|Size:||Length: 12 to 14 inches (30 to 36 cm) Tail: Up to 14 inches (36 cm)|
|Weight:||3 pounds (1.4 kg)|
|Diet:||Leaves, flowers, fruit, nectar and buds|
|Young:||1 to 5 each year|
|Animal Predators:||Foxes and cats|
|IUCN Status:||No special status|
|Lifespan:||3 to 6 years in the wild|
· There are 14 species of ringtail possums—the common ringtail is the most numerous.
· Opossums are different from possums—opossums are larger and have white faces.
· Other names for the common ringtail are “grey Queensland ringtail,” “banga,” “rufous ringtail,” “southeastern ringtail” and “Tasmanian ringtail.”
· Until recently, this species was classified in the family Petauridae, which includes various possums and gliders that are in fact closely related.
Ringtail possums get their name from the way their tail curls up into rings when not using it. Their tail has a white tip and is prehensile, which means it is used to grip branches. They have thick, soft fur; large, protruding eyes; and small, round ears. The fur is brown or reddish on the back of the body and light-coloured or grey on the belly.
Common ringtails live in eastern Australia, including the provinces of South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, West Australia and the island of Tasmania. Their preferred habitats consist of rainforest, woodland and scrub.
Common ringtail possums eat leaves, flowers, fruit, nectar and buds. Their diet includes eucalyptus leaves that are very poisonous. Their stomach is able to detoxify the leaves, making them capable of taking advantage of this food source. They re-ingest their feces to increase its ability to extract nutrients from their food; this practice is called “coprophagy.”
Mating season begins in April or May and lasts until November or December. During that time the male and female possum live together in one nest. Because these animals are so shy and secretive, studies on them are still incomplete and the gestation period (duration of pregnancy) is unknown, but is believed to be between 12 days and two months. Common ringtail possums can birth up to five young, but only two useable nipples exist on the mother, thus only two babies can survive. The youngsters live in the mother’s pouch for the first four months, then they ride on the mother’s or father’s back until they are fully weaned between five and eight months. Both parents take care of the babies, grooming and teaching them how to survive.
Common ringtails are most often found in trees, but will descend occasionally to scamper about on the ground. They mostly come out at night and sleep during the day curled up in a nest, also known as a “drey,” made of shredded bark, leaves and twigs, in the fork of a tree. On clear, moonlit nights, their activity is curtailed because the light makes them clearly visible to their predators. They are relatively quiet animals—their only vocalisations consist of soft twitters. They have excellent night vision due to their large, protruding eyes.
Although this particular ringtail is the most common ringtail, their numbers began declining in the 1950s, mainly due to relentless hunting. From the 1920s to the 1950s, over 7.5 million common ringtail possum furs were exported from Tasmania alone. Loss of habitat was another major concern, as common ringtails need suitable trees in which they can build nests to sleep safely during daylight hours. Without these nests, they are extremely susceptible to predators. They are now protected from hunting by Australian law.
Common Ringtail Possum Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US