Whats Lurking In Your Back Yard? – #2 The Common Brushtail Possum

This series looks at the variety of fauna that may be found in the suburban backyard or local reserve and the diversity may be surprising to some people. The obvious fauna are the vast array of birds that are readily seen by day and some by night, but there are numerous species that are nocturnal. Some of these nocturnal species people are familiar with as they tramp across the roof at night with what sounds like hobnail boots on, or they hear fighting in the backyard over food and territory. Others are cryptic and may only be seen infrequently when they enter the house for warmth and shelter. Each week I will highlight a different species that may be found in and around Melbourne’s backyards, parks and reserves, some may be familiar others less so.

#2 Common Brushtail Possum
(Trichosurus vulpecula)

The Common Brushtail Possum is probably the most widely recognised possum to be found in the suburban backyard. It’s certainly the one most heard at night as it tramps across the roof with what sounds like heavy boots on or is heard fighting in the backyard. The Common Brushtail Possum is a nocturnal species of mammal that is about the size of a cat. It generally has grey fur and a bushy black prehensile tail. This bushy tail means that it is often referred to as a Bushy-tail Possum.

The Common Brushtail Possums occurs widely across Victoria and all the states and territories of mainland Australia and Tasmania. They can be found in most forest and woodlands within Victoria with the drier regions being the exception. It has adapted well to the urban environment and can be found widely across the suburbs of Melbourne were in some places they are causing extensive damage to the trees and shrubs of suburban parks and gardens.

The Common Brushtail Possums diet in the wild mainly consists of fruits, flowers and leaves, however in the suburbs its diet is much more diverse and they will eat almost anything, including the garden roses, fruit, bread and some meat.

The Common Brushtail Possum lives in tree hollows and hollow logs in the wild but in the suburbs it will also make use of any dark spaces such as drains or roof spaces and wall cavities, which is when it most commonly comes into contact with people. They are also know to spend the night in rubbish bins were they may be seeking food scraps.

It is in the roofs and walls that they are most troublesome to residents as they may urinate leaving stains on the plaster or chew wiring. Their load vocalisations and noisy nocturnal activities can be distressing to residents trying to sleep as possums may not leave their roost until late in the evening.

As a result of their ability to adapt to a range of environments and foods the Common Brushtail Possums can occur at very high densities in the urban parks and gardens around the suburbs. This often results in conflicts between residents and land owners trying to protect their trees and the Common Brushtail Possums. Perspex and metal guards are often attached to trees to stop them climbing back into trees for roosting or feeding.

The Common Brushtail Possums in the suburbs has two main predators, the domestic and feral cat (Felis catus) and the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) although the possum has been known to defend itself well against some cats.

For information about how to manage the Common Brushtail Possums in and around Melbourne suburbs follow the link to the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) website.

Common Brushtail Possum

© Habitat Ecology 2012

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