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Territorial, Adaptable, Nocturnal, Marsupial… Common Brushtail Possums

By Keith Hutton on November 15, 2011 in Other

Photo: James Hutton

Common Brushtail Possums are protected, native, nocturnal marsupials that sleep in the daytime and become active at dusk. They are solitary animals except in the breeding season, and frequently cohabit with humans, where they are not necessarily welcome. They often forage on the ground but climb readily and move about easily among the branches of trees looking for food. Baby possums are raised in a pouch for about five months and after that travel around on their mothers’ backs for a couple of months more before becoming independent.

Brushtail Possums are about the same size as cats, with a pointed snout and moist pink nose, long whiskers and large oval ears. In the Sydney region they are generally silvery grey above and pale below with darker bushy tails.

They are the most familiar and widespread of all Australian possums in New South Wales and can be found in forests and woodlands all around the coast, and also well inland along tree-lined creeks and rivers. In the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney they are common, particularly in the northern parts and in and around Centennial Park where there are plenty of trees.

In the bush they eat mostly leaves, buds, bark, flowers and fruits, and in the suburbs this is supplemented with food scraps. They often use their front feet to hold their food and look quite cute sitting on the ground nibbling away at a discarded apple core, fallen fig or some other choice titbit that they have come across.

Brushtail Possums are strongly territorial and mark out a home range that they defend against other possums. They can often be heard at night hissing and grunting loudly when challenged by their foes.

Possums have adapted well to contact with people and may become very tame in parks and gardens. However, they can be noisy and messy if they move into the roof of your house. When this happens a licence is required to trap the squatter, which must then be released on its home range, preferably after possum-proofing the house. Building a possum shelter somewhere safe will encourage the resident possum to stay away from your roof but maintain its territory and prevent other intruders moving in. This is a better strategy than simply trapping and removing offending lodgers, which is illegal. Furthermore, not securing your roof is simply leaving the way open for a new tenant.

Further information on possums and possum control is available at the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage website,