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David Marjanovic wrote:

What actually is called a possum in Australia?

In Australia (and New Guinea), "possum" is a loose term for members of several families of arboreal marsupials: Tarsipedidae (honey possums), Phalangeridae (brushtail possums, scaly-tailed possum, and cuscuses), Pseudocheiridae (ringtail possums), Acrobatidae (feather-tail gliders), Petauridae (gliding possums, or gliders), and Burramyidae (pygmy possums).

Although I'm not as "up" on marsupial phylogeny as I should be, all Aussie possums are diprotodonts. The tarsipedids (honey possums), though, appear to stand out on their own among diprotodont families (and some researchers are uncertain if they are actually true diprotodonts). In most marsupial phylogenies, the other possum families fall out close to the macropods (kangaroos, wallabies, potoroos etc).

Aussie possums are also cuter and cuddlier than their rat-faced, spiny-pelted, naked-tailed North American cousins.

It's worth mentioning that the Aussie brushtail (_Trichosurus vulpecula_) is a pest in many urban areas in Australia. Brushtails are nocturnal and often take up residence in roofs and attics - resulting in sleepless nights for many suburban Aussies. They are also known to raid trash cans. As a native Australian species, it is illegal to kill them - the possums have to be trapped and moved elsewhere. And do they ever come back? For a free meal and accommodation - you bet they do.

For some unknown reason (unknown to me anyway), _Trichosurus vulpecula_ was introduced from Australia into New Zealand (NZ) by British colonists. Now, as any New Zealand conservationist will tell you (at length) the Aussie brushtail is now one of the most insidious pests on NZ. The amount of native NZ vegetation a brushtail can (and does) consume per year is astonishing. It's one of a long list of feral and introduced mammals currently wreaking havoc on NZ's forests. The British are, of course, to blame. :-)

In revenge, the New Zealanders stole all the vowels from the English language.



Timothy J. Williams

USDA/ARS Researcher
Agronomy Hall
Iowa State University
Ames IA 50014

Phone: 515 294 9233
Fax:   515 294 3163

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