When a possum is NOT an Opossum
March 3, 2023 12:39 AM   Subscribe

Meet the Common Brushtail Possum, an Australian tree-climbing marsupial that keeps its young in a pouch until they are too large, at which point they ride on their mother's back. It eats leaves; bark; flowers; fruits; fungi; insects; birds eggs; small to medium birds; and sometimes rats. It likes living in the hollows of old trees; with tree loss, it is now often found in people's roofs or garages or sheds. They sometimes come into people's houses through cat flaps. In urban areas, they will accept fruit from people's hands.

This is what it sounds like when they are angry about being removed from someone's vegetable garden. [The video calls this a Ringtail Possum, but it is actually a Brushtail Possum, which is a different species.]

Here are some other noises that they make: possum noise one; and possum noise two.

Here is a baby possum getting reunited with its mother after accidentally becoming separated.

They are an important part of the Australian ecosystem, but they were introduced to New Zealand in the 1850s, and they are a MASSIVE environmental problem in New Zealand. If you see possum fur products being sold from New Zealand, you can buy them with a clear conscience, knowing that you are helping to protect native New Zealand animals from going extinct under the pressure of feral introduced possums. (Possums are protected in Australia, so you will not see legal possum fur products sold from Australia.)
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries (15 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
These are really lovely videos.
posted by Zumbador at 4:26 AM on March 3, 2023

I often wonder whether the noises possums make is partly responsible for legends of drop bears and the widespread belief that everything in Australia is trying to kill you. Because they sure sound like it.

I have at least one brushie living in my roof space. (Memorably, it once made its devil-hairball noise right over my head in the laundry room; I'd been watching a horror show just before so I did get quite a start.) I often see it clambering awkwardly into the neighbours' garden via a tree that seems way too fragile. It gets into loud spats with the bats at night. Amazingly, my cat seems supremely uninterested in it, for which I am very grateful.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:09 AM on March 3, 2023

Eats shoots and leaves, you say?
posted by TedW at 6:07 AM on March 3, 2023 [2 favorites]

These are definitely cuter than the North American Opossum, which has far too many teeth than seems necessary.
posted by tommasz at 7:14 AM on March 3, 2023 [1 favorite]

A couple of these guys made a dramatic appearance in this frog house video.
posted by ignignokt at 7:17 AM on March 3, 2023 [4 favorites]

"the North American Opossum ...has far too many teeth than seems necessary."
All those teeth make them look violent and mean when in fact they're shy and sweet-tempered. They look like alligator-rats but they're really more like tiny cows, temperamentwise. Also, the very same accident of physiognomy that renders the grown possum hideous makes the tiny lil angelbaby snortkin possum-boo-boo (correct term for juvenile possum) disconcertingly adorable. O, possums, humble, beady-eyed guardians of the mysteries of the night, misunderstood heroes of the saga of increasing suffering, privation, and decrepitude that is the American South, long may you and your many teeth endure!

Armadillos, same basic deal.

But anyway, what I want to know, what are they even doing here? Why do we have this one random horrifying marsupial and Australia has all the different ones and they're all supercute?

[Edited to take out New Zealand. I don't actually know if they have indigenous marsupials.]
posted by Don Pepino at 9:07 AM on March 3, 2023 [3 favorites]

Edited to take out New Zealand. I don't actually know if they have indigenous marsupials

Prior to human settlement, the mammals of New Zealand consisted entirely of several species of bat, and several dozen marine mammal species
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 9:16 AM on March 3, 2023 [2 favorites]

the North American Opossum ... misunderstood heroes of … the American South

We get them in Canada, too, and they are adorable. No armadillos yet here, tho.
posted by scruss at 10:30 AM on March 3, 2023

→ the North American Opossum ... misunderstood heroes of … the American South

We get them in Canada, too

But maybe you understand them better.
posted by aubilenon at 12:53 PM on March 3, 2023

All those teeth make them look violent and mean when in fact they're shy and sweet-tempered.

Shy maybe, but the one time I got to know a possum up close it was very foul-tempered. Back in the 1970s someone’s dog or dogs cornered a possum in my parents’ neighborhood; they rescued it from the dogs without any apparent injury but didn’t know what to do with it. My father volunteered to take it to the nearby lake the next weekend and release it in the woods. So we ended up with a possum in a cage in our garage for a few days. Based on a wildlife book we had we fed it dog food and vegetable scraps and made sure it had plenty of water. But it had a nasty temperament, snarling, growling, and hissing anytime you came near it. And none of that “playing possum” act either. Of course, given the circumstances I understand why it wasn’t on its best behavior. But what really put the episode firmly into family lore was the trip to take it to be released. We loaded up the car for a weekend at the lake, with the additional cargo of a marsupial in a cage. But when we stopped for gas about a mile from the house, there was no possum in the cage! We figured it had gotten out and was somewhere in the car, so we unloaded everything, opened all the compartments for the spare tire, etc., and found no trace of the possum. No evidence of a hole in the cage or any other sign it had ever been in the car. An escape worthy of Houdini! But I do appreciate all the good they do in our ecosystem, and the many I see near my house do look cute; I am happy to let them do their own thing in their own time.
posted by TedW at 2:50 PM on March 3, 2023 [3 favorites]

As mentioned above in NZ Aussie possums are evil, like a bunch of other legally 'noxious' animals introduced by european colonists people are required to get rid of them, visiting Aussies are encouraged to take at least 4 back with them when they return, if it helps they are available in convenient coat form
posted by mbo at 12:43 AM on March 4, 2023 [1 favorite]

Brushies are, in the way of many small mammals, utter shitheads. That portly, barrel-roll body conceals a criminal mind and thuggish demeanor that would embarrass a hardened gangster.

A small theatre I did several shows at had a particularly determined brushie living in the tree outside. Every night after the theatre went dark, without fail, the mendacious little goon would tightrope-walk a festoon of decorative lights, punch its way into the roof space (making new holes if you blocked the old ones), batter down the hatch into the ops box, and stomp down through the theatre to the bar, where the little bastard would scoff as many KitKats as it could. The wily sod loved a KitKat, and would tear the place apart to get them. In a jar? Smash the jar. In a cupboard? Wrench the door off. Eventually, the management switched to those protein ball things in an effort to dissuade the KitKat bandit.

So the bloody thing learned to like protein balls.

Eventually, they had to hold a fundraiser to possum-proof the venue. Apparently, for several weeks afterward, it would sit on an outdoor table under its tree, glaring ominously at the front door.

True story - I was working late one night and the little bugger smashed through the hatch (locked!) and we both got the fright of our lives when we realised we each were not as alone as we thought. Then the cocky prick hissed at me and stomped off down the stairs
posted by prismatic7 at 5:23 AM on March 4, 2023 [11 favorites]

I know the following is about a random opossum and not about the fascinating and charming possum under observation in this post, and I do not wish to derail the thread, but I can't help defending the VA possum TedW said was "snarling, growling, and hissing."

That threat display is defense, not offense. It's a little tiny animal and you are big and terrifying. The little possum is not used to being menaced by loud dogs or trapped in a cage surrounded by the scary humans it has been trying to hide from all its life. It assumes your intent is to kill and eat it, so it tries to seem fearsome in the desperate hope that maybe you'll change your mind about that plan. If you had called its bluff it might well have bitten you, but it would probably have been a pretty weak bite because it would be well on its way into paralysis. Their "dying" response to fear is involuntary. That yours didn't pass out is proof that you behaved kindly and gently toward it and kept your distance, so it avoided getting terrified into a coma.

Supposedly their bites are relatively benign because they don't get rabid and their diet of "fruit and plants" means their oral bacteria is, whatever, as fresh and sparkly clean as a mountain breeze. I am dubious, however, about this virtuous vegan diet claim. I've washed their filthy little footprints off the porch the day after they were Scrooge McDuckin' it in the rank-beyond-belief compost bin full of black soldier fly maggots and freezer-burnt bacon. If I get bitten by a possum, I am going to the ER.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:07 AM on March 4, 2023 [2 favorites]

One thing we've learned in NZ about possums is that they're incredibly dumb - maybe it's because they've evolved in a land where everything kills you but here you can put out self resetting traps with a bit of bait on them and the possums will happily ignore the pile of dead possums lying underneath ....
posted by mbo at 9:21 PM on March 4, 2023

you can put out self resetting traps with a bit of bait on them and the possums will happily ignore the pile of dead possums lying underneath

Their last thought is probably "More for me!"
posted by aubilenon at 9:46 PM on March 4, 2023

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