The Eastern Ringtail Possum is well known to many Sydney residents. Together with the Common Brushtail Possum, it has adapted well to living in close association with humans and is often seen in suburban gardens at night.
About the size of a cat, the Eastern Ringtail Possum is grey with white patches behind the eyes and on the belly, and orange-brown tinges on the tail and limbs. Its long prehensile tail has a white tip and it uses it like a fifth limb to climb and jump between connecting branches, fences and powerlines. The structure of its forefeet, with a gap between the second and third fingers, allows the possum to hold onto branches securely.
Sometimes people mistake Black Rats for Ringtail Possums. Some characteristics that help to distinguish the Eastern Ringtail Possum from the Black Rat include:
- Front teeth: Three pairs of upper incisors, one pair of lower incisors.
- Head: Rounded head with slightly bulging eyes.
- Ears: Short rounded ears with white patch behind.
- Colouring: Variable grey to near-black back, sometimes tinged red-orange, white to red-orange below; red-orange legs.
- Tail: Tapering prehensile tail with a white tip, naked underside, furred above. Carried in coil when not used.
Sometimes confused with the Black Rat.
Almost exclusively tree-dwelling, the Eastern Ringtail Possum lives in in forests, woodlands, rainforests, dense scrub and suburban gardens. During the day, the Eastern Ringtail Possum sleeps in its spherical nest or 'drey' made from grass and shredded bark. It builds the drey in a tree hole, tree fork or dense vegetation, and several individuals may share the one nest.
The Eastern Ringtail Possum is found in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
Feeding and diet
The Eastern Ringtail Possum is nocturnal and eats a variety of leaves of both native and introduced plants, as well as flowers and fruits. By eating its own faecal pellets, it digests its food twice to extract the maximum amount of nutrients. When the mother is feeding, the male carries the young on his back and cares for them.
Other behaviours and adaptations
The Eastern Ringtail Possum is the only species of possum currently known in which the male helps to care for the young.