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Get to know the Brushtail Possum

(Trichosurus vulpecula)

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Appearance

  •  The brushtail possum varies in size and colour depending on location. In the cool parts of Australia, the possum is large and a black to silver grey in colour. In the warm parts of Australia, the brushtail possum is smaller and a copper colour with a pale grey belly.
  • size range is up to 55cm in length.
  • Their size is the same as most domestic cats with larger ears, long whiskers, pointed snout, a pink nose and its tail is long, black and bushy.

Life cycle

  • Brushtail possums are marsupials (young are born incompletely developed and are typically carried and suckled in a pouch on the mother’s belly).
  • Mating season for the brushtail possum is in autumn.
  • Babies are usually born in May and June after a gestation period of 17 days.
  • The newborn possum finds its way to the mother’s pouch and attaches itself to a teat.
  • Young possums spend about 5 months in the pouch where they feed and grow. The young possum spends another two months clinging to its mother’s back as she moves around.
  • Usually only one baby is born at a time.
  • The males brushtail possum does not take part in looking after the young.
  • At seven months of age, young possums are independent of their mothers. They are fully grown at around 10 months old.
  • Female possums will usually start to breed, for the first time, when they are 12 months old.
  • The brushtail possums’ life span is 6-7 years and up to 11 years.

Habitat

  • The brushtail possums are nocturnal, sleep during the day and mainly feed between dusk and dawn.
  • The possum is mainly a herbivore (plant eaters) feeding on eucalyptus leaves and flowers, other leaves, buds, flowers and ferns. They will eat fruit and common garden plants; they particularly enjoy rosebuds. The compost heap is also highly desirable for an easy meal of fruit and vegetable scraps. They are tolerant of many plant toxins that other animals would find poisonous.
  • The brushtail possum will eat insects such as moths, grubs and snails. They will also eat bids eggs and babies.
  • Possums are drawn to domestic gardens where they will eat everything from roses to rock melons, magnolias to mangoes, camellias to carrots, wisteria to wattle and can destroy a vegetable garden in no time.
  • Possums are incredibly agile creatures.  They can climb up vertical walls and have also been known to jump from a tree to a roof top, up to 4 metres away.  Possums can pull off roof tiles and squeeze through a very small holes.  They have been seen walking along power lines and balancing on fine tree branches.

Good: The brush-tailed possum is good and native to Australia, however, in New Zealand, it is a feral pest destroying their eco-system.

Danger to humans and first aid

Possums can carry a variety of mites, ticks, other parasites and bacterial infections, some of which can be transmitted to animals and/or humans.  Possum faeces may also carry the buruli bacteria, which can cause large skin ulcers in humans.  Barwon Health Associate Professor Daniel O’Brien has quoted: “a good public health measure is to remove the possum faeces from the area as much as possible and wash your hands as much as you can after that to minimise potential exposures.”

Control

While legislative possum control is permitted in Tasmania to protect crops and for commercial trade in meat and skins, strict regulations govern moving and trapping possums in the rest of the country.

For many Australians, possums are not cute, furry creatures seen walking across overhead branches at dusk, they are frustrating, destructive pests which have moved into our backyards, homes and sheds to eat our prized garden produce and leave our verandas smelling from their urination and droppings.

If a possum has moved into your home, roof void, blocking the entry point at night when the possum is out feeding is the only way to guarantee that it will not return. People should contact a licensed pest control company who can assist in finding and blocking any entry points.

Trapping: trapping must be done by a qualified pest controller. When a possum has been trapped by a professional, release of the possum must be done within 24 hrs of capture and after dusk and within 50metres of trapping site.

To seek professional advice or services, please see our “Pest Control Company” section on the website or click here Pest Control Companies

If a possum is removed by trapping, its home site becomes vacant, ready for another to move in. Sprinkling camphor or naphthalene in the occupied space will deter future occupants.

If you do not hear the possum for a few nights, it has probably found a new home. It may remain in the area if it finds a suitable place to nest or it may move to a new location.

Possums and the Law

Possums are protected under the Nature Conservation Act 1980 and it is illegal for an unauthorised person to trap or harm them. Trapping, removing or killing a possum without a licence carries severe penalties.

Guide to making a possum house