Common ringtail possums are found along the eastern coastline of Australia, Tasmania, and the southwestern corner of western Australia (Marsupial Society of Victoria Inc. 2000).
Common ringtail possums have an extensive distribution. They occur in temperate or tropical areas but are rarely found in drier areas. It is thought that this wide habitat range is due to their ability to feed on a number of different plant species. They can usually be found in dense brush forests, as they favor environments that are plentiful with eucalyptus. The dense brush is also optimal for the construction of dreys. Along with several other species, the common ringtail possum occupies a range of niches comparable to the niche's of lemurs, monkeys, squirrels, and bushbabies in similar forests on other continents (Barnett et al. 1984; Lee and Smith 1984).
Common ringtail possums are the smallest of eight species of ringtail possums that live in Australia. The adults of this species typically are between 30 and 35 cm in body length, with a tail length that is roughly equal to the body length. Common ringtail possums have brown or reddish fur on the upper surfaces of the body and light colored or gray fur on the ventral surfaces. Common ringtail possums have large eyes which are well adapted to seeing at night. Two of the claws found on the front feet are opposable and the pads, as well as the tips, of the toes are grooved. They possess a strong, but relatively hairless, prehensile tail. This tail is carried tightly curled when not in use. These animals can be distinguished from other possum species in several ways. Their ears are smaller and more rounded and they typically have patches of white fur both on and above the ears. The tail of common ringtail possums has a white tip and is tapered (Marsupial Society of Victoria Inc. 2000; Wildlife Welfare Org. of S.A. 2000).
Common ringtail possums are marsupials, thus they carry their young in a pouch while they develop. Mating takes place between April and December, depending on the location in Australia. Most young are born sometime between May and July. Both males and females are sexually mature in the mating season after their birth. Common ringtail possums are polyestrous as well as polyovular. The estrous cycle of this species lasts for 28 days (Barnett et al. 1984).
Most common ringtail possums have litters of two offspring, however they can have up to four. It has been suggested that six embryos are born at the same time, however, only two of those six are able to find a useable nipple, thus the other four usually die. The female's pouch has a forward facing opening; two of the four nipples are functional at one time. Older females can produce up to two litters of young per year (Wildlife Welfare Org of S.A. 2000).
Initial growth of the common ringtail possum young is generally slow. This slow growth occurs during the period when female weight is lowest. Between 90 and 106 days after birth, the young both open their eyes and are able to make clear vocalizations. Between 120 and 130 days after birth the young emerge from their mother's pouch. However, lactation generally does not stop until between 180 and 220 days after birth, sometimes ending as early as 145 days (Barnett et al. 1984; Gilmore and Stonehouse 1997).
There are several unique behavioral patterns exhibited by common ringtail possums. Individuals are territorial and use scented secretions to mark their territory. Unlike many species of ringtail possum, common ringtail possums are not solitary. They are typically found in small groups. A typical group consists of one adult male and one or two adult females in addition to their offspring from the previous breeding season. These family groupings can be found in nests which they construct, called dreys. Dreys can be constructed of shredded bark, twigs, and ferns, and are usually built in the fork of a tree or in dense shrubbery. They are 25 to 30 cm across and have an entrance hole on one side which is 8 to 10 cm in diameter (Gilmore and Stonehouse 1997; Marsupial Society of Victoria 2000).
Common ringtail possums are most active at night and are well adapted to arboreal life. They are rarely found on the ground and use their prehensile tail extensively. Common ringtail possums use vocalizations as a means of communication. The calls of this species are generally described as soft, high-pitched, and twittering (Lee and Smith 1984).
Common ringtail possums can live for up to 6 years in the wild, but typically do not survive past 3 years of age. Half of the offspring will not survive even one year after birth. One reason for such a short life expectancy is because of predation (The Marsupial Society of Victoria Inc 2000). In some Australian areas where the ringtail is found near suburban populations, hunting by cats is a problem for the common ringtail. Once a possum suffers a bite from a cat it is highly unlikely that it will survive, regardless of the severity of the bite.
Common ringtail possums are nocturnal and primarily folivorous. They feed mainly on eucalyptus leaves, but may also eat flowers, buds, nectar, and fruit. Part of the common ringtail possum's caecum is able to detoxify the tannins and phenols that are present in eucalyptus leaves, making them capable of taking advantage of this food source. A low metabolic rate helps to compensate for the low energy intake of common ringtail possums due to their specialized diet. Feeding occurs both during the first half of the night and, again, before dawn. Common ringtail possums prefer eating the youngest foliage of the plants they consume. This effects reproductive patterns, as the young leave the pouch and are weaned during times when flower and fruit growth peaks (Barnett et al. 1984).
When they are found in urban Australian areas, common ringtail possums eat rose buds (Sydney Metropolitan Wildlife Service Inc. 2000).
Common ringtail possums do not adversely affect humans. Unlike brushtail possums, they are not considered pests in suburban areas and do not nest within homes or human structures (Sydney Metropolitan Wildlife Services Inc. 2000).
During the 1950's common ringtail possum populations severely declined in numbers. Currently populations seem to have recovered.
Deforestation in Australia has resulted in a loss of habitat for common ringtail possums, because they are almost exclusively arboreal. In suburban areas they are vulnerable to being struck by cars, or hunted by cats and dogs (Sydney Metropolitan Wildlife Services Inc. 2000).
'Peregrinus', means "foreign false hand" in Latin (Sydney Metropolitan Wildlife Services Inc. 2000).
Paul Welsh (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
uses touch to communicate
Barnett, J.L, A., R. R.A. How. 1984. The Population Biology of Pseudocheirus peregrinus. Pp. 261-268 in A Ian Hume, ed. Possums and Gliders. New South Wales: Surrey Beatty & Sons Pty Limited.
Barnett, J.L, A., R. W.F. Humphreys. 1984. Indices of Condition of Phalanger Populations: A Review. Pp. 59-77 in A Ian Hume, ed. Possums and Gliders. New South Wales: Surrey Beatty & Sons Pty Limited.
Gilmore, Desmond, B. 1997. The Biology of Marsupials. London: University Park Press.
Lee, Anthony, A. 1984. The Evolution of Strategies for Survival and Reproduction in Possums and Gliders. Pp. 17-19 in A Ian Hume, ed. Possums and Gliders. New South Wales: Surrey Beatty & Sons Pty Limited.
Sydney Metropolitan Wildlife Services Inc., 2000. "The Common Ringtail Possum" (On-line). Accessed March 18, 2001 at http://www.sydneywildlife.com/Animals/Mammals/AnimalM_RingTailPossum01.htm.
Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service, 1998. "Common Ringtail Possum: Pseudocheirus peregrinus" (On-line). Accessed March 18, 2001 at http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/wildlife/mammals/rtposs.html.
The Marsupial Society of Victoria Inc, 2000. "The Common Ringtail Possum" (On-line). Accessed March 18, 2001 at http://home.vicnet.net.au/~marsup/fact_sheets/ringtail_possum.htm.
Wildlife Welfare Organization of South Australia Inc, 2000. "Ringtail Possums: The Common Ringtail Possum" (On-line). Accessed March 18, 2001 at http://wildlfe.mtx.net/page20.html.