Animal Info - Mountain Pygmy Possum

(Other Name: Broom's Pygmy-possum, Burramys, Lirón Marsupial, Souris-opossum de Burramys, Souris-opossum des Montagnes)

Burramys parvus

Status: Endangered


Contents

1. Profile (Picture)
2. Tidbits
3. Status and Trends (IUCN Status, Countries Where Currently Found, Population Estimates, History of Distribution, Threats and Reasons for Decline)
4. Data on Biology and Ecology (Weight, Habitat, Age to Maturity, Birth Season, Birth Rate, Early Development, Diet, Behavior, Social Organization, Age and Gender Distribution)
5. References


Profile

Pictures: Mountain Pygmy Possum #1 (7 Kb JPEG) (Terrambiente); Mountain Pygmy Possum #2 (47 Kb JPEG) and Mountain Pygmy Possum #3 (53 Kb JPEG) (Mus. Vict.)

The mountain pygmy possum, a marsupial, is a small (45g/1.5oz) possum that lives in alpine and subalpine regions of Australia at altitudes between 1400 - 2200 m (4600 - 7200'). It is terrestrial, feeding on seeds, fruits and insects. It is nocturnal and sleeps in a nest during the day.

Previously known only from fossils, the mountain pygmy possum was discovered to be alive in 1966. As of 1992, there were two geographically isolated populations, one each in Victoria and New South Wales, Australia.

Long-term climatic change involving increasing aridity and adverse vegetation changes probably caused its overall decline. Factors caused by man include habitat loss through ski resort development and predation by introduced cats and foxes. There are also possible impacts associated with 100 years of vegetation modification caused by grazing and burning in alpine and subalpine areas.


Tidbits

*** The mountain pygmy possum was known only from fossil remains until a living specimen was discovered on Mt. Hotham in the Victorian Alps, Australia in 1966.

*** The fact that adult males and females live apart from each other except during the breeding season has necessitated the building of ‘possum underpasses' which allow males to join females in areas where the two habitats have been separated by roads.

*** To help it survive in its extreme environment, the mountain pygmy possum can enter a state of torpor when it becomes extremely cold. These periods of hibernation may last up to a week at a time and are interspersed with periods of feeding.


Status and Trends

IUCN Status:

Countries Where the Mountain Pygmy Possum Is Currently Found:

2004: Occurs in Australia (Victoria and New South Wales) (IUCN 2004).

Population Estimates:

[Note: Figures given are for wild populations only.]

History of Distribution:

Previously known only from fossils found in New South Wales and Victoria, the mountain pygmy possum was discovered to be alive in 1966. It occurs in Victoria and New South Wales, Australia. As of 1992, there were two geographically isolated populations: Mt. Bogong - Mt. Higginbotham (Victoria) and Kosciusko NP (New South Wales), within the altitude range of 1400 - 2200 m (4600 - 7200'). Within the extent of occurrence, it is restricted to 10 sq km (3.4 sq mi) of habitat excluding an unknown area around Mt. Buller-Stirling (yet to be fully investigated) where the species was recently discovered (Maxwell et al. 1996).

Distribution Map (4 Kb GIF) (Maxwell et al. 1996)

Threats and Reasons for Decline:

Long-term climatic change involving increasing aridity and adverse vegetation changes probably caused its overall decline. Factors caused by man include habitat loss through ski resort development and predation by introduced cats and foxes. There are also possible impacts associated with 100 years of vegetation modification caused by grazing and burning in alpine and subalpine areas.


Data on Biology and Ecology

Weight:

The mountain pygmy possum's weight averages 45 g (1.5 oz).

Habitat:

It is found at altitudes of 1400 - 2200 m (4600 - 7200'), in the alpine and subalpine zones. Its distribution correlates with glacial boulder-rock screes. A variety of vegetation over rocks is present, most distinctive being heathland. The shrub cover at lower altitudes is dense and there are some trees, usually snow gums.

Age to Maturity:

Wild females have been known to breed in their first year, although some males seem to take at least two years to reach breeding condition.

Birth Season:

November and December.

Birth Rate:

Usually four young are born.

Early Development:

Young of the mountain pygmy possum vacate the pouch when they are only a few weeks old and are thereafter left in a nest. The nest is built by the female, mainly with thin-stemmed grasses from standing tussocks, which it carries to the nest in its curled-up tail. The young reach full size within five months.

Diet:

Seeds, fruit and insects.

Behavior:

The mountain pygmy possum is terrestrial and nocturnal and sleeps in a nest during the day.

Social Organization:

For most of the year the males and females appear to live apart from each other. The males ‘migrate' to the female's habitat in order to breed and then return to their habitat when the young are being weaned.

Age and Gender Distribution:

In 1991, 80% of the breeding adults were estimated to be females. This may be due to the fact that adult females permanently inhabit the best locations on the rocky slopes while the males live on the margins. The areas occupied by the females can support a greater population and they have a better chance than the males of surviving more than one season.


References

Arkive, Burbidge & McKenzie 1989, Burton & Pearson 1987, Clark et al. 1991, Flannery 1990, IUCN 1994, IUCN 1996, IUCN 2000, IUCN 2003a, IUCN 2004, Kennedy 1992, Maxwell et al. 1996, Mus. Vict., Nowak & Paradiso 1983, Oryx 1966a, Oryx 1986, Terrambiente


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Last modified: January 2, 2005;

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