brushtail possums are well adapted to their natural environments. They use their hand-like back feet and the two thumbs on their front feet for gripping and climbing. Their sharp claws also help them to climb trees as well as to groom themselves (brush their fur). 

They can move quickly through trees due to their strong limbs which help them leap from one branch to another. Brushtail possums also have a flexible tail for gripping branches when needed.

Common brushtail possums have large eyes to let in as much light as possible because they are nocturnal.

Common brushtail possums communicate using sound and smell. They make hissing, coughing or screeching sounds and use a scent gland on the chest to mark out territory. Vocal (voice) communication is usually around mating time and used as a warning to predators.

Common brushtail possums have successfully adapted to living in urban and suburban areas that have largely reduced or replaced their natural habitats. They have learned to raid garbage bins for food waste, compost, garden flowers, fruit trees and vegetable patches. 

Whilst they are known for making their homes in people’s roofs, it is not uncommon for these possums to forage around the neighbourhood at night and then return to sleep in their bush dens during the day. 

What is the life cycle of common brushtail possums?

Common brushtail possums are known to breed throughout the year although the autumn months are more popular. Females are ready to mate at one year of age while males reach reproductive maturity at the age of two. 

Like many other marsupials, baby brushtail possums are called joeys. After approximately 17 days, a pink skinned joey is born and weighs about the same as a cashew nut, only two grams!

The joeys use well developed paws and claws to climb all the way to the forward facing pouch. The joeys attach themselves to a teat inside the pouch and stays inside for about 5 months.

The now furry joeys will crawl out and travel around on their mother’s back for approximately four more months. At around nine months of age, they are ready to find their own food.

Common brushtail possums have an average lifespan of about ten years. 

What threats are there to common brushtail possums and how can we help them?

Common brushtail possums encounter many dangers in living in urban environments. Power lines, dogs, cats, foxes and humans are all threats. Many brushtail possums are killed by cars as they move around the neighbourhood at night. 

Keeping pet dogs and cats indoors at night reduces the incidence of possums being preyed upon.

Building a special shelter called a nesting box will discourage brushtail possums from taking up residence in your house by providing them with an alternate place to shelter. Nesting boxes can be attached to trees and offer a safer place to live when predators are out and about. 

Despite the wide menu on offer around urban and suburban areas, human food waste can make common brushtail possums very sick as it is an unnatural food source. Ensuring our waste is disposed of properly as well as securing bin lids are two ways to tackle this problem.

Common brushtail possums are protected in Australia, meaning they must not be harmed in any way or kept without approval. However, brushtail possums are considered a pest in New Zealand where they strip native trees of leaves and eat native birds such as the Kiwi. Their populations are managed by legal hunting of the animal for its fur which is sold all over the world.

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