our precious opossum in the snow

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Last name: Mountain Pygmy Possum (Burramysparvus), also known as burramys

Band: Possums

Cut: Body length 11 cm, tail length 15 cm; weight 35g (post-hibernation) – 80g (pre-hibernation)

Diet: Invertebrates including the endangered Bogong Moth, native fruits and seeds.

Habitat: Limited to just three small locations on Australia’s highest peaks in the alpine zone.

Conservation state: critical danger.

Superpower: Super sleepy! These opossums hibernate 5 to 7 months each year under the snow! They are also Australia’s most impressive yo-yo dieters, losing half their weight and gaining it back every year.

Mountain pygmy opossum. Credit: Zoos Victoria

The mountain pygmy opossum is a truly unique Australian fighter. He has incredibly soft fur, big glowing eyes, an adorable pink nose fringed with whiskers, tiny but dexterous little pink hands, and a long tail that he can coil into a tight spiral.

The mountain pygmy opossum is Australia’s only mammal found exclusively in the alpine zone – on Mount Kosciusko in New South Wales, and Mount Buller and the high plains of Bogong in Victoria. Opossums hibernate 5-7 months under the snow every year, slowing their breathing and heart rate, lowering their body temperature to 2-3°C and lowering their metabolism by 98%. They curl their tails and tuck their noses into their pouches (females) or under their heart-shaped scrotums (males) for warmth, looking like tiny fluffy possum balls. During their hibernation they may lose half their body weight, but between spring and autumn they double it again.

After hibernation, the tiny opossums wake up from their big slumber, hungry for their favorite foods – and love. The males make their way from the bottom of the mountains to the highest peaks where the females wait in their springtime boudoirs. And boy, are they making up for lost time: Men and women choose multiple mates, largely based on smell and genetic dissimilarity. Females have a short pregnancy of around 13 days and give birth to up to four tiny cubs, each resembling a pink candy. As females mate with more than one male, they can give birth to litters with mixed paternity. Tiny opossum babies born at the same time can have different fathers! This is a very clever way to increase the genetic diversity of your litter. In late summer and fall, opossums stock up on invertebrates, fruits, and seeds to prepare for their freezing winters. The females stay in the best and highest habitat, while the males come back down the mountain to sleep and dream of their next love journey.

Mpp.  Credit victoria zoos
Mountain pygmy possums waking up from hibernation. Credit: Zoos Victoria

The mountain pygmy opossum is a “Lazarus” species. It was known only from the fossil record until it was rediscovered alive in a Mount Hotham ski lodge in 1966. Unfortunately, at this time introduced cats and foxes roamed its habitat, fires had raged and historic habitat destruction had taken its toll. Climate change further threatens the survival of this opossum in the snow. The mountain pygmy opossum is critically endangered with probably fewer than 2,000 opossums remaining. Luckily, passionate opossum protectors and a mountain pygmy recovery team are helping out, monitoring opossums, controlling predators, conducting captive breeding and research programs, revegetating the habitat, and constructing new tunnels. love to help males and females meet and mate. Following the recent collapse of the migratory Bogong butterfly (a key food source for mountain pygmies, recently added to the IUCN endangered species list), opossum professionals have again stepped in, stepping up surveillance, developing a complementary food called Bogong Bikkies, asking the public to log all Bogong moth sightings through Moth Tracker and turn off their lights for the Bogong Moth.

This little Aussie icon is amazing and we should all be proud of her.


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