Common Brushtail Possum - Reptile Encounters

Common Brushtail Possum

Scientific name:

Trichosurus vulpecula

Other names:

Brushtail possum, Brush-tailed possum


Least concern, although may be decreasing in some areas

The common brushtail possum is a nocturnal, mostly-arboreal marsupial and the second largest species of possum. It has large and pointed ears. Its bushy tail is adapted to grasping branches, prehensile at the end with no hair along the bottom. Its fore feet have sharp claws and the first toe of each hind foot is clawless, but has a strong grasp. The third and fourth toe are fused together, for grooming. It has a thick and woolly coat that varies in colour, and can be silver-grey, brown, black, reddish, or a ‘golden’ form, depending on location and subspecies. The underside is typically lighter and the tail is usually brown or black. The muzzle is marked with dark patches.

The common brushtail possum has a head and body length of 32–58 cm with a tail length of 24–40 cm. They can weigh between 1.2-4.5 kg. Males are generally larger than females. In addition, the coat of the male tends to be reddish at the shoulders. As with most marsupials, the female brushtail possum has a forward-opening, well-developed pouch. The chest of both sexes has a scent gland that emits a reddish secretion which stains that fur around it. It marks its territory with these secretions

Omnivores, eating a wide variety of foods in the wild. It prefers Eucalyptus leaves, but the flowers, shoots, fruits and seeds are also consumed. Insects, bird’s eggs and chicks, and even small vertebrates such as mice and rats may be taken as well.

Prefers more forested areas but has been found in relatively treeless environments as well. Semi-arid areas, cultivated or urban areas can also be well-populated with common brushtails, and they are regularly seen in the suburbs, in backyards or even in inner city areas.

Found throughout the eastern and northern parts of Australia, as well as some western and central regions, Tasmania, and some offshore islands such as Kangaroo Island and Barrow Island. The species is also widespread, where it was introduced in 1850 and has become a serious agricultural pest, with a large and stable population despite extensive hunting, poisoning and trapping measures in place for many decades.

Mostly arboreal and nocturnal, common brushtail possums are mostly solitary, with individuals using scent marking and various calls to maintain distance. Will usually make a den in tree hollows but will use spaces in roofs and wall cavities in more built-up areas.

Breeding can occur year-round, but Spring is the most common. Like most marsupials, females have a very short pregnancy; in this case only 16-18 days. They are only 1.5cm at birth, and a bulk of the development occurs in the pouch. Can live up to 13 years in the wild.
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