Phalangeridaebrushtail possums and cuscuses

Members of this marsupial family make up a fairly diverse group of around 18 species placed in 6 genera. They inhabit Australia, and New Guinea and several smaller islands. These are medium-sized animals with a stocky and powerful body, short face, eyes directed forward, and a prominent rhinarium. They have a relatively long tail, which is heavily furred in some species and prehensile in most. All phalangerids are good climbers, although some tend to be semi-terrestrial. The first 2 digits of their forefeet are opposable to the other three in the more arboreal species. This is not the case for brushtail possums, which are relatively terrestrial. As is true of all members of their order, they are diprotodont and their hind feet are syndactylous.

Phalangerids have bilobed, bunodont molars. The upper third premolar is strikingly plagiaulacoid. The dental formula is 3/2, 1/0, 1/1-2, 4/4 = 34-36. Their skulls are strongly built, flattened in profile, with deep zygomatic arches.

Members of this family have a well developed marsupium that opens anteriorly. They usually give birth to a single young per litter. They are omnivores, foraging nocturnally or around dawn and dusk. One species, the brush-tailed possum ( Trichosurus vulpecula), often lives arounds houses and feeds on cultivated plants.

Technical characters

Literature and references cited

Feldhamer, G. A., L. C. Drickamer, S. H. Vessey, and J. F. Merritt. 1999. Mammalogy. Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. WCB McGraw-Hill, Boston. xii+563pp.

Marshall, L. G. 1984. Monotremes and marsupials. Pp 59-115 in Anderson, S. and J. Knox Jones, eds, Orders and Families of Recent Mammals of the World. John Wiley and Sons, NY. xii+686 pp.

Strahan, R. (ed.). 1995. Mammals of Australia. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. 756 pp.

Vaughan, T. A. 1986. Mammalogy. Third Edition. Saunders College Publishing, Fort Worth. vi+576 pp.

Vaughan, T. A., J. M. Ryan, N. J. Czaplewski. 2000. Mammalogy. Fourth Edition. Saunders College Publishing, Philadelphia. vii+565pp.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder. 1993. Mammal Species of the World, A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. 2nd edition. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington. xviii+1206 pp.


Phil Myers (author), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate