Possum Fever

A little background about this post before we get into the guts of it. Jo and I had a holiday planned since May (I'm writing this in Nov). You know the score - vacation - rest, relaxation - nothing to do but to do what ya like.

All was excitement and smiles in the lead up ... until just a couple of nights before we were due to leave - I got a sore throat. No biggy, I decided, just a tickle - next day it was a worse. Until by the time we were loading up I felt about as energised as road kill.

Still nothing was going to stand in our way and off we went - heading for the tablelands near Atherton to enjoy a few days of wildlife bothering and each other ...

Unfortunately by the time we arrived - about the only thing that gave me any enjoyment was the thought that at least I'd die in a beautiful part of the country. I was miserable. A rash developed on my feet, my throat had a hacksaw blade in it, someone had thrown sand in my eyes and I was about as weak as a Wallaby front row.

The place where we were staying, (a whole post on it is in the works) was everything I hoped it would be secluded, quiet - and full of wildlife potential. In short, it was paradise. Which of course only made me feel worse as I sat on the deck in a blanket and shivered, squinting out at the wonderful bio-diversity I knew I was missing. And poor Jo. I'm not a very good patient - in fact at one point Jo asked if I thought I'd be able to handle a little pick me up:

... 'perhaps a shot of vodka and lemon for the throat'.

"Keep the lemon, hold the vodka - but feel free to shoot me" was my less than gracious reply.

Sigh - sorry Jo.

Anyway, that's how the holiday began - and I'd like to tell you that as the days past I felt better. But no, even as I write this I'm full of aches and pains and general blahdom. And yes, I've been to a Dr - and no, they don't know what's wrong - more tests are required apparently ...

Still, I'm sure that eventually I'll be fine (these things can only go one of two ways I suppose). So chin up and all that right?. Right.

Righto - with my whinging out of the way let's get on with it.

Unusually for an Australian wildlife blog there are a group of animals that I hardly mention. The marsupials. And that's because I rarely see them, and when I do, I generally don't have a camera. It probably doesn't help that, for the most part, I'm looking for little critters or bumbling round trying to find frogs/snakes etc.

All that changed on our first night away.

As dusk fell an absolutely deafening cacophony of insect sounds welcomed the approaching night. There was buzzing and clicking and rasping to gladden even my self-pitying heart (although it didn't do much for the bloody headache - sorry, I'll stop going on). I settled back, closed my eyes for a bit and let the sounds wash over me (recording them on my phone - badly as it turns out, sorry for the low volume). Within 15 mins or so the sounds died down - and after a few moments I heard Jo gasp. I carefully opened one bleary eye, looking in the direction of the rafters Jo was pointing to.

The noise we'd just heard was a 'possum alarm' (click below to listen) and right on cue one had appeared.

The remarkable Green-grocer cicada is responsible for much of the noise

Well, that was it as far as I was concerned. At deaths door or not, I was getting some shots - keeling over would just have to wait.

What follows is a selection of pics from our first encounter with these charming if mildly felonious characters ...

Coppery Brushtail Possum: (Trichosurus vulpecular johnstonii)

The wet fur on the chest indicates scent glands for marking territory etc

A little bread ...

Perhaps some wine?

A quick wash 

... followed by a little romance

Yes, I know - I'm being egregiously anthropomorphic. As it does pay to bear in mind that these are wild animals. Habituated to humans, obviously. However, they're not pets. And it's about here that I need to make an admission.

I'm a hypocrite.

I don't know how many times I've said that I do not believe in feeding wild animals, and I don't. I think that feeding wild animals is probably injurious to the well-being of those animals in the long-term.

Look at it this way.

When wild animals are fed, natural inhibitors that keep populations in check are removed (i.e. the seasonal availability of food resources). This means that populations of certain animals become artificially increased.

This surely causes unintended (and probably unobserved), pressure on other animals, plants and/or even whole bio-systems.

Another issue is that it may weaken the population as a whole. Animals that may have died as a result of say contracting a disease could, conceivably, linger indefinitely along-side healthy individuals. Thus exposing the healthy to pathogens for much longer periods.

So what's my excuse?.

I don't have one I'm afraid.

Except to say that I'm human. And when one plucky individual settled on my lap for a scratch behind the ear ... well.

In the case of the little lady guiltily munching away on that bit of bread over Jo's camera, she snaffled that on her own (that pic is one of my all time favourites - it wasn't 'staged'). That's simply where she decided to consume her ill-gotten gains. I'm even considering entering it into a photocomp (full size, it looks quite good - if I do say so myself).

Plus - just how many people can claim to have been 'high-fived' by a possum - well, Jo can ;)

"A bloody grape?!" - "Gimme five darlin" ... 

I may also be over-thinking this. I have a habit of doing that ... so moving on ...

We also found this guy - beautifully hidden in the rain-forest. Just look at how the colours and patterns on the animals fur blend with the bark, leaves and lichen.

Green ringtail possum (Pseudochirops archeri)

And finally, just to completely blow my tiny mind. A monotreme. The maddeningly elusive (not to mention camera shy), platypus.

Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus)

Okay, so not the best pic. Believe me, I could go into a whole spiel about camera settings, and that I wasn't expecting it and how, actually - it's all Trump's fault ...

But I've spieled enough for one post. I consider myself very fortunate indeed to have observed this ancient mammal as it industriously paddled around its home. And without question, we will be revisiting this animal down the track ...

The male platypus has two 'seasonally' active venomous spurs on its hindlegs. It's thought that they use these in combat with rival males.

However, I wonder if they may be a residual defensive weapon against predators that are now extinct, as Australia's other monatrem, the short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) also has spurs (although there doesn't appear to be any venom gland associated with them any longer). Of course if this was the case why doesn't the female also have such spurs? ... and perhaps more importantly, why seasonal?.

Another groovy little wildlife mystery eh?.

Okay, well - it's mid afternoon, which at the moment for me means it's time for a nap (it's all just a bit bloody ridiculous ...) but what can ya do? so - 'till next time, take care - Paul.

Marsupials are any members of the mammalian infraclass Marsupialia. All extant marsupials are endemic to Australasia and the Americas. A distinctive characteristic common to these species is that most of the young are carried in a pouch. Well-known marsupials include kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, possums, opossums, wombats, Tasmanian devils, and the recently extinct thylacines. Others include the numbat, the bandicoot, the bettong, the bilby, the quoll, and the quokka.

Marsupials represent the clade originating from the last common ancestor of extant metatherians. Like other mammals in the Metatheria, they give birth to relatively undeveloped young that often reside with the mother in a pouch, for a certain amount of time. Close to 70% of the 334 extant species occur on the Australian continent (the mainland, Tasmania, New Guinea and nearby islands). The remaining 100 are found in the Americas — primarily in South America, but thirteen in Central America, and one in North America, north of Mexico ^


  1. That "noise" is produced by this cricket. http://bunyipco.blogspot.com.au/2014/08/constant-cacophany.html

    Isn't it wonderful!!
    Love the "high fives"

    1. Thanks Dave, I added the cicada pic before I had seen your comment (the powers that be have changed the comment system and I wasn't aware you'd left one). As always, I appreciate you taking the time to fill in the blanks -

      Hope all's well :)


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