Australian possum smashes record!
I have to admit to a liking for possums. Yes, I’m a New Zealander and over in kiwi land we don’t like these furry marsupials. They’re a pesky critter and last time I heard there were around 70 million possums in New Zealand. With 4 million or so people, that’s about 20 possums per New Zealander. In NZ, you can buy possum products, heck you can buy them online if you’re worried about possums wreaking havoc on native bush and birds (yep, they do).
But in Australia, possums are almost a national treasure. They are protected under the provisions of various State laws because they are a native species and it’s quite common to have a possum or two hanging out in your backyard. Because I live in the bush, whenever I turn on the floodlights to illuminate the gum trees at night, dozens of eyes blink back at me (possums, not aliens!). I have a family of possums that live in a large, very beautiful gum tree, adjacent to our top storey balcony.
So I’m rather proud of a particular Australian possum. New Scientist (no 2625, p20) has a report of an eastern pygmy possum (Cercartetus nanus) who stuffed itself full of food in a laboratory at the University of New England, Armidale, then curled up and promptly went to sleep for 367 days. A few mammals, such as squirrels, hibernate for up to six months and a western jumping mouse once konked out for 320 days.
But a little pygmy possum outdid the lot of them. And the little critter could also be considered the world’s first “green possum” because during its 367 day snooze, the possum used just one-fortieth of the energy it does when its awake and active. Clearly, the possum fraternity will do well when Australia is further in the grip of drought and food is less available. They’ll just curl up and wait it out.