D'Albertis' Silver Green Ringtail Possum (Pseudochirops albertisii) of New Guinea and Yapen Island

by DerdriuMarriner

Silvery green beautifies the foliage of ornamentals and trees. It may be mesmerizing in amphibians, birds, fish, and insects. It will be unexpected in D’Albertis' ringtail possum.

Silvery green appears in plants because of super-fine, super-small, thread-like appendages which scientists call trichomes on leafy surfaces.
• Leaves become less dark green-looking because of these hair-like outgrowths.

Trichomes bring about apparent color shifts, but not by affecting supplies of the green, photosynthesizing pigment chlorophyll.
• They instead cause what is known as structural color by encouraging surface reflectivity to discourage solar energy absorption.
• This action plan contributes to survival by controlling internal heat and moisture levels.

But in an animal, a similar action plan manipulating actual and supposed coloring gets results by controlling survival through eluding predators.
• That in fact is exactly what happens when environmental lighting on mottled coloring makes D’Albertis’ ringtail possum look silvery green.

Luigi Maria D'Albertis (November 21, 1841 – September 2, 1901), charismatic Italian naturalist:

namesake of D'Albertis' silver green ringtail possum
L.M. d'Albertis, New Guinea: What I Did and What I Saw (1881), Vol. I, frontispiece
L.M. d'Albertis, New Guinea: What I Did and What I Saw (1881), Vol. I, frontispiece

 

Diminutive size and silver-green coloring are what D’Albertis’ ringtail possum is known for. But scientists consider other characteristics when it comes to common names and binomial (“two-name”) taxonomy. For example, the silver-green marsupial mammal in question just gets called D’Albertis’ ringtail possum in English. The common name honors Luigi Maria D’Albertis (November 21, 1841 – September 2, 1901), a Genoa-born Italian botanist, ethnologist, and zoologist who explored New Guinea in 1871 – 1877, navigated the Fly River in the New South Wales government launch Neva, and retrieved specimens of area wildlife and of cannibalized humans (including the severed head of an elderly lady).

The scientific name Pseudochirops albertisii additionally memorializes the “false hand” effect of each forepaw’s opposable thumb.

 

 

The first official scientific description of D’Albertis’ ringtail possum beats out the taxonomic identifications of fellow Australasian ringtail possums by more than two decades. It comes from the industrious pen of Koldenbüttel-born German naturalist Wilhelm Karl Hartwich (aka Hartwig) Peters (April 22, 1815 – April 20, 1883), as:

  • Angola, Mozambique and Zambesi River explorer, 1842 – 1848;
  • Berlin Zoological Museum curator, 1858-;
  • Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences foreign member-elect, 1858-.

The description dates from 1874. It draws upon the D’Albertis specimens deposited at Genoa's Castello D’Albertis (“D’Albertis Castle”), residence of the specimen-owner’s cousin and co-traveler Enrico Alberto d’Albertis (March 23, 1846 – March 3, 1932) and site of the Museo delle Culture del Mondo (“Museum of World Cultures”) since 2004.

 

Wilhelm Peter's description of D'Albertis' ringtail possum was based upon specimens housed in Genoa's Castello d'Albertis.

library in Castello d'Albertis, owned by Luigi's cousin, fellow explorer Enrico d'Albertis, Genoa, northwestern Italy
library in Castello d'Albertis, owned by Luigi's cousin, fellow explorer Enrico d'Albertis, Genoa, northwestern Italy

Three D’Albertis’ ringtail subspecies articulate individualized geographical ranges and physical features which obstruct interbreeding and fertile offspring. Scientists associate the Peters description with the nominate (first-described) Pseudochirops albertisii albertisii, in northwest New Guinea at the Vogelkop (“Bird’s Head”) Peninsula -- especially in the Arfak and Tamrau Mountains -- and possibly the Weyland Mountains. They also consider as subspecies:

  • P.a. insularis;
  • P.a. schultzei.

The second-mentioned subspecies, described by Ziltendorf-born German zoologist Georg Hermann Wilhelm Stein (1897 – 1976) in 1933, flourishes around:

  • Cenderawasih Bay;
  • Yapen Island’s Mount Eiori.

The third-mentioned subspecies, described by Brandenburg-an-der-Havel-born German zoologist Paul Matschie (August 11, 1861 – March 7, 1926) in 1915, thrives in the North Coastal Range, from the Cyclops to the Torricelli Mountains.

  

D'Albertis' Ringtail Possum (Pseudochirops albertisii) range

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

 

Vast expanses of choppy waters and lowland forests distance the three subspecies from one another. But all D'Albertis' ringtails dwell in the same type of habitat within their separate locales. For example, they favor elevations of 3,280.84 – 6,233.59 feet (1,000 – 1,900 meters) above sea level. They inhabit ground-fallen logs and tree forks – never hollows – in such lower and upper montane wooded configurations as:

  • Brushlands;

  • Dry, rain and sclerophyll (“hard leaf”) forests;

  • Woodlands.

They like the primary forest's mature old trees. But they make changes necessary to:

  • Adapting to the Arfak Mountains' and Vogelkop Peninsula's secondary forests;
  • Overlapping with such habitat-displaced possums as coppery (Pseudochirops cupreus) and reclusive (Pseudochirops coronatus) ringtails. 

 

Bird's Head Peninsula: source of specimens for Wilhelm Peter's original description of D'Albertis' ringtail possums

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

 

D'Albertis' ringtail possums answer to:

  • Mandorman in Indonesian New Guinea;

  • Yeyu in Papua New Guinea.

Either way, their silver-green aura from sylvan sunlight filtering over mottled coloring blends with mountain browns, greens and greys. D'Albertis' ringtails can be confused with golden plush-coated ringtails (Pseudochirops corinnae). But Albertis' ringtails' black-brown-grey, densely-, woolly-furred uppercoat communicates silver-greenness, not green-goldness. Black-brown-white undersides convey sylvan plays of light and shadow. Four limbs and the prehensile (“grasping”), ring-curled tail darken terminally to contrast respectively with:

  • Each digit's light-colored claws and each forepaw's and rearpaw's respectively opposable thumb and big toe;

  • The furry base's hairlessly slip-resistant underside and tapering terminal hairlessness.

Thin eyerings encircle big, rounded eyes. Short ears have black-haired, long tufts.

 

Golden green plush-coated ringtail possum (Pseudochirus corinnae): instances of mistaken identity with D'Albertis' silver green ringtail possum (Pseudochirops albertisii):

illustration of Pseudochirus corinnae 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

 

Mothers-to-be deliver 1 newborn per litter. Newborns divide pre-adulthood between maternal pouches, backs and nests. They follow parents in: 

  • Fitful sleeping, with one eye regularly opened;

  • Folivorousness (“leaf-eating”) including bark, flowers, fruits and sap;

  • Part-arboreal, part-terrestrial nocturnalism.

 

top view of skull of Pseudochirops albertisii:

illustration by Gustav Mützel (December 7, 1839 – October 29, 1893)
Wilhelm Peters and Giacomo Doria, "Enumerazione dei mammiferi" (1881), Tav. IX, fig. 2
Wilhelm Peters and Giacomo Doria, "Enumerazione dei mammiferi" (1881), Tav. IX, fig. 2

 

They greet physical and sexual maturity 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 inches (32.0 centimeters);

  • Tail lengths: 6.7 inches (17.02 centimeters);

  • Weights under 3 pounds (1.36 kilograms).

 

side view of skull, teeth, and lower jaw of Pseudochirops albertisii:

illustration by Gustav Mützel (December 7, 1839 – October 29, 1893)
Wilhelm Peters and Giacomo Doria, "Enumerazione dei mammiferi" (1881), Tav. VIII, fig. 2
Wilhelm Peters and Giacomo Doria, "Enumerazione dei mammiferi" (1881), Tav. VIII, fig. 2

 

Like their parents, newly-emancipated adults lead lives:

  • Elusive to raptors and reptiles;

  • Enigmatic to researchers;

  • Equanimous to competitors;

  • Explicable to locals. 

 

Pseudochirops albertisii

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

Conclusion

 

Scientists consider D’Albertis’ ringtail possums among the world’s wildlife besieged and near-threatened by:

  • Globally-warmed climate change;
  • Habitat disjunctivity, fragmentation and loss;
  • Ritual hunting.

Global warming dismays higher altitude-adapted wildlife since there is no escape when:

  • Lands get reconfigured;
  • Temperatures range outside norms;
  • Weather patterns turn extreme.

Agro-industrialism, deforestation, and suburbanization divide wildscapes into clearings and corridors at whose occupancy wildlife balks. Indigenous peoples hold onto flesh-and-fur hunts for:

  • Celebratory accoutrements and attire;
  • Ceremonial dinners.

The sustainability of wildlife in general and D’Albertis’ ringtail possums in particular needs not only the love of locals and visitors for eastern and western New Guinea’s eco-beauty but also:

  • Expanded protected areas;
  • Funded research into the Foja Mountains and Mamberamo River regions.  

 

Mamberamo River Valley: a place of uncontacted peoples and great biodiversity.

Mamberamo River entering the Pacific Ocean: viewed from space.
Mamberamo River entering the Pacific Ocean: viewed from space.

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.

 

Jayapura, capital of Papua province, is proximitious, as the crow flies, to Lake Sentani (about 15 km [9 miles] west) and Cyclops Mountains:

environs of D'Albertis' ringtail possum's landscape, Indonesian half of island of New Guinea
Blick auf Jayapura mit Bucht ("view of Jayapura with bay")
Blick auf Jayapura mit Bucht ("view of Jayapura with bay")

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The Sentani people of New Guinea believe that Lake Sentani is the homeland of rainbows:

Lying at the foot of the Cyclops Mountains, where a disjunct population of D'Albertis' ringtails live, Lake Sentani is part of the Cyclops Strict Nature Reserve.
Lake Sentani, Papua province, northwestern New Guinea
Lake Sentani, Papua province, northwestern New Guinea
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

D'Albertis' silver green ringtail avian neighbors in northern Papua New Guinea: Victoria Crowned Pigeon (Goura victoria) ~ photo by Jean-Paul Ferrero

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 ~ Ardea Wildlife Pets

D'Albertis' ringtail homeland: Western Sepik Torricelli Mountain range from Mt Somoro ~ photo by Jean Paul Ferrero

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 ~ Ardea Wildlife Pets

Yapen Island, Irian Jaya, Indonesia: photo by Konrad Wothe

A disjunct population of D'Albertis' ringtails is found in the area of Mount Eiori on Yapen Island.
Yapen Island, Irian Jaya, Indonesia

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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