Arfak Mountain Ringtail Possums (Pseudochirulus schlegeli) of the Vogelkop Peninsula, New Guinea

by DerdriuMarriner

Lush, rugged headlands are good bets for wildlife-watching. New Guinea’s Vogelkop Peninsula has one-of-a-kind birds and butterflies. It also is home to Arfak ringtail possums.

Scientists consider New Guinea among Earth’s great unknowns.
• Economics and geography emerge as prime reasons why the world’s fourth-largest island remains mysterious into the twenty-first century.
• Explorers and settlers typically have funders to answer to or markets to seek out.

Historically, it therefore makes sound economic and geographic sense to focus energies on becoming acquainted with -- and developing -- the coast’s super-accessibly fertile lowlands and mangrove swamps over getting to know -- and exploiting -- the interior’s super-challengingly dense forests and rugged mountains.
• It means that highland wildlife traditionally is safer than lowland.
But twenty-first century dilemmas turn the future into question marks for New Guinea’s wildlife in general and Arfak Mountain ringtail possums in particular.

Vogelkop Ringtail Possum (Pseudochirulus schlegeli) range

Distribution data from IUCN Red List.
Distribution data from IUCN Red List.

 

Scientists strongly associate Arfak ringtail possums with:

  • The Arfak Mountains, which accounts for the above-mentioned common name;  
  • The Vogelkop Peninsula, which explains the alternate common name Vogelkop ringtail possum.

The colonial Dutch influence on western New Guinea continues in the common name Schlegels koeskoes (Schlegel’s ringtail possum). The designation kuskus ekor kait Arfak functions as one of the nocturnal marsupial’s local names. The list of names also includes the binomial (“two-name”) taxonomic identification Pseudochirulus schlegeli. The current classification is the culmination of 130 years of examination, interpretation, and revision. The genus name Pseudochirulus memorializes the Arfak ringtail’s human-like “false hands” and feet whose respective thumbs and big toes are graspingly opposable to the other digits.

 

The species commemorates Hermann Schlegel (June 10, 1804 - January 17, 1884), as:

  • Altenburg-born amphibian and reptile expert, 1824-;
  • National Museum of Natural History (Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie) director, 1858-;
  • Notes from the Leyden Museum journal founder, 1862-.

Its first official taxonomic description dates back to 1884, from Wymbritseradiel-born Fredericus Anna Jentink (August 20, 1844 – November 4, 1913) as:

  • Dutch bat, marsupial, and rodent expert, 1874-;
  • Hermann’s successor journal editor and museum director, 1884-.

The Jentink description and all subsequent research draw upon a paucity of:

  • Fewer than 5 known localities;
  • Less than 10 museum specimens;
  • Questionable information sources in agro-industrialists as stakeholders in reconfiguring ringtail habitats and villagers as stakeholders relieving ringtails of flesh and fur.  

 

German ornithologist Hermann Schlegel (June 10, 1804 – January 17, 1884), honored by his friend Fredericus Jentink as namesake of Arfak Mountain ringtail's species names:

lithograph by Belgian illustrator A.J. Wendel (1826-1915)
Dr. F.A. Jentink, Notes from the Leyden Museum (1884), Vol. VI, frontispiece
Dr. F.A. Jentink, Notes from the Leyden Museum (1884), Vol. VI, frontispiece

 

In the absence of paper trails and protracted interactions, scientists indeed are vulnerable to confusing, inaccurate or non-existent data. For example, science historians and trivia buffs can point to initially misleading implications of investigations conducted in 1930 by London-born Captain John Guy Dollman (September 4, 1886 – March 21, 1942), as:

  • British Museum (Natural History) mammalogist;
  • Travel writer with London-born banker, baron, politician, and zoologist Lionel Walter Rothschild (February 8, 1868 – August 27, 1937).

The Dollman descriptions originally encourage separate classification as Pseudocheiros forbesi lewisi in the trinomial (“three-name”) taxonomic system. But in reality, the Dollman specimens function as color variants whose bio-geographical niches and morphological (“structural”) characteristics may be eligible for subspecies membership but resist species status.

 

Pseudochirops albertisii: Arfak Mountains' denizen shares overlapping habitats with Arfak Mountain Ringtail Possums

illustration by Gustav Mützel (December 7, 1839 – October 29, 1893)
Wilhelm Peters and Giacomo Doria, "Enumerazione dei mammiferi" (1881), Tav. XI
Wilhelm Peters and Giacomo Doria, "Enumerazione dei mammiferi" (1881), Tav. XI

 

Arfak ringtails are not the Arfak Mountains’ only ringtail possums. They claim niches at altitudes 2,460.63 - 6,233.59 feet (750 – 1,900 meters) above sea level. D’Albertis’ (Pseudochirops albertisii) and reclusive (Pseudochirops coronatus) ringtails cluster in habitats respectively at 3,280.84 – 6,233.59 feet (1,000 – 1,900 feet) and 3,280.84 – 6,561.68 feet (1,000 – 2,000 meters) above sea level. But Arfak ringtails distinguish themselves with:

  • Big, dark, rounded eyes, dark whiskers, light snout, and small, tufted ears beautifying an orange-brown face;
  • Black stripe demarcating the body’s upper middle, from the snout backwards;
  • Dark- and orange-brown, grey and white grizzling upper-sides;
  • Dark-brown, white and yellow mottling under-sides;
  • Graspingly prehensile tail tapering from a furry base to a hairless, ring-curled tip and slip-resistant under-side.

 

Vogelkop ringtail possum (Pseudochirus schlegeli):

illustration by Gustav Mützel (December 7, 1839 – October 29, 1893)
Wilhelm Peters and Giacomo Doria, "Enumerazione dei mammiferi" (1881), Tav. XII
Wilhelm Peters and Giacomo Doria, "Enumerazione dei mammiferi" (1881), Tav. XII

 

Fine-tuned senses, pro-active behaviors, and super-specialized diets act to supplement the head start that camouflage-friendly body coloring gives Arfak ringtails on the road to population sustainability and species well-being. For example, Arfak ringtails count upon dark-adapted vision and super-sharp senses of hearing, smell, taste and touch. They counter the threats of predatory raptors and reptiles by:

  • Awakening regularly to check day-time sights, smells and sounds;
  • Changing shape while sleeping by tucking extremities chest-wards and using the tail as a blanket and disguise;
  • Dwelling within moss-covered trees;
  • Favoring arboreal nocturnalism and conflict-avoidance regarding access to resources and control over territories.

They give priority to coprophagous (“feces-eating”), folivorous (“leaf-eating”) regimes occasionally varied with samplings of:

  • Bark;
  • Flowers;
  • Fruits;
  • Sap.

 

Plant-based diets benefit from upper and lower jaws respectively grinding food with:

  • 6 incisors, 2 canines, 6 premolars, and 8 molars;
  • 4 incisors, 6 premolars, and 8 molars.

Diet contributes to physical and sexual maturity’s:

  • Ear lengths: 0.62 – 0.76 inches (15.7 – 19.2 millimeters);
  • Head-and-body lengths: 8.27 – 9.06 inches (210 – 230 millimeters);
  • Rear-limb lengths: 1.15 – 1.29 inches (29.3 – 33 millimeters);
  • Tail lengths: 8.27 – 9.84 inches (210 – 250 millimeters);
  • Weights: 8.61 – 10.76 ounces.

Vegetarianism discourages predatory and rival encounters in:

  • Limestone, sandstone, volcanic surface geology;
  • Moist, montane, mossy, primary forests of New Guinea cypress (Papuacedrus papuana var. arfakensis) and white oak (Castanopsis acuminatissima), Southern/Antarctic beech (Nothofagus stylosa, womersleyi), and podocarps (Dacrydium novo-guineense; Dacrycarpus cinctus, compactus, expansus, imbricatus; Podocarpus spathoides).

 

Bird's Head Peninsula: Arfak Mountain Ringtail Possums' homeland

Bird's Head (Indonesian: Kepala Burung, Dutch: Vogelkop) Peninsula, northwestern New Guinea
Bird's Head (Indonesian: Kepala Burung, Dutch: Vogelkop) Peninsula, northwestern New Guinea

Conclusion: "Up in the air" sustainability for Arfak Mountain ringtail possums

 

Life cycles demand of Arfak ringtails:

  • Jellybean-sized newborns crawling from birth canals to maternal pouches;
  • Moving-classroom instruction from mother’s backs and nests;
  • Survival in the Arfak Mountain, Tamrau Selatan, and Tamrau Utara Strict Nature Reserves.

Arfak ringtail natural histories evidence obligate environmentalism as:

  • Pest-controllers;
  • Resource-recyclers;
  • Sanitation-engineers;
  • Seed-spreaders;
  • Vegetation-monitors;
  • Water-conservers.

Survival hinges on masterfully but quietly, unobtrusively traversing sylvan habitats shared with likewise endemic (exclusive to the Arfak Mountains):

  • Arfak astrapias (Astrapia nigra) and honeyeaters (Melipotes gymnops);
  • Arfak green birdwings (Ornithoptera priamus aureus);
  • Arfak Mountain burr orchids (Cadetia arfakensis).

But sustainability is answerable to:

  • Forest-logging saw-millers;
  • Land-reconfiguring agro-industrialists;
  • Meat-and-pelt-seeking villagers;
  • Philanthropic-minded eco-tourists;
  • Protected areas;
  • Research-funded scientists.

So like Arfak ringtail habitat preferences, it remains “up in the air.”

 

Honeyeater (Melipotes gymnops), Arfak Mountain Ringtail Possum synecology:

illustration by Joseph Smit (July 18, 1836 – November 4, 1929)
P.L. Sclater, "Characters of new Species," Proceedings of Scientific Meetings of Zoological Society of London (1873), Plate LVI, between pp. 690-691
P.L. Sclater, "Characters of new Species," Proceedings of Scientific Meetings of Zoological Society of London (1873), Plate LVI...

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

As with Arfak Mountain Ringtail Possums, Vogelkop bowerbirds are also endemic to Bird's Head Peninsula's rugged Arfak Mountains.

illustration by John Gould (September 14, 1804 - February 3, 1881)
Vogelkop Bowerbird (Amblyornis inornata)
Vogelkop Bowerbird (Amblyornis inornata)

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House in the Arfak Village of Memiwa, New Guinea:

from "The History of Mankind" (1896), Vol.1, by Prof. Friedrich Ratzel
House in the Arfak Village of Memiwa, New Guinea, from "The History of Mankind," by Prof. Friedrich
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Grown in Papua New Guinea Highlands; first planted in gold-rush town, Wau, in 1930's from seeds imported from Jamaica's renowned Blue Mountain region.

sweet, medium-bodied Papua New Guinea coffee, prized for subtle yet distinct chocolaty tones and crisp, clean finish.
Organic Camano Island Coffee Roasters Papua New Guinea, 16 Ounce Bag

Brown Gardener (Amblyornis Inornatus) Male with Berries as a Present for the Female: photo by Konrad Wothe

As with Arfak Mountain Ringtail Possums, Brown Gardeners are endemic to the Arfak Mountains.
Brown Gardener (Amblyornis Inornatus) Male with Berries as a Present for the Female

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/20/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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