The Leadbeater's Possum is only found in the Ash forests and subalpine woodlands of Victoria. Although today it is Victoria’s faunal emblem, it was thought the species was extinct until they were rediscovered in 1961.
Weighing about 135 grams, growing up to 300mm and sporting a tail that makes up nearly half of their body length, they are typically a gray-brown color with the underside more pale in comparison to their backs.
A dark stripe that runs the length of their back distinguishes them from other species of the possum family. These marsupials also have a small pouch on their underside to harbor and protect their live young for up to 85 days after birth.
Sometimes these Possums are called ‘forest fairies’ because they dart across the treetops to search for food at night. They build their nests in tree hollows and emerge at dusk to forage.
Their diet consists of two main staples: insects found behind the bark of Eucalypt trees and Wattle sap, which accounts for 80 percent of their daily energy intake.
The trees in which they live house colonies of up to 12 possums. Each colony only has one monogamous breeding pair that produces up to two young each year.
Unlike most mammal social hierarchies, this possum species is matriarchal in organisation; another distinct feature is that females are aggressive to other females, including their own daughters.
Within each possum colony, only one female is ever present and juvenile females leave the colony well before they are fully mature. In cases where more than one adult female is present within a colony, an unstable group with frequent fighting has been observed.
The result of female behavior is an extremely high male to female ratio of 3:1.
Habitat and Ecology
The only known populations are found in Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve and in Victoria’s central Highlands forest. The cold climate and high rainfall in these two areas creates diverse open forests of straight, tall eucalypt trees.
Although small, this possum species plays a big role in the ecosystem by reducing wood-boring insect populations that spread the fungi and diseases that damage trees and habitats. So, they help maintain healthy populations of our iconic eucalyptus trees – native forests which in turn supply food and habitat for many other native animals.
The plight of this species draws attention to the importance of protecting our wild landscapes. Given the vital role this possum plays in maintaining our native forests, efforts to save the Leadbeater’s Possum can help to conserve remnant communities of other native animals, including the Swamp Wallaby, Greater Glider and the Short-eared Possum.
A Grim Future
With an estimated 2000 adults left in the wild, the Leadbeater’s Possum is now listed as critically endangered. And the population decreased by almost half in the 2009 Victorian bushfires
Habitats are being destroyed by introduced animals like deer and feral cats, as well as ongoing threats from climate change through worsening floods and bushfires. To make matters worse, the Mountain Ash forest that the Leadbeater’s Possum inhabits is already critically endangered due to logging.
It can take over 150 years for a hollow tree to form and make the environment suitable for housing possum colonies, placing the survival species at heightened threat if logging continues unabated.
Help us to Conserve the Leadbeater's Possum Population
The protection of what remains of Mountain Ash forest in Victoria benefits many species, and certainly helps to prevent the extinction of the Leadbeater’s Possum. But the forest on which this Possum depends is in danger.
The previous federal government allocated millions of dollars of tax-payer funds for “preparing forest industries for the future.” This research is happening now. If this industry takes off, the future is bleak: it is the destruction of habitat for already vulnerable native animals like the Leadbeater’s Possum.
You can help us to protect the adorable Leadbeater's Possum and other Australian species that are under threat to destructive forest logging. Join our community, share this article, and support our current campaign to prevent burning Australia’s forests for power.