What do they look like?
Possums are small marsupials that are found across Australia. They can range in size from the size of a mouse like the tiny Western Pygmy Possum (Cercartetus concinnus) at just 15 grams up to the size of a cat. The most often seen possums in backyards and urban areas are the Common Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) and the Common Ringtail Possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus).
Common Brushtail Possums get their name from their dark, thick, bushy tail. They are about the size of a cat with pointed ears. They can vary in colour from a copper colour in northern Queensland to a grey or even blackish in the southern states.
Common Ringtail Possums are smaller than the Common Brushtail Possum and get their name from their long, tapering tail. The last third of their tail is white. It is prehensile, meaning it can grip like another hand.
Where are they found?
Possums live in the trees and occasionally come down to the ground to look for food.
Common Brushtail Possums are commonly seen in urban areas and heard scampering over the roof at night. They live along the east coast of Australia, in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Canberra, Tasmania, the south-east corner of South Australia, in central Australia including southern Northern Territory and along the south west coast of Western Australia.
Common Ringtail Possums are less common than Brushtails and a bit smaller in size. They live along the east coast of Australia in Queensland, New South Wales, Canberra, most of Victoria, Tasmania and the south-west of Western Australia.
Both kinds of possum may live in your roof if they can’t find suitable homes in trees.
- Possums are closely related to gliders. There are 27 species of possums and gliders in Australia, including 2 species of cuscus.
- The Mountain Pygmy Possum is found above 1400m in the alpine regions of Kosciuszko National Park. It can hibernate for up to seven months of the year under the snow.
Possums – the full story
Possums live in the trees and occasionally come down to the ground to look for food. Common Brushtail Possums live in tree hollows and Common Ringtail Possums in the south of Australia build a nest out of sticks. Both kinds of possum may live in our roof if they can’t find suitable homes in trees.
Possums live in territories and mark the boundaries with smells. They rub the scent from glands under their chin, chest and base of tail against trees so everybody knows who’s the boss in the area. Possums protect their territories by fighting off intruders.
The body of a possum is made for life in the trees. They have strong, sharp claws, and hand-like back feet. The Ringtail Possum has a prehensile tail which acts like another hand to help it grip tree branches with ease. They can also use it to carry nesting material.
Brushtails get their name from their dark, thick, bushy tail. They have pointed ears like a cat and are about the size of a big cat. Brushtails eat leaves, flowers, fruits and occasionally meat and small invertebrates. Brushtails vary in colour throughout their range, from a copper colour in northern Queensland to a grey or even blackish colouration in the southern states.
The Ringtail has smaller ears than the Brushtail. It is usually grey-brown in colour with red flanks, white underparts and white spots behind its ears.
Common Ringtail Possums get their name from their long, tapering tail. The last third of their tail is white. It is prehensile, meaning it can grip like another hand. This possum can grip branches with its tail and even carry nesting material with it.
Common Ringtail Possums live along the east coast of Australia and in the south-west corner of Western Australia. In southern Australia, Ringtails build nests called dreys out of sticks, bark and grass.
Common Brushtail Possums do not build dreys. They live in tree hollows, nest boxes or roofs. Brushtails get their name from their thick, bushy tail. As well as in the areas the Ringtail is found, the Brushtail also lives in the centre of Australia and a greater area of south-east South Australia.
You can look after possums in your own backyard
Many of our possums are dependent on tree hollows. They need them to sleep in during the daylight hours. Competition from other possums, birds, bats and gliders along with the clearing of many old trees has reduced suitable hollows and possums often move in to the roof or walls of your home. They are not quiet – if you have a possum in your roof, you will soon know about it!
By providing a nest box outside about 4m up in a tree, your backyard can become a better home for possums.
Simple things that you do can make a huge difference to Australia’s animals. That’s why the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife is running Backyard Buddies— to give you tips to help.
What is a backyard buddy?
Backyard buddies are the native animals that share our built-up areas, our beaches and waterways, our backyards and our parks. The possum is a backyard buddy.
Backyard buddies are also the local people who value the living things around them, like possums, and are willing to protect and encourage them by doing a few simple things around their own homes.
So you can be a backyard buddy.
Be a backyard buddy
It’s easy. All you have to do is care… and take a few simple steps.
Step one is to find out what possums do and do not like.
Eucalyptus leaves – they are the Ringtail Possums’ favourite food. They, and Brushtails, also eat flowers, fruits and veggies. In your garden they love to eat roses, gardenias, fuchsias and passionfruit.
Tree hollows – to nest and sleep in safely. Eucalypt hollows take over one hundred years to develop, and competition for them can be stiff.
Night time – especially the first half, when they are active and searching for food. Possums rest during the day.
Nest boxes – as tree hollows are in short supply. Nest boxes encourage possums to nest outside, instead of in your roof.
But they don’t like:
Trappers – who take them away from their territories. It is very stressful for a possum to be relocated and most don’t survive.
Stinky plants – like chrysanthemums, mint bushes, geraniums and daisies.
Spiky plants – possums don’t like spiny grevilleas and hakeas, or tough, woody banksias.
Bright lights – such as spotlights, porch lights or party lights.
Be a possum buddy
- build or buy a nest box that can offer your possum buddies a hangout for daytime naps or even a safe place to sleep through winter.
- keep your cat or dog inside at night, as this is when possums come out to feed.
- cover your compost bin securely so little possum paws don’t investigate it.
- leaving pet food outside at night time.
- cutting down trees with hollows in them. These are prime locations for native animals to sleep and have their young in. It takes up to one hundred years for tree hollows to form, so they will take a long time to replace if removed.
- touching or handling possums. If you find a possum that you think may need assistance – call your local wildlife rescue service or Council for advice.
Don’t be surprised if:
- you find a possum living in your walls or roof. If there is a possum in your roof, provide an alternative home for it outside by putting up a nest box. Encourage the possum to the nest box by placing some fruit near it. Block up the entry point to your roof at a time when you know the possum is not inside, such as night time.
Possums are highly territorial and relocating them outside your property is illegal.