Pygmy possum breeding frenzy

News release
04 May 2018

Five pygmy possum babies in a nest box. Photo credit: Elisa Sparrow

Five pygmy possum babies in a nest box. Photo credit Elisa Sparrow 

Nesting boxes for pygmy possums on the Fleurieu Peninsula have proved irresistible to the tiny creatures, with a recent monitoring trip ending with a record head count.

Natural Resources Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges staff and members of several Friends of Parks groups have been monitoring the boxes since they were installed in early 2017 to make collecting data on these cryptic marsupials easier.

Natural Resources AMLR district ecologist Dr Elisa Sparrow said it had become common to see between 10 and 20 western pygmy possums on monitoring trips.

"On our most recent trip to one of the parks we observed at least 37, which is a record for us. Every female had multiple babies and they are breeding like crazy in the boxes," she said.

The monitoring team examined 30 nest boxes and saw 14 adults, seven juveniles and 10 pinkies (furless babies), as well as at least six young in pouches.

The nesting boxes were installed at four parks in the region and some are monitored by cameras.

Ecologists know very little about the distribution of the tiny nomadic possums in the region, where they have been classified as endangered. They are about the size of a mouse and it is believed their predators include foxes, cats and owls.

"We do know they breed all year round and we will keep monitoring to see if that is related to vegetation or other factors," Dr Sparrow said.

"Monitoring them has always been difficult in the wild because they are small, fast and nocturnal, therefore rarely seen.

"They rely on tree hollows for shelter and breeding, so the nest boxes have given them a more secure home that can’t be invaded by most other creatures, due to the size of the entrance.

"We’re still not sure of the extent of the population in the parks in our region, so the information we can get from the 90 boxes will be invaluable."

More information

Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges