Coppery Ringtail Possums (Pseudochirops cupreus): Green Marsupials of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

by DerdriuMarriner

Science fact approaches science fiction. Consider near where Michael Rockefeller vanished on November 17, 1961. New Guinea really has coppery green-bodied, ring-tailed possums.

In the Americas, the word possum denotes a night-forager whom the native Powhatan Algonquians called “white beast” by early seventeenth-century colonial Virginia.

In Australia and the surrounding islands, the term never describes a white-bodied animal. It instead designates a night-tripper whose opposable thumbs, spider-webbed toes, and two forward-projecting teeth are what impress European scientists and settlers of southwest Pacific Ocean landforms since the eighteenth century.

Specifically regarding members of the genus Pseudochirops, the designation includes such copper-, gold- and silver-green-bodied marsupial mammals as:
• coppery (cupreus),
• D’Albertis’ (albertisii),
• golden plush-coated (corinnae),
• green (archeri), and
• reclusive (coronatus) ringtail possums.

In contrast, America’s possum is green only when afflicted with algal infections or stained from wet grasses and herbaceous plants.

Golden Green Plush Coated Ringtail Possum (Pseudochirus corinnae): relative species of Coppery Ringtail Possum, also endemic to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

illustration by J. Green
Annali del Museo civico di storia naturale di Genova, Ser. 2, Vol. XVIII (XXXVIII), Tav. II
Annali del Museo civico di storia naturale di Genova, Ser. 2, Vol. XVIII (XXXVIII), Tav. II

 

Interactions between ambient lighting and corporeal coloring account for the coppery ringtail possum’s greenness. Dense, fine, short black, brown, and grey fur conspires to carpet upper-sides coppery-green. Little, plush, thick black, white, and yellow hairs cover under-sides. Black-and-white mottling darkens and lightens under-parts in patterns befitting the natural play of light and shadow on branches and trunks. Function as a friction pad explains the prehensile (“grasping”), terminal-curled tail’s underside contrasting hairlessly white to the upper-side tapering rapidly from a lushly furry base to a sparsely-haired tip. Dark striping runs between the rounded, small ears and down the middle of the back. A pale, thin circle surrounds each big, round eye, each of whose pupils is vertically slit.

 

Camouflaged coats advance coppery ringtail sustainability during year-round breeding seasons. Sexually mature females deliver one newborn per litter. Newborns go from confinement in maternal pouches to maternal instruction in:

  • Burrows under tree roots;
  • Nests in tree hollows.

Immature coppery ringtails look darker and tinier than adults. But surviving pre-adults mature into physical and sexual adulthood with:

  • Dentition: 6 incisors, 2 canines, 6 premolars, and 8 molars and of 4 incisors, 6 premolars, and 8 molars per respectively upper and lower jaws;
  • Head-and-body lengths: 12.6 – 15.8 inches (32.0 – 40.13 centimeters);
  • Tail lengths: 6.7 – 15.8 inches (17.02 – 40.13 centimeters);
  • Weights: 3 pounds (1.36 kilograms).

Newly-emancipated adults then pursue:

  • Night-foraging and tree-dwelling;
  • Non-vocal communication;
  • Occasional day-tripping and ground-foraying;
  • Slow walking. 

Puncak Jaya, at 16,024 feet (4,884 meters) above sea level, is highest mountain on island of New Guinea.

Coppery ringtail possum's Indonesian landscape
Puncak Jaya, also known as Carstensz Pyramid in honor of 17th century Dutch explorer Jan Carstenszoon
Puncak Jaya, also known as Carstensz Pyramid in honor of 17th century Dutch explorer Jan Carstenszoon

 

The healthily sustainable realization of the coppery ringtail possum’s life cycle depends upon environmental factors. Coppery ringtail possums enjoy elevations of 4,921.26 – 13,110.24 feet (1,500 – 3,996 meters) above sea level. They favor niches within:

  • Montane primary forests;
  • Mountain brushlands, rainforests, sclerophyll (“hard leaf”) forests, and woodlands.

They find acceptable possibilities adapting to:

  • Rural garden edges;
  • Secondary forests;
  • Subalpine grasslands.

But their natural history is not conducive to surviving without the presence of woody plants. Coppery ringtail possums in fact need mature, sturdy trees for:

  • Avoiding predatory raptors and reptiles;
  • Dwelling under roots and within cavities;
  • Exercising over branches, forks and trunks;
  • Feeding upon bark, flowers, fruits, leaves, and sap.

Their environmental role requires foliage-controlling, fruit-eating, seed-dispersing folivorousness.

 

Owen Stanley Range, jungle clad mountains in Southeast Highlands:

Coppery ringtail possum's Papua New Guinea landscape
View of the Owen Stanley Ranges from Ower's Corner, 31 miles (50 km) east of Port Moresby, southeastern Papua New Guinea
View of the Owen Stanley Ranges from Ower's Corner, 31 miles (50 km) east of Port Moresby, southeastern Papua New Guinea

 

The coppery ringtail possum’s biogeographical needs for rugged elevations and wooded slopes historically are met in the interior of the world’s second largest island. New Guinea nowadays belongs politically to:

  • Indonesia, whose 2 provinces lie westward;
  • Papua New Guinea, whose capital district and 16 provinces occupy the insular east.

The island claims as particularly diverse and dominant environmentally within its east-to-west-running central highland chain of ranges and valleys:

  • The Bismarck and Owen Stanley Ranges, the Hagen and Kratke Ranges, and the Ramu River Plateau on the Papua New Guinea side;
  • The Star Mountains on both sides of the Indonesia-Papua New Guinea border;
  • The Maoke Mountains, the Purari Plateau, and the Wahgi River Valley on the Indonesian side. 

 

Coppery Ringtail Possum (Pseudochirops cupreus) range

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

 

The occupation of the Central Range’s mountain ranges and river valleys by coppery ringtail possums covers 8,202.09-foot (2,500-meter) ranges in altitudes. Elevation determines which dominant vegetation will supply coppery ringtail possums with opportunities for group and physical activities and with sources of food and shelter. Altitude-specific wildlife associations emerge as:

  • Broadleafs such as Papua New Guinea laurels (Cryptocarpa spp) and red (Lithocarpus celebicus) and white (Castanopsis acuminatissima) oaks at 4,921.26+ feet (1,500+ meters);
  • Evergreens such as hoop (Araucaria cunninghamii) and klinki (Araucaria hunsteinii) pines and southern (Nothofagus spp) and wau (Elmerillia papuana) beeches at 8,202.09+ feet (2,500+ meters);
  • Evergeen conifers such as Papua New Guinea cypresses (Papuacedrus papuana) at 9,842.52 - 13,123.36 feet (3,000 - 4,000 meters).

 

Coppery ringtail possum's floral landscape: Papua New Guinea native Klinki Pine (Araucaria hunsteinii)

Araucaria hunsteinii mature trunk detail.
Araucaria hunsteinii mature trunk detail.

 

Northeastern Papua New Guinea’s forested slopes indeed are the sources of the specimens by which scientists investigate elusive, reclusive coppery ringtail possums. The first official descriptions and taxonomic determinations based upon these nineteenth-century expeditionary finds in fact come in 1897 from Michael Rogers Oldfield Thomas (February 21, 1858 – June 16, 1929) as:

  • Millbrook-born British zoologist;
  • Natural History Museum mammalogist;
  • Publisher of 2,000+ scientific descriptions;
  • Writer of 1,000+ scientific books, catalogues and documents.

Budgets, priorities, and terrain continue to limit sustained scientific study of Oldfield’s coppery ringtail possums well into the climate change-challenged, globally-warmed twenty-first century. For example, scientists still lack closure regarding the sufficiency and validity of the subspecies Pseudochirops cupreus beaufortiP.c. cupreus, and P.c. obscurior

 

Michael Rogers Oldfield Thomas: first official description of Coppery ringtail possum

portrait bequeathed by Oldfield Thomas to London's Natural History Museum
oil on canvas by John Ernest Breun (1862-1921)
oil on canvas by John Ernest Breun (1862-1921)

Conclusion: Safeguarding savvy taenaybon (coppery ringtail) via eco-paradisiacal biogeography

 

Scientists evince no concern over coppery ringtail sustainability. The shy nocturnalist’s healthy populations, savvy lifestyle, and vast biogeography explain the lack of scientific anguish. It helps that eastern and western New Guineans are committed to their taenaybon -- what locals call coppery ringtails -- enjoying eco-paradisiacal national parks and wildlife reserves. But at the same time, it is important to be ever-vigilant regarding the impacts on high-altitude organisms of:

  • Agro-industrial development;
  • Globally-warmed climate change;
  • Local hunting.

The wildland-urban interface between occupants of the built and natural environments always needs monitoring for the rights of people and wildlife to the sustainability and well-being of their respective populations, now and as long as Earth is the universe’s beloved Blue Planet. 

 

Grasberg Mine, open pit and underground gold and copper mine at 14,000 feet (4,100 meters) above sea level; mining and shipping ore since December 1972:

Coppery ringtail possum's environment comprises pristine landscapes and invasive mining.
Grasberg Mine: in Sudirman Range, western portion of Maoke Mountains, Papua province, Indonesia (New Guinea)
Grasberg Mine: in Sudirman Range, western portion of Maoke Mountains, Papua province, Indonesia (New Guinea)

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.

 

Coppery ringtail possum's environment: Highlands Highway, also known as Okuk Highway, main land highway in Papua New Guinea ~

Highlands Highway links northeastern port city of Lae with Highland and central provinces.
Highlands Highway, Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea
Highlands Highway, Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea

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Mount Wilhelm, at elevation of 14,793 feet (4,509 meters), is highest mountain on Papua New Guinea (Puncak Jaya, in Indonesian part of island, is highest mountain of entire island).

Coppery ringtail possum's Papua New Guinea landscape.
Mount Wilhelm: named in 1888 by explorer Hugo Zöller (January 12, 1852 - January 9, 1933) to honor Otto von Bismark (April 1, 1815 – July 30, 1898), Chancellor of Germany 1871-1890
Mount Wilhelm: named in 1888 by explorer Hugo Zöller (January 12, 1852 - January 9, 1933) to honor Otto von Bismark (April 1, 1...
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning
This is the first checklist of mammals of the world to include both English and scientific names of every species as well as a brief summary of distribution and habitat.
Mammals of the World: A Checklist

Mudman from Eastern Highlands' Asaro District at sing sing, Port Moresby, southeastern Papua New Guinea: human landscape of Coppery ringtail possum's environment.

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle

A medley of modernity and tradition in Coppery ringtail possum's environs, Goroka, Eastern Highlands capital, at 5,072 feet (1,546 meters).

Huli Wigman Plays Pool in a Pub During the Annual Sing-Sing in Goroka ~ photo by Jodi Cobb
A Huli Wigman Plays Pool in a Pub During the Annual Sing-Sing in Goroka

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: 08/12/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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