by Morwenna Petaia

‘Brushies’ are some of our favourite animal sightings on tours. Though considered common*, they are quite secretive and solitary in the Australian Bush, and seeing a Common Brushtail Possum Trichosurus vulpecula at night is a special and wonderful experience.

*in fact their numbers are declining throughout Australia, especially in northern and arid areas. Read more here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/40585/21952080

Here’s 5 interesting facts about brushtail possums.

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Fact 1.  Different climate, different colour

The Brushtail Possum changes in colour and size depending on where they live.  Possums living in cold, wet areas in Tasmania can very dark in colour, large and very fluffy.  In the tropical Northern Territory where the weather is warm all year round, brushtail possums are light grey-fawn and quite small.  We sometimes see these Northern Brushtail Trichosurus vulpecula arnhemensis (sometimes considered a separate species T. arnhemensis) on our Wild Top End tour. 

But even within a state, brushtails can vary a lot in colour. They are known in silver-grey, black, brown and gold colour forms.

Brushy-tail possum

Trichosurus vulpecula in hakea flowers

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There is also a closely-related red form of brushtail possum that lives in the rainforests of north Queensland: the Coppery Brushtail Trichosurus johnstonii.

An adult Brushtail Possum can weigh between 1.5 and 4kg and measure 35 to 55cm long (head and body length) plus tail 25 to 40cm.

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Fact 2.  17 day pregnancy

Female Brushtail Possums have a 17 day pregnancy. This may seem very short, but they are marsupials, and their babies are born tiny and undeveloped compared to humans!

Baby possums are called joeys. Most joeys are born in the autumn: March to May, and some in spring: September to November. Female brush-tailed possums usually give birth to just one joey at a time.

Brushtail possum mother and joey facts

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Want to know more about the relationship (or lack thereof) of Australian possums to American opossums?  Read more here. 

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Fact 3. A short childhood

If you thought their gestation period was short, well so is their childhood!  At 10 months a Brushtail Possum is an adult.  Female Common Brushtails can begin breeding at just 12 months!

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Fact 4.  Mark their home ranges

A Brushtail Possum uses secretions from glands near their chin, chest and tail to mark their home ranges.  This is just like a dog urinating to mark their territory, but a whole lot nicer.

Brush-tailed Possums live in woodlands, but have also adapted to living in urban areas. If you see a brushtail in your backyard, you can assume it is their home range. They will not allow other possums to enter. If your brushy dies, or is removed, another will take its place as soon as the scent has worn off.

Common Brushtail possum in daylight

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The Brushtail Possum is fully protected in Australia, and must not be harmed or relocated without permits.  Check this site if you want to know how to live with (or without) a brushtail possum: https://www.backyardbuddies.org.au/backyard-buddies/brushtail-possum

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Fact 5.  Communicate through sound and scent

During breeding season possums communicate through guttural coughs and sharp hisses. They can be quite noisy, and a little scary if you don’t know what you’re hearing!

Night Sounds of the Australian Bush – Common Brushtail Possum

facts Brush-tailed possum roosting

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We sometimes see Brushtail Possums emerging from their daytime roosts in the late afternoon on the Sunset Koala and Kangaroos Tour.

facts Brush-tail possum
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NOTES & REFERENCES:

https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/topics/animals-and-plants/native-animals/native-animal-facts/brush-tailed-possum

https://dpipwe.tas.gov.au/wildlife-management/fauna-of-tasmania/mammals/possums-kangaroos-and-wombats/possums/brushtail-possums

https://australianmuseum.net.au/learn/animals/mammals/common-brushtail-possum/

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