Feature Species: Western Ringtail Possum

How gorgeous is this video of a baby Western Ringtail Possum (Pseudocheirus occidentalis)? These little guys are ranked as Critically Endangered using the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) criteria and are endemic to the southwest ecoregion, which means that they are found nowhere else in the world! The Western Ringtail is a nocturnal and arboreal species who are usually found feeding, sleeping or socialising high in the canopy. With a small home range of around 5ha, they will use 2-7 rest sites which are usually nests or dreys built in low shrubs, thickets, grass trees and various tree canopies.

These possums feed almost exclusively on the leaves of the Peppermint trees (Agonis flexuosa), but can sometimes be found to be chomping down on Marri (Corymbia calophylla) and Jarrah (Ecalyptus marginal) foliage. Interestingly unlike many other herbivorous mammals, the Western Ringtail only has one compartment to their stomach making digestion of there diet quite a challenge. They have solved this problem by consuming their own scat whilst they are resting throughout the day in their dreys. That’s right, they chew their own poo to maximise their nutrient intake from each meal! The first scat that they produce during the day is known as caeotroph and tends to be thick and dark, almost resembling tar. The second scat is much more dry and firm being produced during the night.

Female possums usually give birth in late autumn and winter, however in and around Busselton where populations thrive possums can birth twice a year. Usually one baby is born after a gestation of 2-4 weeks, however they have been known to give birth to 2 or even 3 young in a litter. After 3 months the babies will emerge permanently from the pouch and will continue to suckle milk for up to 8 months. By 8-12 months, the young have left their mothers home range to discover their own territory.

The biggest pressure faced by these gorgeous marsupials is one faced by animals all over the globe, displacement by human development. Many measures have been put in place to ensure that areas where these little guys are known to thrive are managed to conserve these little guys into the future including education programs to raise awareness, protecting critical habitat and surveying any clearings for evidence of possum populations.