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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: possum (2)

Eastern Pygmy Possum

Author
by Phoebe Burns
Publish date
15 August 2014
Comments
Comments (0)

Phoebe is a University of Melbourne Masters student supervised by Dr. Kevin Rowe at MV. She is passionate about the unique mammal fauna of Australia.

Early one morning, while up in the Grampians searching for Smoky Mice (Pseudomys fumeus), I peeked inside an Elliot trap and was greeted by a delicate little face, huge ears, big bright eyes and fat, gently curled tail. Expecting to see the pointy face and straight, slender tail of an Agile Antechinus (Antechinus agilis), I hastily shut the trap, took a second to process the surprise and then beamed at my bemused volunteer. Another tentative peek in the trap confirmed it; I had trapped my first Eastern Pygmy Possum (EPP; Cercartetus nanus).

Eastern Pygmy Possum Eastern Pygmy Possum
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The EPP weighs in at a miniscule 15-38g1, yet still looks truly possum-like. It is one of seven possum species you could fit in your pocket, but is far from the smallest. The Little Pygmy Possum (Cercartetus lepidus) weighs only 6-10g and a full-grown Honey Possum (Tarsipes rostratus) can weigh as little as 5g1.

Like several other possum species, EPPs can obtain all required nutrients, including protein, from nectar and pollen alone.2 However they also eat insects, seeds and fruit, providing flexibility when few plants are flowering. Like the Fat-tailed Dunnart, the EPP stores fat at the base of its tail as a reserve for when food is scarce, and can go into torpor when keeping active is energetically too expensive.

Eastern Pygmy Possum Eastern Pygmy Possum
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

As another of Australia’s amazing marsupial species, the female EPP gives birth to tiny eyeless, earless babies that suckle in her pouch for 30 days. Once the juveniles are too big for the pouch, they nest with their mother for another 30-35 days then head off alone.3 EPPs don’t build their own nests; they use whatever is available and change nest sites frequently. Researchers have found EPPs nesting in tree hollows, abandoned birds nests, burrows and natural collections of leaves and twigs in tree forks.3

Phoebe Burns with an adult female eastern pygmy possum Phoebe Burns with an adult female eastern pygmy possum (Cercartetus nanus) in the Grampians National Park.
Image: Kara Joshi
Source: Museum Victoria
 

 

Eastern Pygmy Possums are patchily distributed from the southeast corner of Queensland to the southeast tip of South Australia, Flinders and King Islands and throughout Tasmania. They are listed as near threatened in Victoria; at risk from predation by foxes and cats, competition with feral honeybees and increasing fire frequency.4 I consider myself so lucky to have encountered such a charming species and hope there are many more (pleasant) surprises in my traps for years to come.

References

1.         Menkhorst, P. & Knight, F. Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia. (Oxford University Press, 2011).

2.         Van Tets, I. G. & Hulbert, A. J. A Comparison of the Nitrogen Requirements of the Eastern Pygmy Possum, Cercartetus nanus, on a Pollen and on a Mealworm Diet. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 72, 127–137 (1999).

3.         Ward, S. Life-History of the Eastern Pygmy-Possum, Cercartetus nanus (Burramyidae, Marsupialia), in South-Eastern Australia. Australian Journal of Zoology 38, 287 (1990).

4.         Harris, J. M. & Goldingay, R. L. Distribution, habitat and conservation status of the eastern pygmy-possum Cercartetus nanus in Victoria. Australian Mammalogy 27, 185–210 (2005).

The Adventures of Ally, the albino Possum

Author
by Max
Publish date
21 November 2012
Comments
Comments (12)

One of the many questions we are asked in the Discovery Centre is about the many and varied birds and mammals people sight in their own surburban backyards.  One such enquiry came to us from Steve from East Brighton who had spotted an albino possum in his garden.

Ally, the albino possum Ally, the albino possum
Image: Steve Mitchelmore
Source: Steve Mitchelmore
 

In February 2012 Steve discovered an albino baby brush-tail possum in his backyard. He wanted to know how rare they were as he had been observing possums for years, and this is the first albino one he had seen. One of our experts responded with the following;

Albino mammals are not totally unknown; we have received specimens at about a three year interval on average. Once the gene is introduced into a local population then their occurrence becomes a bit more periodic although only about once in a generation. Because they are not camouflaged as well as their parents or siblings they are readily detected by predators and could be easily taken as prey. A true albino will also have poor eyesight due to the lack of pigmentation in the eye again making them susceptible to predation. It will be interesting to follow this young animal and see how it survives such traumas.

Ally, the albino possum Ally, the albino possum
Image: Steve Mitchelmore
Source: Steve Mitchelmore
 

To which Steve responded;

About three weeks ago I noticed the small tail and one paw protruding from the mother's pouch seemed unnaturally pale in colour, then last night the juvenile, creamy white with deep red eyes, was on its mother's back...

P.S. Regarding predators, do you know if Powerful Owls inhabit the East Brighton area?

To which our expert replied;

I am unsure about the Powerful Owl’s situation in East Brighton but I can say that they have been seen/heard in many Melbourne suburbs. So if the area concerned is heavily vegetated – that is with large trees then there is every possibility that one of these large owls will make its presence felt.

Early in July, Steve sent the following update;

... you mentioned that it would be interesting to follow her development and any 'traumas' she may endure.  She still comes by almost every night, having been AWOL on only six or seven occasions since late January.  She has the un-original name of 'Ally' (as in Ally the Albino)...  As for traumas, so far so good, apart from when she fell into the pool three nights ago.  Luckily the water level was so high following all the recent rain that she had no trouble getting herself out. 

Ally, the albino possum Ally, the albino possum
Image: Steve Mitchelmore
Source: Steve Mitchelmore
 

Then in late July, he sent in his last update;

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but . . . Sadly, Ally has not been sighted since Monday night...Some months ago she disappeared for three nights straight, but I won't hold my breath after seven.  I've made numerous calls to local vets, DSE, Wildlife Victoria...Animal Rescue etc. all to no avail and searches of neighbouring yards for fur or remains have also been fruitless... I'm still amazed she survived as long as she did.  Anyway, it was certainly an enjoyable (and educational!) six months.  She will be sadly missed. Once again, thanks for your time and response to my emails.

Got a question? Ask us!

UPDATE: Ally has been spotted again!

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