Possum, Mountain Pygmy

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Possum, mountain pygmy

Burramys parvus

phylum: Chordata

class: Mammalia

order: Marsupialia

family: Burramyidae

status: Endangered, IUCN Endangered, ESA

range: Australia

Description and biology

The mountain pygmy possum is a small marsupial (mammal whose young continue to develop after birth in a pouch on the outside of the mother's body). It has an average head and body length of 4 to 5 inches (10 to 13 centimeters) and weight of just 1 to 2 ounces (28 to 57 grams). Its 5.5-inch (14-centimeter) tail is prehensile, meaning it can hold onto items such as tree limbs by wrapping around them. The animal is covered with brownish gray fur that ends at the base of its tail.

Nocturnal (active during the night), the mountain pygmy possum forages on the ground and in trees for seeds, fruit, leaves, and insects. It is the only marsupial that stores seeds for use during the winter.

Male and female mountain pygmy possums mate in late October and early November. After a gestation (pregnancy) period of only 13 to 16 days, a female mountain pygmy possum

gives birth to a litter of four. The young remain in the mother's pouch for at least three weeks and are nursed for up to nine weeks.

Habitat and current distribution

Mountain pygmy possums inhabit the mountains of eastern Victoria and southeastern New South Wales in Australia. The animals are most often found at elevations between 5,000 and 6,000 feet (1,525 and 1,830 meters), living among the loose stones or rocky debris at the base of a slope or cliff. Biologists (people who study living organisms) believe around 900 of these animals exist in the wild.

History and conservation measures

Before the mid-1960s, the mountain pygmy possum was known only from fossilized remains found in New South Wales. A live mountain pygmy possum was then found and identified in Victoria. Further animals were later found in New South Wales.

The main threat to the mountain pygmy possum is habitat destruction caused by the development of ski resorts. It is also preyed upon by cats and foxes.

Mountain pygmy possums are protected in the Bogong National Park in Victoria and the Mount Kosciusko National Park in New South Wales.