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Common ringtail possums

Common ringtail possums

What are common ringtail possums?

The common ringtail possum is a small marsupial about the size of a cat. Marsupials are different to other mammals as they have a pouch. Like many Australian animals, the common ringtail possum is nocturnal, meaning it is active at night.

Common ringtail possums can be distinguished from other possums by the white patches behind their eyes and on their bellies, the orange-brown tinges on their tail and limbs, and long, thin tails which end with a white tip. The tail of common ringtail possums is often referred to as a fifth limb as it is prehensile, meaning that it can grasp objects such as nesting materials and tree branches.

The scientific name for the common ringtail possum is Pseudocheirus peregrinus. Pseudocheirus means 'false hand', and peregrinus means 'wanderer'.

Features of a ringtail possum | YouTube | Field of Mars EEC (0:54 min) | Video transcript

Where do common ringtail possums live?

Common ringtail possums are arboreal, meaning they live in the treetops. They prefer areas of dense foliage (leaf cover) for protection. 

In the daytime, common ringtail possums sleep in a spherical nest called a 'drey' made out of sticks and leaves. One drey may be shared by several possums.

What do common ringtail possums eat?

Common ringtail possums are folivores. This means they are a type of herbivore that mainly eats leaves. They are one of the three Australian mammals that can survive just by eating toxic eucalypt leaves. Common ringtail possums also eat flowers and fruit. 

Common ringtail possums digest their food twice by eating their own faecal (poo) pellets. This allows them to maximise the amount of nutrients they get from their food, as eucalypt leaves themselves are fairly low in nutrients.

What role do common ringtail possums play in their ecosystem?

Just like many birds and insects, common ringtail possums help pollinate plants. As they feed on flowers, pollen gets trapped in their fur. As the possum moves around, it transfers this pollen to other flowers it makes contact with.

Common ringtail possums are an important food source for native tree-dwelling (arboreal) predators such as powerful owls.

How are common ringtail possums adapted to their environment?

The tail of the common ringtail possum is often referred to as a fifth limb. This is because it is prehensile, meaning that it can grasp objects such as nesting materials. The prehensile tail is also used to help climb and jump between tree branches, fences and powerlines. 

Sharp claws and hairless pads help common ringtail possum climb trees, whilst a gap between their second and third fingers helps them to securely hold onto branches.

As nocturnal animals, common ringtail possum rely on their large protruding eyes which gives them wide-angled vision.

Common ringtail possum also rely on their sensitive nose and large ears to locate food, predators, other possums, and their home range.

What is the life cycle of common ringtail possums?

Common ringtail possums have relatively short lifespans, living for up to six years. 

Adult possums breed between autumn and spring. Like all marsupials, common ringtail possums give birth to live young and rear them in their pouches.

It takes 20-26 days for a joey to develop in the womb. Usually, common ringtail possums give birth to twin joeys. Like many marsupials, possum joeys are hairless, blind and tiny - less than 2 cm in length!

Joeys crawl into their mothers pouch and attach to a teat for milk.

Joeys leave the pouch after around seven weeks, and ride on their mother’s back for another six months. 

The common ringtail possum is the only species of possum where the male helps to care for the young, by carrying them on his back when the mother is feeding. 

Once outside of the pouch, possums have rapid growth spurts, gaining up to 10 grams every day!

Female common ringtail possums reach adulthood by 13 months, and males become adults at 12 months.

What threats do common ringtail possums face and how can we help them?

Although they are adapted to urban areas, common ringtail possums are often killed by power lines, hit by cars, and killed by invasive mammals such as foxes, cats and dogs.

Being a responsible pet owner keeping your cats and dogs indoors at night helps protect ringtail possums from these predators. 

You can also help provide safe shelter for common ringtail possums by building nest boxes in your backyard.

Find out more

The ringtail possum book focuses on an amazing Australian animal, the ringtail possum.

Like many Australian animals ringtail possums have fascinating lives.

Find out about their diet, adaptations and how to create a habitat for them. Learn about ringtail possums through detailed text, interactive activities, videos and stunning images.

This book supports Australian Curriculum biological sciences, living world and class studies on Australian Animals.

Download for free from Apple Books

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