Pseudochirulus mayeripygmy ringtail

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Geographic Range

Pseudochirulus mayeri is endemic to the island of New Guinea. It inhabits montane forests in the Central Cordillera highlands, from the Wissel Lake region in the Indonesian province of Papua (Irian Jaya), east to Mount Hagen in Papua New Guinea`s Western Highland Province. Its range includes Mount Wilhelm, Weyland Range and the Hellwig Mountains. ("Pseudochirulus mayeri", 2005; "Ringtail and greater gliding possums", 2004; Flannery, 1994; Flannery, 1995; Husson, 1964; Meredith, et al., 2010; Nowak, 1999)

Habitat

Pseudochirulus mayeri is exclusively arboreal and can be found in Montane forests in the central New Guinea highlands, which has high tree diversity, including Nothofagus, Myrtaceae, Elaecarpaceae, and conifers ranging from 20 to 30 meters in height. It can be found at elevations ranging from 1,200 meters to 4,200 meters above sea level and is most common in forests between 2,000 meters and below 3,900 meters. ("Pseudochirulus mayeri", 2005; "Ringtail and greater gliding possums", 2004; "Ringtails, Pygmy Possums, Gliders", 1984; Flannery, 1994; Flannery, 1995; Husson, 1964; Meredith, et al., 2010; Nowak, 1999)

  • Range elevation
    1,200 to 4,000 m
    to ft
  • Average elevation
    above 2,000- below 3,900 m
    ft

Physical Description

Pygmy ringtail possums are distinguished by their small size. They are sexually dimorphic with females being larger than males. Males weigh from 115 to 178 grams, with an average of 149 grams. Females weigh from 105 to 206 grams, with an average of 154.5 grams. Male body length (including head, body, and tail) ranges from 318 to 369 mm with an average length of 344 mm. Females range in length from 330 to 400 mm, with a mean of 372 mm (Flannery,1994; Flannery,1995). Their fur is cinnamon brown to dark brown (Husson,1964). Another way to distinguish pygmy ringtail possums from other Pseadochirulus spp. is their drab coloration; however, when moving, their bluish-gray undercoat becomes visible. They have an opposable first toe on their hind feet, and their second and third toes are syndactylus (Stonehouse and Gilmore, 1977). While the dorsal surface of their prehensile tail is covered with thick brown hair, the underside of their tail is hairless and calloused. Coat color is the same across genders and age classes. ("Ringtail and greater gliding possums", 2004; "Ringtails, Pygmy Possums, Gliders", 1984; Flannery, 1994; Flannery, 1995; Husson, 1964; Nowak, 1999; Stonehouse and Gilmore, 1977)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    105 to 206 g
    3.70 to 7.26 oz
  • Average mass
    154.5 g
    5.44 oz
  • Range length
    318 to 400 mm
    12.52 to 15.75 in

Reproduction

Reproductive and mating habits of Pseudochirulus mayeri are relatively unknown. Although they are solitary animals, they appear to form temporary bonds during breeding, with males accompanying females during estrus. They mate year-round and are either monogamous or polygynous. Mating systems are determined according to population densities and resource availability. ("Ringtail and greater gliding possums", 2004; "Ringtails, Pygmy Possums, Gliders", 1984; Flannery, 1994; Flannery, 1995; Husson, 1964; Nowak, 1999; Stonehouse and Gilmore, 1977; Tyndale-Biscoe, 1973)

Little is know of the general reproductive behaviour of Pseudochirulus mayeri. Although it breeds year round, the number of offspring born peaks in April and May (Nowak,1999; Tyndale-Biscoe,1973). Females have 4 mammae but only 2 are functional. Despite its ability to raise two young at once, only one offspring has been observed at a time, either pouched or on the mother's back. Offspring emerge from the mother's pouch around 120 days old. Weaning age has not been documented; however, its close relatives, the Herbert River ringtail (Pseudochirulus herbertensis) and the common ringtail (Pseudocheirus peregrines), are weaned by 150 to 180 days old. In general, ringtail possums reach sexual maturity at one year old (Tyndale-Biscoe,1973). Length of gestation is unknown, however, the average for most marsupials is 9 to 13 days. ("Ringtail and greater gliding possums", 2004; "Ringtails, Pygmy Possums, Gliders", 1984; Flannery, 1995; Husson, 1964; Nowak, 1999; Stonehouse and Gilmore, 1977; Tyndale-Biscoe, 1973)

  • Breeding season
    year-round breeding but peaks in April and May
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2
  • Average number of offspring
    1
  • Range gestation period
    9 to 13 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    one years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    one years

After a relatively short gestational period (9 to 13 days), offspring move to the mother's pouch where development will continue for the next 4 to 5 months (Nowak,1999). Juveniles start venturing out of their mother`s pouch around 120 days, however, offspring continue nursing until around 155 days old. After 4 to 5 months, juveniles leave their mother's pouch to ride on her back. After a short time, mothers begin to leave juveniles in the nest in increasing intervals. Males take no part in raising offspring. ("Ringtail and greater gliding possums", 2004; "Ringtails, Pygmy Possums, Gliders", 1984; Flannery, 1994; Husson, 1964; Nowak, 1999; Stonehouse and Gilmore, 1977; Tyndale-Biscoe, 1973)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

The average life span of Pseudochirulus mayeri in the wild is 4 to 5 years. Lifespan of captive individuals is unknown. ("Ringtail and greater gliding possums", 2004)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    4 to 5 years

Behavior

Pygmy ringtails are nocturnal, solitary, arboreal herbivores. Often, they construct dreys (i.e., nest) in the forks of trees, less then four meters off the ground. Dreys are made of moss, lichens and other foliage. Pygmy ringtails return to their drey to rest during the day, during which they enter a state of partial torpor. (Flannery, 1994; Flannery, 1995)

Home Range

Home-range size of pygmy ringtails is unknown. They are not territorial but engage in active avoidance. They are solitary, but female territories are often adjacent to one another. Male territories do not overlap with those of other male's but do overlap with female territories. They are slow moving and small and do not travel far from their drey at night. There are four species of Pseadocheirid found in New Guinea. Although the home ranges of heterospecifics may overlap, it appears that elevation determines zoographic preference, which differs according to animal size and nesting habits (Meredith et.al.,2010). ("Ringtail and greater gliding possums", 2004; "Ringtails, Pygmy Possums, Gliders", 1984; Flannery, 1995; Meredith, et al., 2010)

Communication and Perception

The primary mode of communication for pygmy ringtails is olfactory. They establish home ranges and display reproductive status via feces and pheromones. Males have a sternal gland which secretes pheromones to deter other males. Although pygmy ringtails are generally quiet, young use a twitter-like call when in search of their mother and a make a screeching noise as an alarm call. ("Ringtail and greater gliding possums", 2004; Tyndale-Biscoe, 1973)

Food Habits

Pygmy ringtails are arboreal folivores. They are the only member of Pseudicheiridae to eat pollen and fungus. They have the largest stomach volume to body size ratio of the ringtails (Flannery,1995). Natives report seeing pygmy ringtails eating epiphytic moss and lichens. Although they are considered arboreal folivores, they also eat ferns. In captivity, they often prefer sugar water (Flannery,1994; Flannery,1995). They have selenodont molars, which are ideal for shredding ingested foliage, and large incisors, which are ideal for clipping forage from plants. Like other ringtail possum species, pygmy ringtails have enlarged cecum, which increases gut the retention time of ingested forage. Increased gut retention times make it possible for gut bacteria to breakdown plant tissue in order to obtain greater nutritional value. Pymgy ringtails are also coprophagic, which helps retain bacteria and nutrients. ("Ringtail and greater gliding possums", 2004; "Ringtails, Pygmy Possums, Gliders", 1984; Flannery, 1994; Flannery, 1995; Meredith, et al., 2010; Nowak, 1999)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • pollen
  • bryophytes
  • lichens
  • Other Foods
  • fungus

Predation

Owls (Strigiformes) are the primary predators of Pseudochirulus mayeri. Their jaws are often recovered from owl pellets in rocky outcroppings near the Porgera Reservoir (Helgen,2007). Owl species that are known to prey upon P. mayeri consist of the greater sooty owl (Tyto tenebricosa), eastern grass-owl (Tyto longimembris), rufous owl (Ninox rufa) and the Papuan hawk-owl (Uroglaux dimorpha). ("Barn-owls to Hummingbirds", 1999; Helgen, 2007)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Little is known of the potential ecosystem roles filled by pygmy ringtail. However, they are an important prey species for owls throughout their range. Although pygmy ringtails are folivores, they are likely too few and too small to significantly reduce foliage. (Flannery, 1994; Flannery, 1995)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Pseudochirulus mayeri is commonly hunted by indigenous peoples throughout their range. (Helgen, et al., 2008)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Pseudochirulus mayeri on humans. ("Ringtail and greater gliding possums", 2004; Flannery, 1994; Flannery, 1995)

Conservation Status

Pygmy ringtails are considered a species of "least concern" by the IUCN. They are widespread and locally abundant. Although they are commonly hunted throughout their native range, it is not considered to be a major threat to their survival. ("Pseudochirulus mayeri", 2005; Helgen, 2007)

Contributors

Lucy Hatfield (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Stefanie Stainton (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Christopher Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, John Berini (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

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

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

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

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.

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

forest

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

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

island endemic

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

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

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

nocturnal

active during the night

pheromones

chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

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

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

References

1999. Barn-owls to Hummingbirds. Pp. 67, 74, 231, 239 in J Hoyo, A Elliott, J Sargatal, eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 5, 1 Edition. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.

2005. Pseudochirulus mayeri. Pp. 52 in D Wilson, D Reeder, eds. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, Vol. 1, 3 Edition. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

2004. Ringtail and greater gliding possums. Pp. 113-123 in D Kleiman, V Geist, M McDade, eds. Grzimek`s Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. Volume 13/ Mammals 11, 2 Edition. Detroit: Gale.

1984. Ringtails, Pygmy Possums, Gliders. Pp. 856-861 in D Macdonald, ed. The Encyclopedia of Mammals, Vol. 1, 1 Edition. New York: Facts on File Publications.

Flannery, T. 1995. Mammals of New Guinea. New York: Cornell University Press.

Flannery, T. 1994. Possums of the World, a Monograph of the Phalangeroidea. Chatswood: GEO Production.

Helgen, K., C. Dickman, L. Salas. 2008. "Pseudochirulus mayeri" (On-line). The IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species. Accessed February 18, 2011 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/40640/0.

Helgen, K. 2007. The mammal fauna of the Kaijende Hightlands, Enga Province, Papua New Guinea. RAP bulletin of the Biological Assessment 45, chapt. 4: 52-68. Accessed August 02, 2010 at http://www.bioone.org/doi/pdf/10.1896/978-1-934151-08-2.52.

Husson, A. 1964. Notes on the Genus Pseudocheirus Ogilby(Mammalia, Marsupialia) from New Guinea. Zoologische Medelingen, 39/53: 555-572. Accessed August 02, 2010 at http://www.repository.naturalis.nl/document/150207.

Meredith, R., M. Mendoza, K. Roberts, M. Westerman, M. Springer. 2010. A Phylogeny and Timescale for the Evolution Of Pseadocheiridea(Marsupial: Diprotodontia) in Australia and New Guinea. Journal of Mammal Evolution, 17/2: 75-99. Accessed August 02, 2010 at http://www.springerlink.com/content/gh598130318762u5/fulltext.pdf.

Nowak, R. 1999. New guinean and Queensland Ringtailed Possums. Pp. 132-133 in Walker`s Mammals of the World, Vol. 1, 6 Edition. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Stonehouse, B., D. Gilmore. 1977. The Biology of Marsupials. Baltimore: University Park Press.

Tyndale-Biscoe, H. 1973. Life of Marsupials. New York: American Elsevier Publishing Company,Inc..