The Common Brushtail possum is the best known of all our possums
because it has adapted to living in our cities and suburbs. As the suburbs overtake natural areas, animals are forced to live in close quarters with people. While we are privileged to be able to observe our fascinating native animals at such close quarters, living with wildlife, however, has its own special problems.
Each year, the Wildlife Management Branch of the Department (DPIPWE) receives many calls for advice to solve possum problems
. The following notes provide practical information to assist the house and landowner without harming the animal.
Remember that Brushtail possums are protected by law and cannot be taken, trapped or killed except by a permit (please phone the Wildlife Management Branch on (03) 6165 4305).
The Brushtail possum is nocturnal, spending the daytime asleep in its nest (which can be anything from a tree hollow, a rock crevice or a lovely warm roof!) and coming out at dusk to feed. As an adult it is typically cat-sized with a pointed face, long oval ears, pink nose and bushy black tail.
Studies of the a behaviour of brushtail possums showed that about 16 percent of their time is spent feeding, 30 percent travelling, 44 percent immobile and 10 percent grooming.
In Tasmania, the Brushtail possum has four main colour variations: silver grey, brown, black and gold. The very dark possums inhabit denser, wetter areas than the lighter colour variations.
They are an arboreal (meaning tree-living) animal so are well adapted for climbing with their sharp claws; a hand-like back foot for grasping and a strong flexible (prehensile) tail for curling around branches. In Tasmania, possums also spend much time on the ground searching for food and travelling through their home range.
A Brushtail possum's diet is mainly plant-based i.e. leaves, fresh gum tips and flowers, however they also occasionally eat insects, eggs and meat. An open compost bin in a backyard becomes an enticing smorgasbord for a hungry urban possum.
Brushtail possums lead a largely solitary life. However in areas where numbers are high and shelter is in short supply, several may share sleeping places. Home ranges vary from 1 to 15 hectares.
They communicate by sound and scent. Screeches and guttural growls are used often, particularly in the breeding season, to ward off intruding possums near the nest or home range. Sound can also be used when a predator threatens them.
Brushtail possums rub secretions (from glands under their chin; on the chest and at the base of the tail) to mark home ranges and define occupancy of a home site. If a home range is vacant or undefended because the occupant has died, been removed or has become too old and sick to put up a defence then another possum will claim it.
Reproduction and life history
Both sexes may breed at one year of age but they have a higher success rate in breeding during the second breeding season after birth. Although Brushtail possums generally have only a single joey, the forward opening pouch contains two teats. The young are born after a pregnancy of 17 to 18 days.
Most births occur during late autumn with a smaller birth season in spring.
For the first 80 days of pouch life the unfurred joey is permanently attached to the teat; by 120 days the young joey begins to leave the pouch. The young animal spends several months coming and going from the pouch and riding on its mothers back until it is fully weaned and independent.
Brushtail possums have been known to live for 10 to 12 years in the wild.
For more information, see Living with Brushtail Possums