Leadbeater's possums (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri) are small marsupials that have a tiny geographic scope. These tree-dwelling creatures reside exclusively in an isolated segment of the Australian state of Victoria. Leadbeater's possums exist nowhere else on the planet. For half a century, they were thought to have gone extinct, until they were spotted again in the early 1960s.
Leadbeater's possums are highland inhabitants, generally seen at elevations of between 1,640 and 4,921 feet. They prefer damp, mountainous forests. Leadbeater's possums appear mostly in forests that house mountain swamp gum (Eucalyptus camphora), silver wattle (Acacia dealbata), shining gum (Eucalyptus nitens) and Victorian ash trees (Eucalyptus regnans). They call for landscapes that feature plentiful thick plants and openings in trees.
Leadbeater's possums generally weigh between 3.8 and 5.8 ounces. Their bodies are usually between 6 and 6 1/2 inches long, including their heads. Their smooth and short coats are typically brownish-gray, but with lighter lower portions. Their backs feature prominent single deep brown streaks. Leadbeater's possums possess broad tails and sizable, circular ears. They are physically similar to their kin, sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps), although they have several key differences. One prominent difference is that Leadbeater's possums lack the conspicuous skin membranes that allow sugar gliders to "glide."
These nocturnal creatures consume a variety of different things, namely arthropods, honeydew and sap. They extract protein from spiders and insects such as crickets or beetles. When food is scarce in the winter, Leadbeater's possums dig under the bark of mountain ash eucalyptus trees for tree crickets. Finding protein all year helps these animals breed even in winter.
These possums follow monogamous patterns. Female Leadbeater's possums have markedly brief pregnancies, usually shorter than 20 days. Their offspring enter the world in highly helpless states, either as single births or as twins. When they're born, they rapidly retreat to their mothers' pouches, where they feed and receive protection from the outside world. The little ones remain in the cozy confines of the pouches for between 80 and 93 days. Leadbeater's possums generally experience spikes in births at two separate points throughout the year -- first between April and June and then again between October and December.
The leadbeater's possum population is in jeopardy -- and getting smaller -- for numerous reasons. Habitat destruction due to logging is a prominent factor, as are wildfires. Insufficient nesting trees are also a major dilemma for the species' future survival. They are considered to be an "endangered" group by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of Threatened Species.
- Healesville Sanctuary: Leadbeater's Possum
- Australian Government Biodiversity: Gymnobelideus Leadbeateri - Leadbeater's Possum
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Gymnobelideus Leadbeater
- EDGE: Leadbeater's Possum
- International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of Threatened Species: Gymnobelideus Leadbeateri
- Help Save Leadbeater's Possum: Facts
- Siri Stafford/Lifesize/Getty Images