Before we get into the 10 things to know about possums let’s take a quick look at their history of them.
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Possums along with kangaroos and koalas are Uniquely Australian. Because they’re nocturnal we tend not to come in contact with them too often, except if they are keeping you awake at night whilst running around in the ceiling of your house.
Australians have always lived alongside these small nocturnal marsupials benefiting from their silky smooth fur and leather. In 1837 possums were introduced into New Zealand to establish a fur trade. Unfortunately, with no predators and plenty of edible vegetation, possums have become such a problem in New Zealand that The National Possum Control Agencies was created in the early 1990s to control the problem.
I suspect it’s why the All Blacks dislike the Wallabies so much as well.
The two possum species most common in Australia:
Of the 27 species ofpossum and glider known in Australia, there are two most likely to be thundering across your roof or growling and hissing in the darkness at night and one more common in the hinterland regions around the Gold Coast:
The Common Ringtail Possum
(Pseudocheirus peregrinus, from Greek and Latin, which means “false hand pilgrim”) is an Australian marsupial. It lives in various habitats and eats a diversity of plants, flowers and fruits. The Ringtail Possum does not inhabit New Zealand.
The Common Ringtail Possum is the size of a guinea pig and in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast is mainly a red-brown colour with white fur on the tip of its lengthy prehensile tail, behind its eyes and on its belly. It can be coloured grey to dark grey and have red or orange-tinged legs and belly. The underneath of its often coiled tail is naked but furry on top.
A female possum is called a “Jill,” a male one is called a “Jack,” while young ones are called “Joeys”. A group of these creatures is called a passel.
Ringtail Possums most commonly live in a drey (a nest built of leaves in the garden) but have been known to bring leaves onto balconies behind air conditioning units if there aren’t enough trees around. They will live in roofs but not often.
The Common Brushtail Possum
(Trichosurus vulpecular, from Greek and Latin, which means “furry tailed little fox”) is a nocturnal, semi-tree dwelling marsupial in the Phalangeridae family. It is indigenous to Australia and is the size of a domestic cat and the second biggest possum in Australia. It is an introduced species in New Zealand.
The Brushtail Possum has a pointed face and pink nose, with long oval ears and a bushy black tail. In Tasmania, there are three colour variations: silver grey, black and gold. Possums that inhabit denser, wetter forests tend to be darker in colour. Brushtails are cute but can be loud when running and fighting in the roof cavity.
A less common but equally devastating invader of roof spaces is these fellas.
They’re bigger than the common Brushtail and live in family groups, amplifying the noise they make.
Australian possum population control
Despite natural possum population control in Australia (feral animals, dingoes, bush fires and less abundant vegetation), Common Ringtail Possums can be found all along the East of Australia and SW Western Australia, and Common Brushtail Possums flourish throughout mainland Australia, Tasmania and Kangaroo Island.
While legislative possum control is permitted in Tasmania to protect crops and for commercial trade in meat and skins, strict regulations govern moving and trapping possums in the rest of the country.
So, for many Australians these days, possums are not simply cute, furry creatures seen ambling across overhead branches at dusk, but also frustratingly destructive pests which have moved into our backyards, homes and sheds to eat our prized garden produce and leave our verandas smelling from their urination and droppings.
When they take up residence in your roof, they become public enemy number 1. Don’t despair you don’t have to put up with noises in your roof keeping you awake at night
10 Things to Know About Possums
1:What Possums Eat?
Possums are mainly, plant eaters, favouring eucalyptus and other leaves, ferns, buds, flowers and fruits. Brushtail Possums are known to be tolerant of many plant toxins and will eat trees that other animals find poisonous. Possums will also eat insects, moths, grubs, snails, birds’ eggs and baby birds. They particularly like young new plant shoots and unfortunately are drawn to domestic gardens. Here they will eat everything from roses to rockmelons, camellias to carrots, magnolias to mangoes, wisteria to wattle, and can decimate a veggie garden in no time.
Other food which we may grow for ourselves that possums love includes:
Fruits:Apples, pears, grapes and bananas.Vegetables:corn, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and broccoliNative species:Many of the Acacia and Wattle species, and also many Eucalypts. A favourite in Brisbane and Gold Coast is the Leopardwood tree and in particular the black seed pod.
2: Defence from enemies.
Possums are territorial and will urinate on their area and rub oil from glands on their chest, chin and anus to mark it as theirs. They are generally shy and not aggressive and will often stare at each other with erect ears to defend their territory.
This often presents as a wavey line on handrails or roof they want to protect.
The common Brushtail Possum often has a red-brown stain on its chest fur from a scent gland which it uses to mark its territory.
Brushtail possums have a range of vocalizations such as clicks, hisses, grunts and coughs, chattering and screeching. Ringtail Possums will secrete a strong-smelling liquid from their anal glands if handled. If they are trapped, however, possums will defend themselves.
It’s unwise to attempt to chase a possum out of your house with a broom for instance. You would be better served to turn all the lights off, leave a door open and let it calmly exit by itself.
3: Where possums live?
Possums are arboreal animals and spend most of their time in rainforests, eucalypt forests and wooded garden areas and shrubs that have dense foliage near a water source. While they do not dig underground dens, they are happy to take up residence in tree hollows, and the Ringtail Possum will build a soccer ball-sized nest (drey) several metres above ground in dense foliage which they line with leaves, grass and soft bark.
Although they prefer tree-dwelling, possums will seek out house roofs, garages, sheds, roller doors and also chimneys if available.
4: What do possums do?
Possums are nocturnal and mainly feed between dusk and dawn.
Possums are incredibly agile! They can climb vertical walls, and downpipes and have been known to jump from a tree to roof up to 4 metres away! They can pull off roof tiles and squeeze through the smallest of holes (often only the size of a tennis ball). They have been seen walking along power lines, on tops of fences and balancing on fine branches.
When they want to get into the roof they will go to great lengths to achieve their goal. we have even seen them chew through Lead Flashing to get in.
They are as inventive as they are supple! One possum pair eager to get their paws on tasty garden veggies were witnessed balancing like acrobats: one hanging from a branch, holding the other’s back legs in its front paws and lowering him down the tree!
5: Possum Breeding
Brushtail Possums are generally lone creatures, only choosing a mate when they want to breed. Ringtail Possums, however, have larger family groups where one male and one or two females will share a drey and forage together for food at night and they share parenting duties. The Ringtail Possum male is currently the only possum known to help care for its young.
With both Ringtail and Brushtail possums the newly born will crawl to the mother’s pouch where it will receive milk from a teat for around 4-5 months. The young leave the pouch and suckle for another 4-8 weeks riding on their parent’s back until fully weaned.
Once they reach 13 months of age, possums are sexually active. With an average life span of 6-7 years and up to 11 years, that gives possums plenty of opportunities to have lots of babies, especially the Common Ringtail Possum which can have 2 and sometimes 3 joeys at a time!
Possums aren’t aggressive, however, they do have the tendency to eat whatever they can and take shelter anywhere they feel safe, including inside the household roof.
The most common types of destruction possums can do to our home include: defecating on sheds, attics, paths or house verandas, raiding poultry houses to eat chicks and eggs, tearing insulation and ductwork, and pilfering garbage bins and bird feeders. They also mark their territory with scent glands and urine, which smells pungent and is unhygienic.
Territorial Possums will do anything to get back into “Their Home”
Other wildlife can leave similar trademarks. To be certain that any damage was caused by possums and not another native animal, check for their foot tracks.
7: Possum Poo
Identifying possum poo is sometimes difficult but if done successfully can help you determine which species you’re dealing with.
7a: Possum v Rat Poo
The 2 most common animals in roofs are possums and rats. Often the first sign of something in the roof is noise and then you might see some droppings.
Rat Poo in the Ceiling
Possum poo is around the size of a jelly bean but not as fat whereas rat poo is about a cm long but narrow, about 2 mm across. Possums will leave their droppings all over the path from the trees above. Rats’ droppings are usually around where they eat or in the corners of rooms. In roofs, rat dropping is often found in areas where they congregate.
8: Diseases and immunities
Possums, however, can carry a variety of mites, ticks, other parasites, and bacterial infections, some of which can be transmitted to animals and/or humans. Possum faeces may also carry the Buruli bacteria, which can cause sizeable skin ulcers in humans. It’s good hygiene to ensure that you wash your hands if you come in contact with animal poo.
9: Unique Climbing Ability
The Brushtail Possum has a prehensile tip to its tail which allows it to grasp branches as if it had another hand. The Ringtail Possum has a strong prehensile tail that has a white tip that it keeps coiled when it is not used (that is where it got the name Ringtail). Both will use their tails for carrying nesting materials such as bunches of grass by looping their tails around them. They also use their tails to gain extra reach when exploring for food or nesting sites.
Both Male and Female possums will attract the attention of other possums by making smacking noises. Joeys, however, will sneeze and hiss when they are stressed or in danger. When defending themselves they screech and rare up at you and if they don’t want another possum around will fight and screech at each other.
To listen to the screeching noises possums make Watch This Video
When you have an issue with something in your roof then it pays to try and identify what the animal is first.
A word of warning
If you hear noises in the ceiling and assume it’s rats but aren’t sure if there are possums present, DON’T just toss rat bait into the roof.
Find out first, do some investigation. Possums will eat rat bait and it WILL kill them.