Belonging to the same order as the iconic kangaroos and koalas, possums are among the most adaptable and versatile marsupials of Australia; being able to thrive in a diverse range of natural and man-made environments. Generally, possums live in wet tropical rainforests. But their versatility allowed them to survive in suburbs and even in the middle of urbanized cities.
These nocturnal creatures come out at night to search for food; crawling across power lines, fences, and roofs to avoid predators. Possums do not post a direct threat to humans as they are usually shy and are a non-aggressive type of animal. However, their overpopulation can be a problem when they scatter their urine and droppings inside our homes and when they are accidentally hit by cars in the middle of the road.
Naturally, the population of possums is controlled by bush fires, predators, and scarcity of food. But their feeding habit is perhaps the major cause for concern with these animals. Possums feed on fresh garden produce, agricultural crops, and even native plants and species. Indigenous wildlife may also be affected as they tend to compete with birds for shelter and food. Sometimes they eat the eggs and offspring of the bird. In Tasmania, around 300,000 possums are exterminated every year under a regulation. This is done to prevent damage to agricultural crops while maintaining a sustainable possum population in the wild.
Out of the 23 known species of possums in Australia, there are two common species which are distributed all over the country; the brushtail possum and the ringtail possum. Ringtail possums are found in isolated areas along Eastern Australia and in the southwestern part of Western Australia. On the other hand, Australian Brushtail Possum thrive in almost every part of the mainland, Tasmania, and Kangaroo Island. With their uncontrollable population, it is no wonder why brushtail possums are considered as culprits for destroyed crops or stolen fruits from backyards.
For the layman, it is not easy to distinguish brushtail possums from different possum species and other look-alike pests. There are however three unique characteristics and behaviors of brushtail possums that set them apart from the rest.
- It’s all about the size.
As the second largest possum species in Australia, brushtail possums can grow as large as domestic cats. They are larger than ringtail possums and are leaner than bobucks. They also have a distinct pair of pointed ears, compared to the short and rounded ears of ringtail possums and bobucks.
- Know them by the tail.
What if you saw a juvenile brushtail possum, with a naturally smaller body size and shorter ears? Then you should know how to distinguish them by looking at their tails. Brushtail possums, as suggested by its name, have bushy black tails as opposed to long and thin tails of ringtail possums. Their scientific name from Greek and Latin origin, Trichosurus vulpecular, literally means “furry tailed little fox”.
- Look at the marks on the chest.
Most brushtail possums have reddish brown stains on their chests with scent glands that they use to mark their territories. In contrast, ringtail possums have their scent glands located near the anus. They release a foul-smelling odor to ward off enemies if they feel that they are threatened.