The appropriately named little pygmy-possum (Cercartetus lepidus
) reaches a mere seven grams and has a head and body length of only 5-6.5 cm. It is indeed the smallest of all possums.
Distribution, habitat and diet
The little pygmy-possum was once thought to be confined to Tasmania, however, populations have been found on Kangaroo Island and the mallee scrublands of north-western Victoria.
It occurs throughout a range of habitats, except rainforest. It spends much of its time in the lower, dense canopies of the understorey vegetation. It is most common in drier forests and heathlands in the east of the state. The animal generally nests in the hollows of old trees.
The little pygmy-possum feeds on insects and lizards.
Females give birth to up to four young which stay within the pouch for about six weeks. After this time, the young are left within the nest, occasionally travelling with the mother by clinging onto her fur as she forages.
Being a small mammal posses difficulties during the cold of the Tasmanian winter. Its small size means that the animal has, in comparison to its body volume, a lot of skin through which to lose body heat. In other words, it has a high surface area to volume ratio. The little pygmy-possum, like its close relative, the eastern pygmy-possum
is able to overcome these difficulties through its ability to enter torpor. This is a means by which an animal is able to reduce energy expenditure by lowering its metabolism. Its body temperature can drop to near that of its surroundings. Unlike true hibernation, torpidity generally only lasts for a few days at a time.