The honey possum, also known by the native names tait and noolbenger, is a tiny Australian marsupial and unique to Western Australian Banksia woodlands. This mouse-sized marsupial lives on a diet of nectar and pollen. It can drink 7 ml of nectar a day, which would be like a human drinking 50 litres of soft drink! It weighs just 7 to 10 grams and has a tail (88 to 100mm) that's longer than its head and body combined!
The Honey Possum is endemic to the biodiversity hotspot of south-west of Western Australia. Feeding solely on nectar and pollen, honey possums play a crucial role in pollinating native plants in the south west.
The honey possum is mainly nocturnal, but will come out to feed during daylight in cooler weather. Generally, though, it spends the days asleep in a shelter of convenience: a rock cranny, a tree cavity, the hollow inside of a grass tree, or an abandoned bird nest. When food is scarce, or in cold weather, it becomes torpid to conserve energy.
They feed on banksias, bottle-brushes, heaths, grass trees and kangaroo paws. Females give birth to two to three young – joeys – at any time of year, whenever food is abundant. At birth, they are the smallest of any mammal, weighing 0.005 g. Nurturing and development within the pouch lasts for about 60 days, after which they emerge covered in fur and with open eyes, weighing some 2.5 g. They stop nursing at around 11 weeks, and start making their own homes. Although the gestation period of a honey possum is quite short, about three weeks, they only raise about four to six young a year in their natural habitat.
Honey Possums have no means of protection and being largely ground dwelling they are highly vulnerable. Factors that threaten them include fire, habitat changes caused by declining rainfall and die-back, and predation by birds and feral animals such as foxes and cats. In spite of set-backs and ongoing environmental changes the endearing and diminutive Honey Possum is not listed as endangered. Honey possums have a typical lifespan between one and two years.
If a baby or adult possum is found out in the open during day light hours it means something is wrong with the animal and they will require capturing and assessment by an experienced carer.
Baby possums found without their mother should come into care if they are to survive. Juvenile possums may venture short distances from their mothers so observation is necessary of the possum to see if their mother is close by.
Most injured or orphaned possums are found on the ground. You can catch them by throwing a towel over them and scooping them up. Place one hand at neck and the other at base of tail (if there are no spinal injuries). If spinal injuries leave possum in the position it has chosen to be in and lift into carrier without changing its chosen position.
Do not lift a possum from under its front legs like a baby. Always have their full body-weight supported by one hand under their rear and another holding them upright but slightly curled around the chest cavity. Minimising the possum's shock and stress is vitally important as shock is often the number one cause of death in injured possums. Shock is the loss of heat and fluids from the body, which is a natural response to injury. Interaction with humans causes additional stress to an injured animal and this can kill an already shocked possum.
If you find a baby possum please take it to one of our carers as soon as possible as young possums need regular milk feeds. We do not recommend that you attempt to raise the possum yourself, unless you are a member of a wildlife care organisation such as Fauna Rescue.
Young possums have very specialised needs and need specialised equipment. Depending on the age it could need hourly feeds and the longer they are without milk the more their chances of survival decrease.
HideAway Haven is a luxury 5 star, award winning hosted bed and breakfast accommodation in Albany, on the Amazing South Coast of Western Australia. We love creating memories for our guests. Our passion is also sustainability and the care of our precious wildlife.