Almost everyone can recognise a brushtail possum, all bright eyes, bushy black tail and little pink nose. They are among Australia’s most attractive and adaptable animals and are found the length and breadth of the continent, save in the arid interior. [Ed note: unfortunately killed in mass numbers in Tasmania].
Would you recognise the animal in the accompanying (colour) photo, as a brushtail? Most people would think him a new species or an albino brushtail, but he is your genuine neighbourhood brushtail who thumps over your roof at night and breathes so loudly and lasciviously he could be the caller Telstra warns you against and advises immediate hanging up.
He just happens to be a golden version of the brushtail you see after dark. His lovely colour (which ranges from gold cream to bronze gold) is the result of a genetic mutation occasionally seen south of Sydney (never north) and most commonly in Tasmania.
It is not a case of albinism, which is caused by a lack of pigmentation. These brushtails do not have the identifying red eyes and limited sight of the albino. They have the same bright blackberry eyes and pink noses as their grey brothers. They reproduce annually and their offspring may or may not carry the golden gene.
In the Southern Tablelands and on the Monaro there have been random sightings of golden brushtails. Wildcare actually had the pleasure of rehabilitating a handsome young golden male in 2016. The gene therefore exists in the local population so, should you see a grey mother carrying a golden back-baby, you need not worry.
He is a perfectly healthy youngster who will grow to live a normal brushtail life. He will sleep in a tree hollow all day and dine on moths (like all possums, he luuurves bogongs), bottlebrushes, all varieties of wattle, correa, lillipilli, hakea and every kind of flowering eucalypt, as well as the new tips of all of gums, every evening.
Sadly, his very obvious golden colour makes him more susceptible to predators, so his life is generally shorter than that of the usual grey brushtail. However, we can minimise the risk to this beautiful animal by keeping cats indoors at night, locking in our chooks to deter roaming foxes and ensuring our dogs are leashed or indoors overnight.
To make your property possum friendly, put a possum box in a tree near your house, plant lots of flowering native plants and accept that a certain percentage of your figs, stone fruits, apples and pears are a small price to pay for the pleasure of watching possums play in the evening. You might even be lucky enough to see a mother with a golden baby! Contact Wildcare 0n 6299 1966 for any wildlife help and advice.
PS: Thank you everyone who has donated to Wildcare’s current fundraiser to help cover the cost of saving wildlife after the Mt Fairy, Sutton & Carwoola bushfires. You can still help out by donating to: CBA, Wildcare Queanbeyan Inc account 10216803, BSB: 062-593. Include donor details and email firstname.lastname@example.org to get a tax-deductible receipt.
Jane Baker & Philip Machin