Trichosurus johnstoniicoppery brushtail

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Geographic Range

Coppery brushtail, Trichosurus johnstonii, are found in Koombooloomba and Kuranda in northeastern Queensland, Australia. Little information is available regarding this species, as it was once considered a subspecies of silver-gray brushtail possums (common brushtails, Trichosurus vulpecula). (Flannery, 1994)

Habitat

Coppery brushtails mainly inhabit rainforest edges and tall open forests in the Atherton rainforests. (Flannery, 1994)

Physical Description

Coppery brushtail possums get their name from the coppery, reddish colored fur that covers the majority of their medium sized body. The underside is covered in a creamy, lighter colored fur than the rest of the body. The head and body size of females ranges from 400 to 470 mm, while males tend to be slightly larger, reaching lengths of 490 mm. Tail length ranges from 300 to 380 mm in females and averages 400 mm in males. The hind feet of females and males measure 53.1 to 55.7 mm and about 59.3 mm respectively. Coppery brushtails have relatively large ears from 46.3 to 49.6 mm in length. Females weigh from 1200 to 1800 g, and males average 1800 g.

Scientists use differences in skull shape to distinguish this species from silver-gray brushtail possums. (Flannery, 1994)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    1200 to 1800 g
    42.29 to 63.44 oz
  • Range length
    400 to 490 mm
    15.75 to 19.29 in

Reproduction

Little is known regarding the mating systems of coppery brushtails.

Little data is currently available regarding the reproduction of coppery brushtails. Their reproductive habits are expected to be similar to those of silver-gray brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula). Trichosurus vulpecula typically breeds twice a year, only giving birth once. Female silver-gray brushtails reach sexual maturity at 24 to 36 months of age, and males at around 48 months.

Female silver-gray brushtail possums have an estrous cycle of about 25 days. Gestation lasts an average of 17.5 days, after which a single young is born. After 4 to 5 months, the young leaves the pouch but continues to remain with the mother. At 6 to 7 months, the young is weaned, and it leaves the mother at 8 to 18 years of age. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Breeding interval
    Coppery brushtails likely breed twice a year.

Parental investment of coppery brushtails is likely similar to that of silver-gray brushtail possums. Female silver-gray brushtails carry their young in their pouch for 4 to 5 months. Young are weaned at around 6 or 7 months, but they remain with their mother until about 8 to 18 years of age. Mothers likely provide protection or nourishment for a portion of this time.

  • Parental Investment
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents

Lifespan/Longevity

The average lifespan of coppery brushtails is currently unknown. Closely related silver-gray brushtail possums, Trichosurus vulpecula, have an average lifespan of 7 years in the wild. The oldest known silver-gray brushtail lived 15.9 years in captivity. (Nowak, 1999; de Magalhaes and Costa, 2009)

Behavior

Coppery brushtail possums are arboreal and spend most of their time in trees, though they can occasionally be observed on the ground scavenging for food. They are solitary and nocturnal, making them challenging research subjects. They are most active during the first half of the night. During the day they sleep in dens, which are commonly hollowed out logs or trees. (Flannery, 1994; Procter-Gray, 1984)

Home Range

The home range of male and female coppery brushtails overlap. Males, however, are territorial, and male home ranges do not overlap with those of other males. (Walton and Richardson, 1989)

Communication and Perception

Coppery brushtails are nocturnal and have large eyes. A similar species, Trichosurus vulpecula, makes a variety of vocalizations, including alarm calls, screeches, hisses, grunts, clicks, and guttural coughs. (Nowak, 1999)

Food Habits

The diet of Trichosurus johnstonii consists mainly of leaves and other plant material. They primarily feed upon the fruit of Solanum mauritianum, the leaves of Ipomoea, and the leaves of Cape Lilac (Melia azedarach). (Procter-Gray, 1984)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • fruit
  • flowers

Predation

Known predators of Trichosurus johnstonii include barking owls, powerful owls, red foxs, cats, and domestic dogs. Coppery brushtails evade terrestrial predators by fleeing up into trees. (Nowak, 1999)

Ecosystem Roles

Coppery brushtails may act as seed dispersers, as they consume some fruits.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Coppery brushtails have small home ranges and rarely come into contact with humans. Because they are similar in appearance to other brushtails, they may be accidentally harvested for their fur. (Nowak, 1999)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Negative effects of coppery brushtails on humans have not been recorded. A similar species Trichosurus vulpecula, however, damages crops, gardens, and plantations and are considered a pest species. (Morris, et al., 2008; Nowak, 1999)

Conservation Status

Because Trichosurus johnstonii was only recently declared a separate species from Trichosurus vulpecula, little is know about its distribution. Trichosurus vulpecula is considered a species of least concern by the IUCN. Although they occur in some protected areas, T. vulpecula is considered a pest species to plantations and are frequently removed from agricultural areas. Changes in fire regime negatively affect these species. (Morris, et al., 2008)

Contributors

Trisha Meyer (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Christopher Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Gail McCormick (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

Glossary

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

arboreal

Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

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.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

endothermic

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.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

frugivore

an animal that mainly eats fruit

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

island endemic

animals that live only on an island or set of islands.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

sexual

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

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Flannery, T. 1994. Possums of the World: A Monograph of the Phalangeroidea. GEO Productions: Grant Young.

Morris, K., J. Woinarski, T. Friend, J. Foulkes, A. Kerle, M. Ellis. 2008. "Trichosurus vulpecula" (On-line). In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. Accessed September 25, 2012 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/40585/0.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Procter-Gray, E. 1984. Dietary ecology of the coppery brushtail possum, green ringtail possum and Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo in north Queensland. Pp. 129-135 in A Smith, I Hume, eds. Possums and Gliders. Sydney: Australian Mammal Society.

Walton, D., B. Richardson. 1989. Fauna of Australia. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

de Magalhaes, J., J. Costa. 2009. A database of vertebrate longevity records and their relation to other life-history traits. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 22(8): 1770-1774. Accessed September 25, 2012 at http://genomics.senescence.info/species/entry.php?species=Trichosurus_vulpecula.