Biology

A possum is a mammal, specifically a marsupial, that is nocturnal and arboreal (lives in trees). Some possums have a gliding membrane and are referred to as gliders. The largest of the possums in South-east Queensland is the Short-eared Possum, (Trichosurus caninus) which may grow to about 4.5 kg. The smallest are the Feathertail Gliders (Acrobates pygmaeus and Acrobates frontalis), which may reach about 15 g and 19 g respectively. There is considerable colour variation both between, and in some cases, such as the greater glider, within species.

Queensland possums tend to be smaller than their southern counterparts.

As possums and gliders are marsupials, it is important that deceased females are always checked for live pouch young. Common Ringtail Possums and some gliding species usually have twins, but may have one or three joeys.

All species are arboreal (live in trees) and nocturnal (active at night).   They all have strong home ranges and some are extremely territorial so it is imperative that possums are never relocated from their home.

The Common Brushtail Possum is typically a solitary animal however the Ringtail Possums and Short-eared Possum are more social within their family group. Gliders also live in social groups, with the exception of the Greater Glider.

Possums & Gliders of South-east Queensland

There are 10 species of possum found in South-east Queensland including:

  • Common Brushtail Possum
  • Short-eared Possum
  • Common Ringtail Possum
  • Greater Glider
  • Sugar Glider
  • Squirrel Glider
  • Yellow-bellied Glider
  • Narrow-toed Feathertail Glider
  • Broad-toed Feathertail Glider
  • Eastern Pigmy Possum

Common Reasons for Care

Hit by car

Any possum or glider that has been hit by a car, must receive immediate veterinary treatment.

Safely remove the possum from the road (if it is safe to do so). Using a towel, blanket or jumper, wrap the possum and place it into a secure box. Take the possum to your nearest veterinary clinic or wildlife hospital. Alternatively contact a local wildlife rescue group for assistance.

If the possum dies, please check carefully for any live pouch young.

Orphaned young

It is important that orphaned possum and glider joeys are transferred to an experienced wildlife carer as soon as possible as they have very specialised heating and feeding requirements.

All wildlife suffer from stress easily. Excessive stress can have a negative impact on the survival of the joey.

If you find a dead female possum/glider and the joey is alive and still in the mother’s pouch:

  • Leave the joey in the pouch.
  • If possible, wrap the mother’s entire body in a blanket to help maintain her body heat (or alternatively wrap a towel around the pouch area of the mother).
  • Contact your local wildlife rescue group immediately who will be able to provide you with additional information based on the circumstances.
  • Alternatively, take the mother and joey to the closest wildlife hospital or vet.

If the joey is no longer in the pouch, but on or near the mother:

  • You need to capture the joey quickly to prevent it from running away.
  • Contain the joey in a pillowcase, bag or alternatively, wrap it in a jumper or towel ensuring that the joey’s head is covered to reduce stress.
  • If you aren’t able to capture the joey, leave the mother’s body in a safe area on the side of the road and stand well away from the mother and wait for the joey to return.
  • Call an experienced wildlife rescuer immediately who will attend and attempt to catch the joey with specialised equipment.

If you find a dependent joey on its own with no sign of the mother:

  • Place the joey in a pillowcase or alternatively, wrap the joey in a towel or jumper with a hot water bottle filled with warm water underneath the towel and place it in a box. Do NOT use hot water as it can cause severe burns.
  • Unfurred joeys can be placed under your jumper against your skin for warmth.
  • Call your local wildlife rescue group immediately or take the joey to your closest wildlife hospital or vet.

Injuries from a dog or cat

Possums and gliders that have been bitten by a dog or cat, must receive immediate veterinary attention, even if there is no visible sign of injury. It is important that they are assessed quickly as they will be suffering from severe injury such as fractures, internal bleeding and infection. They often die from shock if not treated quickly.

Secure the possum or glider in a pillowcase or box. Take the animal immediately to a wildlife hospital or vet. It is important to inform the vet that the animal had been caught by a dog or cat so the vet knows to check for puncture wounds and to administer antibiotics.

As possums and gliders are nocturnal, these unfortunate incidents usually occur at night. In South-east Queensland, there are a large number of 24-hour vet clinics available that accept wildlife free of charge after-hours. Please contact the Wildcare Hotline on 07 5527 2444 and we can put you in touch with your closest vet clinic.

Suspected poisoning

Possums frequently ingest rodenticide (rat bait), which has been inadvertently left in open areas to control rodents.

Signs that a possum may have ingested poison include:

  • Excessive salivation or frothing from the mouth
  • Convulsions
  • Loss of balance
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Blood from the cloaca (vent), mouth or nose

If you suspect that a possum has been poisoned, please contain the possum in a box or pet carrier and transport immediately to a wildlife hospital or vet. Alternatively contact your local wildlife rescue group urgently.

Possum out during the day (displaced)

Possums frequently become displaced during the day when their nest or roosting site is disturbed.

If the possum is bright, alert and moving well, it may be attempting to find a new roosting site after being disturbed. Ensure that all pet dogs and cats are contained to the house and observe the possum from a distance to ensure that it finds a safe place to rest.

If the possum is out in the open and not moving well, it could mean that there is something wrong with it. If it does not quickly climb a tree or run away when approached, it is most likely sick or injured. If you are confident to do so, contain the possum in a box or pet carrier and take it to your closest wildlife hospital or vet. Alternatively, contact your local wildlife rescue group.

Possums in Chimneys

Possums sometimes get caught in chimneys when they fall down the flue.

If the sides are smooth preventing the possum from climbing out and if the chimney is accessible from above, a rope or sheet secured from above and dangled down into the chimney may give the possum something to grip onto and climb up. The possum may also be able to be rescued from below using a trap baited with food or with gloves and a towel – beware of claws and teeth.

In some situations, part of the chimney will need to be dismantled to remove the possum. If you need further advice in this situation, please contact the Wildcare Hotline on 07 5527 2444 or your local wildlife rescue group.

Skin Condition (Dermatitis)

Dermatitis is common in the Brushtail possum populations in South-east Queensland. Often these wounds look like burns or appear that the skin has been scalped.

If you know where the possum sleeps through the day, it may be possible to capture the animal while it is sleeping. Alternatively, using a humane possum trap often works to capture the possum so that appropriate treatment can be sought.

Please contact your local wildlife rescue group for assistance in this situation.

Relocating Possums

Possums are very territorial and cannot be relocated; this would be a death sentence for them. In Queensland, wildlife volunteers are not licensed to relocate any species of wildlife.

Installing appropriate nest boxes for possums will provide suitable places for the possums to shelter so they do not need to live in house ceilings.

Possums in Roof

Possums rely on tree hollows for nesting and sheltering sites, however in suburban areas these are becoming more difficult to find. Therefore, possums often have to resort to sheltering in ceilings.

Possums that reside in roofs are usually Common Brushtail Possums. Ringtail Possums make dreys out of leaves and bark and are far less likely to take up residence in a ceiling.

To address this issue, you need to determine where the possum exits the ceiling, this usually occurs just on dusk or up to an hour or so after.

Once you have determined the entry/exit point, you need to get everything ready to block the entrance to the ceiling. If the possum is a female with a baby on its back, BOTH mum and baby will need to be seen leaving prior to closing up their access point.

Once you have repaired the entry point, splash some disinfectant around the hole to deter the possums.

Make sure that you keep any overhanging branches away from the roof line as these provide easy access to the roof for all animals, including rodents.

Please consider providing a new home for the possum by mounting a possum box high in a tree. It may help to put a bit of food (i.e. corn, carrot) in the new box.

Remember: Possums only look to human habitation because their preferred sleeping places (tree hollows) do not exist (trees with hollows have been felled) or existing hollows are already occupied.

If you require assistance with removing a possum from the roof, please contact your local wildlife rescue group who will be able to recommend a reliable specialist.

Is it really a possum?

Our Hotline volunteers receive many calls from residents concerned that there is a possum in their roof when in fact, it is a rat.

Ways to help distinguish whether a roof dweller is a possum or rat include:

  • Look in the roof during the day and shine a torch in its eyes; possums have red eye shine, rats do not.
  • Consider when you hear noise in the roof; possums usually leave the ceiling at night to forage while rats tend to stay active in the ceiling throughout the night.

A professional wildlife business will be able to assist you in determining the identity of the animal and offer appropriate solutions.

Possum Boxes

With the loss of habitat for residential, industrial and commercial development, agriculture and forestry, tree hollows are in short supply and the few remaining hollows will be in great demand, for not only possums but also by birds, bats, and bees.

There are a few important points to keep in mind, when you are making or buying a possum box and installing it.

  • Use weatherproof material such as marine ply or western red cedar. Size will depend on the species to be housed.
  • Do not use treated wood, toxic paints or varnishes.
  • Have a sloping roof to allow rain to run off
  • Punch a few small holes in the base to allow water to drain away.
  • If the chosen wood is smooth a few pieces of dowel or similar, arranged like a ladder but attached to the inner wall, may assist the animal climbing out of the box.
  • Place the entrance hole close to the top. The diameter will depend on the species you wish to house (refer to the references below for dimensions for different species).
  • Position the box with the entrance facing away from the direction of the prevailing rain and wind.
  • Do not place in the direct sun, try and use the existing canopy to provide shade from the sun.
  • The box should be installed as high as possible, a minimum of 3 to 4 metres high in the tree
  • Don’t place the box in a fork because as the tree grows it may be squashed.
  • Hang the box using wire threaded through a piece of plastic garden hose so that it doesn’t cut into the tree – hang the nest box on the opposite side of a branch or fix the underside of the box to the tree with a bracket.

For those who are interested in providing nest boxes for a variety of visitors to the garden you could do no better than to visit the Hollow Log Homes website (www.hollowloghomes.com) or look for the book “Nest boxes for wildlife: A practical Guide” by Alan and Stacey Franks. The Gould League has published “The Nestbox Book” compiled by Jim Grant, which gives information on a large range of bird and possum species and information on the design of appropriate nest boxes for each.

You can also download the Wildcare Easy Reference Sheet on building your own possum box HERE.