Cercartetus caudatuslong-tailed pygmy possum

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Geographic Range

Widespread in New Guinea. Also found in the vicinity of Cairns, northeastern Queensland, Australia. (Collins 1973)

Habitat

Cercartetus caudatus live in temperate rainforests, at altitudes of more than 300 meters. (Strahan 1983)

Physical Description

The tail of Cercartetus caudatus is approximately 135 mm in length, and the head and body together are approximately 106 mm . The tail length varies between 128 and 151 mm; the tail can be nearly one and a half times the length of its head and body. Other characteristics include large eyes, mouse-like ears, a pouch that opens anteriorly (as in didelphids), a well-developed and opposable hallux that does not have a claw, expanded pads at the ends of the digits, quadritubercular molars, a broad, flattened skull, and three upper incisors and one lower incisor that are enlarged and procumbent. (Lawlor 1979, Ride 1970, Strahan 1983, Vaughan 1986)

  • Average mass
    30 g
    1.06 oz
    AnAge

Reproduction

The Long-tailed pygmy possum appears to breed twice a year, with young being born in January and February and also from late August to early November. An increase in the size of the testes of males observed twice a year (during the presumed breeding seasons) seems to support this observation. The female has 1-4 young at a time and has 4 teats to support these young. The gestation period of C. caudatus is unknown, but young leave the pouch when they are about 45 days old and weigh between 5 and 7 grams. (Strahan 1983)

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Average number of offspring
    2.85
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    460 days
    AnAge

Behavior

Very few specimans of C. caudatus have been observed in the wild, but several nests have been studied. The nest is more or less spherical in shape and is constructed from leaves or fern fronds. Lactating females share a nest with their offspring, but not with other adults. Several males have been found sharing a nest, as well as non-lactating females. Some nests contain four to five animals, while others contain only one. With respect to feeding habits, this species is generally found foraging for food alone, but groups of up to four have been seen as well.

It is also known that this species is arboreal and nocturnal. In cold weather, C. caudatus have been observed to become torpid, appearing stiff and cold to the touch with the lips pulled back over the teeth, resembling death. This condition has not been observed to last overnight and the adaptive significance is not known. (Strahan 1983)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Cercartetus caudatus have been found to eat nectar and insects in captivity, and may consume pollen instead of insects to meet protein needs in the wild. The dental morphology of C. cauatus (quadritubercular molars) is consistent with the insectivorous component of their diet. The lower central incisors of C. caudatus are similar in dimension to those of Gymnobellideus, which uses its lower incisors for wood gouging, suggesting that C. caudatus also uses its lower central incisors to gouge wood, looking for insects. Although not much is known about this animal, the tooth morphology, as well as an examination of several specimans' stomach contents, has shown that the Long-tailed pygmy possum is predominantly insectivorous. (Smith 1986)

Conservation Status

This species is listed under a lower risk (near threatened) category. The biggest threat to the Long-tailed pygmy possum is the destruction of rainforests, which is its natural habitat. Also, because this species is not widespread throughout Australia, any rainforest destruction in its range may have a large impact on the abundance of this animal. The Long-tailed pygmy possum is widespread in New Guinea and does not seem to be in special danger there. (Maxwell, et al. 1996)

Other Comments

The tail of C. caudatus becomes enlarged with fat as winter approaches, functioning as a fat-storage organ. (Ride 1970, Vaughan 1986)

Contributors

Kristen Schweighoefer (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Australian

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

World Map

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.

forest

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

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.

sexual

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

tactile

uses touch to communicate

References

Collins, L. R. 1973. Monotremes and Marsupials. Smithsonian Institution Press. City of Washington.

Lawlor, T. E. 1979. Handbook to the Orders and Families of Living Mammals. Mad River Press, Inc. Eureka, California.

Maxwell, S., Burbidge, A. A. & Morris, K. 1996. http://www.anca.gov.au/plants/threten/marsup7.htm

Ride, W.D.L. 1970. A Guide to the Native Mammals of Australia. Oxford University Press.

Smith, A.P. 1986. Stomach Contents of Cercartetus caudatus. Australian Mammalolgy. 9 (2).

Strahan, R. 1983. The Australian Museum Complete Book of Australian Mammals. Angus and Robertson Publishers.

Vaughan, T. A. 1986. Mammalogy, 3rd Edition. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers. New York.