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  1. 75 Photo by by Mike Trenerry

Lemuroid Ringtail Possum

Hemibelideus lemuroides

Appearance

  • Colour: brown-grey to chocolate body-fur tinged with yellow underneath. There is also a rare white form found in the Mount Lewis / Mount Carbine region.
  • The tip of its tail has no fur so it acts as a friction pad, allowing it to climb and grab objects.
  • Distinctive feature: its bright yellow eye-shine (the colour its eye reflects in the dark), although young possums have a silvery eye-shine. Its large, forward-facing eyes are adapted to night vision.
  • Size: 30 – 38 cm long body with a 30 – 35 cm long tail. 

Behaviour

  • Diet: it is a folivore, meaning it eats mainly leaves. It prefers young leaves from the Queensland maple, brown quandong and bollywood trees but will eat mature leaves before moving to another tree species. It will also eat other parts of the tree, particularly flower buds from the brown bollywood and the fleshy covering of the yellow walnut.
  • Movement: it lives in trees, most often in a family unit consisting of a male, a female and a single young. During the day they sleep in tree hollows filled with foliage. At night they forage in trees, often with other family units. They leap up to two to three metres between branches, with their limbs outstretched and their body flat, using their long tails to steer. They land quite heavily, making them easy to locate!
  • Breeding: young are born in early August and remain in their mother’s pouch for about four months, suckling milk, until November. Only one baby is raised at a time. It leaves the pouch after six or seven weeks and rides on its mother’s back for about six months (from October to April). Both parents actively care for it until it gains independence at about nine months old. However, it often remains close by its parents, even into adulthood. 

What to Observe

  • Presence
  • Courting/mating
  • Young in mother’s pouch
  • Young on mother’s back 

ClimateWatch Science Advisor

This species is particularly sensitive to temperature, and the expectation is that it will be pushed higher up the mountains as temperature increases. Any recorded sightings will be particularly valuable if they include an accurate location (GPS) so that exact altitude can be determined. The northern population, where the rare white form occurs, is particularly threatened and has already declined in number due to heat waves.

When To Look

Look at night, when they emerge to feed from August through to April

  • Young possums are born in August
  • Young can be seen in their mother’s pouch from August to November
  • Young can be seen on their mother’s back from October/November to April

Where To Look

  • Within Australia they are restricted to the Wet Tropics region of far north Queensland – above 450 metres on the Atherton Tablelands from Cardwell to Cairns, and above 900 metres on the Mt Carbine Tableland (80 kilometres north-west of Cairns). 
  • In the middle (rather than on the edge) of mature tropical rainforests. It is not commonly found in secondary or regrowth forests.
  • Look high up in trees where it leaps from branch to branch to feed. Listen for the heavy thud of its landing!

Lemuroid Ringtail Possum Occurrence Map ALA

References

Nix HA and Switzer MA (eds) 1991. Rainforest Animals: Atlas of vertebrates endemic to Australia's wet tropics. Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, Canberra.

Smith AP and Hume ID (eds) 1984. Possums and Gliders. Surrey Beatty & Sons, Sydney.

Strahan R (Ed.) 1995 The Mammals of Australia. Reed Books, Chatswood, NSW.

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  1. What Else?

    • Another possum or glider: won’t have a yellow eye-shine that is as bright. However, it can be difficult to differentiate from the Daintree Ringtail (Pseudocheirus cinereus) or sub-adult Herbert River Ringtail (Pseudocheirus herbertensis).
    • Carefully check the shape of the face for the more “dog-like” profile of the Lemuroid compared to the more conical head shape of the other two Ringtails.
  1. Did You Know?

    It is the only larger possum that leaps and is the most agile of the rainforest possums.

    It was named in 1884 by Swedish zoologist Robert Collet because its large eyes reminded him of the lemurs from Madagascar, which were common in European zoos at the time.

    Carpet Pythons and Rufous Owls are its only known predators. It is also threatened by clearing and fragmentation of rainforests, and rapidly disappears from isolated rainforest patches that are less than 80 hectares in area.