Threats/Control Methods - Regional
A number of processes can threaten brushtail possum numbers. These are significantly related to land clearing of their preferred habitats, and predation by European Red Foxes (Vulpes vulpes ). Feral or domestic Dogs and Cats may attack and even kill possums that come into their territory, particularly in urban areas where these territories are likely to overlap. Bushfires may also threaten this species in the wild, moving animals into the urban environment to find shelter.
Threats/Control Methods - Local
In urban areas, Brushtail Possums can occur in significant numbers. In this environment they can be run over by cars, or get caught on electric wires. They can cause problems for urban residents due to their noise in ceilings, damage to gardens, faeces in drains, odour creation and 'growling' sounds. In the ACT, Urban Wildlife Rangers will remove unwanted possums from house roofs.
Possums can create problems for people in urban spaces, particularly when they make their home in roofs and backyards. However, there are a variety of methods that can help ensure a more harmonious relationship between brushtail possums and people.
- Provide alternative habitat so that possums are encouraged to stay out of the roof, such as possum boxes.
- Close off all gaps into your roof (do this in the evening, watching to make sure the possum has left the building before blocking the entry points).
- Make sure your compost bin is well covered, and do not put meat in your compost, as possums are particularly attracted to meat scraps.
- If possums are damaging and eating your flowers, you can try smearing hot English mustard or blood and bone on the buds and other fruits being damaged or protect plants with fruit nets. There are also certain plant species that possums find unpalatable such as woody banksias and melaleucas (tea-tree).
The Brushtail possum is about the size of a cat (Felis catus ), with large pointy ears, dark silvery grey fur and a yellow underbelly. Particularly notable is its long, black bushy tail (tipped black or white), which it uses to grip on to tree branches and powerlines. They have sharp claws for climbing.
This species is found in the east and central regions of mainland Australia including Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The sub-species Trichosurus vulpecular vulpecular also occurs in the Northern Territory where it is endangered. It was introduced into New Zealand in the 1850s and is now a major pest there, with the government spending about NZ$70 million each year on control and research.
Country of Origin
Easily detected during spotlighting surveys as used in the LSCCES. Other techniques include scat surveys and call identification.
Conservation (Pet/Pest) Status - National
Secure, not listed under the EPBC Act 1999 . Protected under the Wildlife Regulations, 1971 of the National Parks and Wildlife Act, 1970. The Brushtail Possum is currently facing decline in some areas of central and Western Australia due to habitat clearance and predation.
Conservation (Pet/Pest) Status - Regional
In eastern Australia and Tasmania, the Brushtail Possum is common, with dense populations occurring in urban areas.
This was the most commonly recorded native mammal species in the Lower Sullivans Creek Catchment Ecological Survey. The species was recorded in suburban, urban and woodland sites.
Associated vegetation community
This possum is found in a wide range of native forests and woodlands. It is common in and around human settlements where it uses houses, sheds and other shelter for nesting sites. It has benefited from the increased food resources from plantings of fruit trees, roses and ornamentals in urban gardens.
This species needs a dark, sheltered space for daytime sleeping. During the night it needs easily available food and water. Areas free from predation by introduced species are ideal, thought the species can coexist with domestic cats and dogs where they are kept enclosed at night time when the possum is most active.
Brushtail Possums breed once a year in either autumn or spring. A single young is born 17-18 days after breeding. Young spend approximately six months in its mother's pouch and one to two months on the mother's back until weaned. Brushtail Possums become independent at 12 months, with females typically breeding in their second year. Brushtails have an average life expectancy of 6-7 years, with females able to produce an average of 6 offspring in their lifetime.
Brushtail Possums are arboreal (tree-dwelling) marsupials. Being nocturnal, they require dark sheltered places to sleep in during the day such as tree hollows and house roofs. They forage and are active throughout the night. They have a home range of between 1 and 15 hectares.
In their woodland environments the Brushtail Possums typically eat eucalyptus leaves and shrubs (mainly wattles). In urban areas they expand their diet to include fruit and flowers from suburban gardens as well as bread and other household scrap food. They have a special liking for rosebuds, frustrating many home gardeners.
If removed from households, it is recommended that they are released to native bushland within 8km of the capture site.
References - (reader suitability of references, P=Primary teachers, S=Secondary students, T=Tertiary students and researchers)
Books: Matthews A. 2004. Brushtail Possums: "Champion of the suburbs" or "Our tormentors"?. In Urban Wildlife: more than meets the eye. Lunney, D. and Burgin, S. (eds.). Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales. Mosman NSW. S, T
Online Publications:Environment ACT. Living with Possums. [online]. Available at: http://www.environment.act.gov.au/petsandlocalwildlife/livingwithpossums.html P, S, T
Tidemann, C., Roscoe, T. and Mitchell, B. 2006. Mammals of the Lower Sullivans Creek Catchment, Canberra ACT. Prepared for the Life in the Suburbs project using data from the Lower Sullivans Creek Catchment Ecological Survey (LSCCES). Australian National University. Canberra. [online]. Available at: http://www.lifeinthesuburbs.com.au/category.php?id=65 S, T
Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment. Native Plants and Animals: Brushtail Possum. [online]. Available at:http://www.dpiwe.tas.gov.au/inter.nsf/WebPages/BHAN-53JUCG?open P, S, T
The Australian Mammal Society. The Common Brushtail Possum. http://www.australianmammals.org.au/Species/brushtailpossum.htm P, S, T
Researcher: Hedda Ranson-Elliot