Golden Green Plush-Coated Ringtail Possum (Pseudochirops corinnae) of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

by DerdriuMarriner

Golden green appears lush. It gilds electrum in early metal coins, Egyptian pyramid tops, and Nobel Prize medals. It identifies New Guinea’s golden plush-coated ringtail possum.

Golden green can be found much more in Earth’s flora than in its fauna.
• Chlorophyll colors plants green by absorbing sunlight strongly in the blue and red parts of the electromagnetic spectrum and weakly in the green and near-green portions.

But interactions between body pigments -- including the truly avian green turacoverdin -- and light refraction usually explain green-colored amphibians, birds, fish and reptiles.
• For example, forest-dwelling wildlife sometimes give greenish-yellow auras and impressions because of blue light reflecting through yellow pigments and due to trees filtering light from the densest, topmost canopies down to the bottom-most root flares.

The golden green-bodied, plush-coated ringtail possum charmingly illustrates the gap which deceptive appearances fill between impression and reality.

Pseudochirus corinnae

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

 

The Wola people are a twentieth-century discovery, not a twentieth-century invention. They so blend with their forested, rugged habitats in the central-south highland interior of Papua New Guinea that governments and scientists knew nothing of their existence until the 1930s. The descendants of Papua New Guinea’s European settlers historically cluster along the southwest Pacific Ocean island’s east, north and south coasts. Agro-industrial development, governmental legitimacy, residential expansion, scientific inquiry, and war-oriented trends explain the inexorable march inward that ended the Wola’s bio-geographical isolation from coastal politics and socio-economics. Wildlife lovers and researchers hope that the discovery and ensuing interactions will prove as beneficial to the native Wola language-speakers as they are to government policymakers and scientific investigators.

 

Green jungles of Papua New Guinea (lower) contrast sharply with nearby desert of Australia (upper):

Wola people and their favorite prey, Golden Plush-Coated Ringtail Possums, favor Papua New Guinea's altitudinous jungles.
NASA World Wind Landsat image of Papua New Guinea and Australia
NASA World Wind Landsat image of Papua New Guinea and Australia

 

It can be considered quite ironic that official scientific acquaintance in 1897 with one of the Wola people’s favorite wild animals did not lead immediately to the discovery of the golden plush-coated ringtail possum’s most assiduous hunter. Golden plush-coated ringtails in fact favor elevations of 2,952.76 – 9,514.44 feet (900 – 2,900 meters) above sea level throughout both sides of the island’s east-to-west-running highland chain of mountain ranges and river valleys and within Papua New Guinea’s northeasterly-located Huon Peninsula montane rain forests. Their bio-geographical range therefore merges with that of the Wola, whose villages dot altitudes of 5,249.34 – 6,561.68 feet (1,600 – 2,000 meters) above sea level in the Southern Highlands Province river valleys of:

  • Ak;
  • Lai;
  • Mend;
  • Nemb;
  • Was.

 

Plush-coated Ringtail Possum (Pseudochirops corinnae) range

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

 

Wola-speaking villagers claim cane grasslands along river valley sides northeast of Lake Kutubu whereas golden plush-coated ringtail possums inhabit:

  • Mature, undisturbed montane forests;
  • Secondary forests unfrequented by people.

The Wola construct communities around extended families while golden plush-coated ringtail possums live:

  • In rock holes;
  • On tree branches;
  • Under surface-level litter or moss.

Adult Wola males get individual homes separate from quarters for adult females, children, and pigs whereas golden plush-coated ringtail possums nest separately once adult females emancipate their one yearly-born offspring. Wola adult males must clear and fence land for females to cultivate and process bananas, greens, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, and taro while all weaned golden plush-coated ringtail possums gather:

  • Bark;
  • Berries;
  • Flowers;
  • Leaves;
  • Sap.

 

Southern Highlands landscape of Wola people and taenayatow (Pseudochirops corinnae):

Lake Kutuba, at elevation of 2624.6 feet (800 meters), is home to 13 endemic fish species; designated Wetland of International Significance by Ramsar Convention on September 22, 1998.
Lake Kutubu, Southern Highlands, Papua New Guinea
Lake Kutubu, Southern Highlands, Papua New Guinea

 

Rituals bring together the divergent life cycles of the golden plush-coated ringtail possum and the Wola. The Wola confer the name taenayatow upon the golden plush-coated ringtail possum, their preferred ceremonial, commercial and culinary currency. Adult Wola males gather arrows, bows, and tree traps before the hunt for:

  • Opulent furs conferring beautiful practicality and -- in the case of male-donned aprons made from the golden plush-coated ringtail possum’s paler undersides -- surviving wear-and-tear;
  • Special dishes connected with celebratory dinners, marriage ceremonies, and traditional reunions;
  • Strong skins covering drumheads;
  • Wealth transfers including bird-of-paradise plumes, cowrie shells, crude salt, pearls, pigs, and tree-sap oil cosmetics.

But they know that the taenayatow is docile in captivity and valiant in death.

 

Michael Rogers Oldfield Thomas: credited with first official description of Pseudochirops corinnae

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)

 

Michael Rogers Oldfield Thomas’s (February 21, 1858 – June 16, 1929) official description indeed attests to a “handsome and interesting Phalanger, the finest of Dr. Loria’s discoveries” (p. 620). Dark, middle-of-the-back striping divides closely-, densely-, finely-growing, silvery-brown upper fur. Black, off-white, red-brown mottling dot the nape, limbs and sides. A pale ring encircles each big, round, side-facing eye even though dark shadows are expected since golden plush-coated ringtails sleep fitfully. Dark whiskers grace both the dark muzzle. Yellow spots highlight hairy, long ears. Yellowed red-browns lighten undersurfaces less than light-colored digits opposable to each big toe and thumb. The prehensile (“grasping”) tail perpetuates the upper mottling while tapering to a darkened, hairless, ring-curled tip and green-granuled, slip-resistant underside.

 

The golden green from sunlight warming the golden plush-coated ringtail coat’s intermingled coloring augments the arboreal nocturnalist’s survival around Telefomin even though it is less effective around the Kemp Welch and Vanapa Rivers where specimens once abounded. But the world’s best camouflage cannot help low birth rates. Adult females deliver one newborn with each year’s breeding season. Newborns get maximum protection in maternal pouches and nests before maturing physically and sexually to adulthood, with:

  • Dental formulas of 6 incisors, 2 canines, 6 premolars, and 8 molars for the upper jaw and of 4 incisors, 6 premolars, and 8 molars for the lower;
  • Head-and-body lengths averaging 12.21 inches (31 centimeters);
  • Tail lengths hovering around 12.59 inches (32 centimeters).

 

Telefomin, a station town with an airport, a museum with fossils (Baptist Mission of Telefomin), and hunter-gatherer Telefols:

encroachment ecology of Pseudochirops corinnae habitat
Telefomin Airport
Telefomin Airport

Conclusion: taenayatow (Pseudochirops corinnae), docile captive and valiant prey, in 21st century's balancing act between expansion and sustainability

 

New Guineans are accidental adversaries and strong supporters of beautifully, uniquely diverse land- and sea-scapes. Unintended adversariness arises from reconciling both sides in wildland-urban interfaces. Mother Nature indeed blesses the entire island with plentifully rich natural resources. But access and exploitation demand compromise or indifference. Despite their gentle avoidance of home invasions and territorial threats by predatory raptors and reptiles, golden plush-coated ringtail possums nowadays find themselves right in the middle between agro-industrial expansion and environmental sustainability. The commitment of wildlife lovers and researchers and the proliferation of national parks and wildlife reserves suggest that help is forthcoming to golden plush-coated ringtail possums beleaguered and near-threatened by:

  • Globally-warmed climate change;
  • Hunting;
  • Land-clearing;
  • Logging of mature, primary forests.

 

Golden Green Plush-Coated Ringtail Possum's environment: lush greenery around station town of Telefomin

NASA World Wind image of Telefomin
NASA World Wind image of Telefomin

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.

 

Ok Tedi Mine: open-pit copper and gold mining on Mount Fubilan, whittled down to an open pit in the ground, for almost 3 decades

Environmental impacts of remote site, at 6600 feet (2000 meters), in region of earthquakes and high rainfall, affect Telefomin, an area of hunter-gatherer villages and Pseudochirops corinnae habitats.
Ok Tedi Mine
Ok Tedi Mine

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Mount Giluwe, second highest mountain, at 14327 feet (4,367 meters), in Papua New Guinea

Pseudochirops corinnae landscape
view of Mount Giluwe from Ialibu, Ialibu-Pangia District, Southern Highlands
view of Mount Giluwe from Ialibu, Ialibu-Pangia District, Southern Highlands
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Sweet and medium-bodied Papua New Guinea coffee grown in altitudinous landscape of Pseudochirops corinnae:

This unique light roast organic coffee is grown in Papua New Guinea Highlands and was first planted in Wau in the 1930's from seeds imported from Jamaica's Blue Mountain region.
Organic Camano Island Coffee Roasters Papua New Guinea

Pseudochirops corinnae's native landscape: Mudman from Asaro District, Eastern Highlands District, at sing sing at Papua New Guinea's capital Port Moresby: photo by Ian Griffiths

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

Fish Abound in a Coral Reef off the Coast of Papua New Guinea: photo by Wolcott Henry

Pseudochirops corinnae's homeland, Papua New Guinea, offers spectacular scenery on land as well as offshore.
Fish Abound in a Coral Reef off the Coast of Papua New Guinea

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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DerdriuMarriner on 03/29/2014

Mira, The Wola and golden green plush-coated ringtail possums have overlapping homelands. The Wola people form communities based upon extended families. Although they prize ringtails in Wola rituals, the Wola build their own human homes.
The golden plush-coated ringtail possums make their homes in rock holes, on tree branches, and under litter or moss.
It's amazing that the Wola eluded detection for around 3 decades after the late-19th century discovery of the golden green plush coated ringtail possum, despite their ritual synecology.

Mira on 03/29/2014

I didn't know about the Wola people. You mean they dig in the ground and then cover back their dwelling with moss? You said, "The Wola construct communities around extended families while golden plush-coated ringtail possums live:

In rock holes;
On tree branches;
Under surface-level litter or moss."

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