Hello Possums...

Skyrail Nature Diary: June 2006

The Wet Tropics supports the highest possum diversity in Australia, five species of which are found no where else in the world. These cute and cuddly critters are rainforest specialists, but due to habitat, they are mostly a restricted to the rainforest uplands, living in small, isolated communities.

A notable exception to this is the Mahogany Glider (Petaurus gracilis), which is classified as being critically endangered. This rare and threatened possum is not rainforest dependent; rather it prefers to call low woodlands on swampy coastal plains, beach ridges and Melaleuca swamps home.

The Mahogany Glider was thought to have been extinct from the late 1800s, but was rediscovered in 1989. It has a severely restricted distribution, and is only found in a coastal strip between the Hull River (15km east of Tully) and Crystal Creek (35km south-east of Ingham).

It’s one of the larger gliding marsupials, measuring approximately 600mm from head to tail-tip, and is definitely the cutest! It has a long, lush tail (approx 390mm), creamy white to mahogany belly (hence the name) and a grey to brown back with a black stripe running from head to rump.

Like all gliders, the Mahogany has a fold of skin which extends down either side of the possum’s body, between its front and rear legs. This skin acts as a parachute, allowing the possum to glide from tree to tree, covering distances of up to 50 metres.

Weighing up to 410g, the Mahogany Glider is omnivorous to nectarivorous; its favourite food is nectar, pollen and sap, however, this can be supplemented by native fruits, spiders, insects and the arils of some wattle seeds.

The Mahagony Gliders also have a penchant for seasonal blossoms and have been known to travel long distances in search of these.

Meantime, the Lemuroid Ringtail Possum (Hemibelideus lemuroids) is endemic to Australia’s Tropical Rainforests, foraging almost exclusively on upland rainforest leaves.

This rare species is found in two distinct population pockets; one lives on those areas of the Mount Carbine Tableland which are 1,000 metres above sea level, the other on specific areas of the Atherton Tablelands which are 550 metres above sea level.

This is an interesting possum which is usually brown, but can also be found in a rare white colour morph with tinges of orange. A nocturnal creature, the Lemuroid Ringtail is difficult to spot at night, but easy to hear, as it clambers between trees and branches.

Unlike other ringtail relatives, the Lemuroid is quite a sociable possum and can often be seen feeding in groups of up to five animals. Female Lemuroids generally produce one baby at a time; their youngster stays with them, riding on their backs, until the next child emerges from the pouch.