Green Ringtail Possum (Pseudochirops archeri) of Northeastern Australia's Queensland Region

by DerdriuMarriner

Green mammals are animals of a different color. Their most spectacular example is the green ringtail possum. The color works for eating figs in the high canopies of tall trees.

Colors are not haphazard in nature.

Scientists attribute survivalism to the hallmark colors of different animals. Some colors, such as orange and red, become protective of their wearers by cautioning potential predators of nasty scents and tastes following hungry mouthfuls. Other colors beget more defensive than offensive roles by functioning as camouflage within Planet Earth’s blue, brown and green-dominated habitats.

Earthy colors can make particular sense for arboreal animals whose life cycles are played out among a leafy tree’s branches, forks and hollows. Variations on brown emerge as popular choices for tree-dwelling fauna.

One marsupial mammal, the green ringtail possum, nevertheless knows that green is a really smart choice as a camouflageable color.

camouflage of green ringtail possum

Tablelands Region, Far North Queensland
Tablelands Region, Far North Queensland

 

Scientists accept striped ringtail possum and toolah as additional common names for the green ringtail possum. They acknowledge Pseudochirops archeri as the current scientific name. The genus emphasizes the housecat-sized mammal’s “false hands” so unlike feline paws. The species honors the northeastern Australia-exploring and settling, Norwegian-Scottish sons of timber merchant William Archer (November 16, 1786 – March 2, 1869) and Julia Walker (November 29, 1791 – April 1880), niece of the owner (1787 – July 8, 1854) of Sydney’s William Walker & Co.:

  • Charles (1813 – 1862);
  • John (1814 – 1857);
  • David (1816 – January 8, 1900);
  • William (1818 – June 25, 1896);
  • Archibald (March 18, 1820 – February 6, 1902);
  • Thomas (February 27, 1823 – December 9, 1905);
  • Colin (July 22, 1832 – February 8, 1921).

 

Norwegian zoologist Robert Collett:

credited with first description of green ringtail possum
Fotograf / Photographer: Robert Collett (1842-1913)
Fotograf / Photographer: Robert Collett (1842-1913)

 

The species name betrays the nationality of the green ringtail possum’s first known official describer and namer, Robert Collett (December 2, 1842 – January 27, 1913). The Norwegian zoologist particularly committed to collecting fish, mammals and spiders while staffing the University of Oslo’s Natural History Museum as:

  • Curator, 1864-;
  • Director, 1882-;
  • Professor, 1884-.

He had access to skins and skulls of green ringtail possums thanks to the meticulous field research of Fåberg-born Norwegian ethnographer and explorer Carl Sofus Lumholtz (April 23, 1851 – May 5, 1922). Carl journeyed to Australia in 1880 and researched indigenous life and peoples in north Queensland’s Herbert-Burdekin region between 1882 and 1883. Robert made his description and identification of Carl’s specimens official in 1884.

 

 

Carl’s specimens are from the Bellenden Ker Mountain Range and Lower Herbert River regions of Far North Queensland. Since 1988, both habitats benefit from incorporation of 230,927.39 acres (893,453 hectares) of coastal and near-coastal tropical rainforests as a Wet Tropics Site in the World Heritage Programme administered through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee considers the area as meeting all four inclusion criteria:

  • Ecologically diverse;
  • Environmentally threatened;
  • Evolutionarily insightful;
  • Naturally beautiful.

But scientists currently describe populations as reduced in numbers and occurrence. Green ringtails do not frequent elevations below 984.25 feet (300+ meters). Their territory extends 31.07 miles (50 kilometers) south of Ingham to 74.56 miles (120 kilometers) northwest of Cairns.

 

Arytera divaricata (Arytera divaricata):

Green ringtails favor eastern Australian rainforest tree for exercise, food, and shelter.
"Arytera divaricata foliage showing the bright red new growth."
"Arytera divaricata foliage showing the bright red new growth."

 

Green ringtail habitats abound with a tropical rainforest’s leafy, tall trees and tanged, thornless vines. Alternative niches along forest edges and in secondary-regrowth forests also accommodate environmental preferences. Fragmented habitats without continuous canopies answer to green ringtail survival needs as long as trees for exercising, feeding, and sheltering include:

  • Candlenuts (Aleurites rockinghamensis);
  • Plentiful (Ficus copiosa) and white sandpaper (Ficus fraseri) figs;
  • Rose tamarinds (Arytera divaricate).

 

Flame kurrajong (Brachychiton acerifolius):

Green ringtail possums munch upon the flame tree's deeply lobed leaves, an acceptable alternative to its quartet of favorites.
mossed Illawarra Flame Tree (Brachychiton acerifolius), Bunya Mountains National Park, southern Queensland
mossed Illawarra Flame Tree (Brachychiton acerifolius), Bunya Mountains National Park, southern Queensland

 

Acceptable alternatives and supplements appear to include:

  • Flame kurrajong (Brachychiton acerifolius);
  • Gympie stinger (Dendrocnide moroides);
  • Pepperwood (Cinnamomum laubatii);
  • Red tulip oak (Tarrietia argyrodendron);
  • Shining-leafed stinging (Dendrocnide photinophylla).

A tree’s mature height assumes importance similar to that of species since foraging generally gets conducted no lower than 44.29 feet (13.5 meters) above ground.  

 

tiger quoll (Dasyurus maculatus):

predator of green ringtail possum
Healesville Sanctuary, Healesville, southeastern Victoria
Healesville Sanctuary, Healesville, southeastern Victoria

 

Green ringtail territories appeal to predators:

  • Carpet pythons (Morelia spilota);
  • Rufous owls (Ninox rufa);
  • Tiger quolls (Dasyurus maculatus).

Green possums appear vulnerable since they do not build nests, hide in hollows, or sleep in dens. But despite living out of tree forks, they counter with:

  • Agility, as Australia's fastest ringtail possum;
  • Muteness, as the island-continent's non-vocal, quietest ringtail;
  • Subterfuge, as a giant fig by curling body parts belly-wards, digging each hind hallux (“big toe”) into bark, and tying everything up with a dark, prehensile, tapering, white-tipped tail.

Pale under-parts, two silvery back stripes, and white patches under rounded big eyes and small ears fade into sunlit bark. Black-, silver-, and yellow-colored fur grizzles to lime-green or olive-grey. 

 

green ringtail possum depicted under synonym of Phalangista archeri:

illustration by Joseph Smit (July 18, 1836 – November 4, 1929); Robert Collett, "On some apparently new Marsupials from Queensland."
Proceedings of Scientific Meetings of the Zoological Society of London for the Year 1884 (May 20), Plate XXIX, between pp. 380-381
Proceedings of Scientific Meetings of the Zoological Society of London for the Year 1884 (May 20), Plate XXIX, between pp. 380-381

 

Life at ground-level only gets experienced if one tree’s branches cannot be bridged from another’s. Green possums hurry down one trunk and immediately up the other. Their arboreal lifestyle is not as challenged as those of other rainforest-dwellers since:

  • Disturbed, fragmented habitats are acceptable;
  • Green ringtails avoid season-dependent young leaves for fiber-rich, nutrient-poor mature foliage;
  • Loggers leave fig trees standing.

Green possums therefore keep arboreal, nocturnal cycles that:

  • Accommodate solitary living in overlapping home ranges;
  • Emphasize breeding peaks every June and July;
  • Let females carry one annually-born offspring in their front pouches, August to December, and on their backs, October to April.

Green ringtail females indeed set records in terms of longest back-riding times enjoyed by offspring.

 

December bush-fire: bad timing for usually agile, speedy green ringtail females, who are slowed by young-uns on their backs, October - April.

bush fire at Captain Creek central Queensland Australia, December 2010
bush fire at Captain Creek central Queensland Australia, December 2010

Conclusion: Timing of survival threats is essential for speedy escapes.

 

Mature sizes are no defense for the smaller-sized female or larger-sized male green ringtails:

  • Ear length 0.91 – 1.02 inches (23 – 26 millimeters);
  • Head-and-body length 11.22 – 14.84 inches (285 – 377 millimeters);
  • Tail length 12.6 inches (320 millimeters);
  • Weight 37.53 – 39.47 - 47.62 ounces (1064 – 1,350).

Green possums claim grinding-oriented mouthfuls of:

  • 6 incisors, 2 canines, 6 premolars, and 8 molars equally distributed between left and right upper jaws;
  • 4 incisors, 6 premolars, and 8 molars evenly divided between left and right lower jaws.

Survival usually demands just darting off. Agile escapes often may work except against bush- or wild-fires, especially in December when offspring just out of the pouch weight mothers down.

 

Green Ringtail Possum: "A Green Ringtail Possum is feeding in a tree on the Atherton Tablelands, North Queensland, Australia."

Uploaded January 12, 2008 by australiaTKMG to YouTube ~ URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBX5gjkeqFQ

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.

 

Image Credits

 

Tablelands Region, Far North Queensland: Greg Schechter, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/3624285373/

Fotograf / Photographer: Robert Collett (1842-1913): Nasjonalbiblioteket (National Library of Norway), No known copyright restrictions, via Flickr @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/national_library_of_norway/6981537427/

Distribution data from IUCN Red List: Chermundy/ IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, species assessors and the authors of the spatial data, CC BY SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Green_Ringtail_Possum_area.png

"Arytera divaricata foliage showing the bright red new growth.": Mark Marathon, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Arytera_divaricata_new_growth.jpg

mossed Illawarra Flame Tree (Brachychiton acerifolius), Bunya Mountains National Park, southern Queensland: Tatiana Gerus, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brachychiton_acerifolius_001-_Flame_Tree_-_by_Tatters.jpg

Healesville Sanctuary, Healesville, southeastern Victoria: arndbergmann, CC BY SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dasyurus_maculatus_-Healesville_Sanctuary,_Australia-8a.jpg; via Flickr @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/2241336392

Proceedings of Scientific Meetings of the Zoological Society of London for the Year 1884 (May 20), Plate XXIX, between pp. 380-381: Public Domain, via Biodiversity Heritage Library @ https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/28690269

bush fire at Captain Creek central Queensland Australia, December 2010: 80 trading 24, CC BY SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bush_fire_at_Captain_Creek_central_Queensland_Australia..JPG

australiaTKMG. "Green Ringtail Possum." YouTube, Jan. 12, 2008, @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBX5gjkeqFQ

Gympie-gympie is another Australian common name for Dendrocnide moroides.: Udo Schröter, CC BY SA 2.0, via Flickr @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/5026588177

heritage-listed Curtain Fig Tree (Ficus virens); Tablelands Region, Far North Queensland: Martin Gloss (Markdoe), CC BY SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Curtain_Fig_Tree,_Queensland,_Australia.JPG

 

closeup of stinging shrub (Dendrocnide moroides):

Green ringtails are unaffected by the potent sting, caused by contact with silica-tipped hairs on the plant's leaves and twigs, which may be fatal to dogs, humans, horses.
Gympie-gympie is another Australian common name for Dendrocnide moroides.
Gympie-gympie is another Australian common name for Dendrocnide moroides.

Sources Consulted

 

Abbott, J.H.M. (John Henry Macartney). 1908. The South Seas (Melanesia). With twelve full-page illustrations in colour by Norman Hardy, F.R.G.S. London: Adam and Charles Black.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/details/southseasmelane00hardgoog

Bassarova, M.; Archer, M.; and Hand, S.J. December 20, 2001. “New Oligo-Miocene Pseudocheirids (Marsupialia) of the Genus Paljara from Riversleigh, Northwestern Queensland.” Memoirs of the Association of Australasian Palaeontologists 25:61-75. 

Burnett, S.; and Winter, J. 2008. "Pseudochirops archeri." In: IUCN 2013. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. Retrieved on March 6, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/18502/0

Chambers, John. 1998-2009. "Green Ringtail Possum." Rainforest-Australia. Retrieved on March 6, 2014.

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Collett, Robert. 1884. "On some apparently new Marsupials from Queensland." Proceedings of the Scientific Meetings of the Zoological Society of London for the Year 1884, Vol. 52, Issue 3 (May 20, 1884): 381-389. London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer. Retrieved on March 6, 2014.

  • Available via Biodiversity Heritage Library at: http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/28690276#page/477/mode/1up
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Davis, Sarah. 2002. "Green Ringtail Possum: Pseudochirops archeri (On-line)." Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved on March 6, 2014. 

  • Available at: http://rainforest-australia.com/green_ringtail_possum.htm

Department of Environment and Heritage Protection. 2014. "Green Ringtail Possum - Pseudochirops archeri." WetlandInfo. State of Queensland Government. Retrieved on March 6, 2014.

  • Available at: http://wetlandinfo.ehp.qld.gov.au/wetlands/ecology/components/species/?pseudochirops-archeri

"Green Ringtail Possum." P. 120 in Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Second Edition. Volume 13: Mammals II, edited by Michael Hutchins, Devra G. Kleiman, Valerius Geist, and Melissa C. McDade. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, Inc., division of Thomson Learning Inc., 2004.

"Green Ringtail Possum." The Website of Everything. Retrieved on March 6, 2014.

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"Green Ringtail Possum: Pseudocheirus archeri." Oz Animals: Australian Wildlife. Retrieved on March 6, 2014.

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Jones, Frederic Wood. 1922. "The External Characters of Pouch Embryos of Marsupials. No. 4 -  Pseudochirops dahli." Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of South Australia 46:119-130. Retrieved on March 6, 2014.

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Jones, Katherine M.W.; MacLagan, Sarah J.; and Krockenberger, Andrew K. 2006. "Diet Selection in the Green Ringtail Possum (Pseudochirops archeri): A Specialist Folivore in a Diverse Forest." Austral Ecology 31:799-807. Retrieved on March 6, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.academia.edu/1077799/Diet_selection_in_the_green_ringtail_possum_Pseudochirops_archeri_a_specialist_folivore_in_a_diverse_forest

Kerle, Jean Anne. 2001. Possums: The Brushtails, Ringtails and Greater Glider. Sydney: University of New South Wales Australian Natural History Series. Retrieved on March 6, 2014. 

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Larsen, Fredrik. June 8, 2012. "Norwegian Builders of Australia." ReiseFredrik i Australia. Retrieved on March 6, 2014.

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  • Available at: http://usspost.com/green-ringtail-possum-59340/

Van Deusen, Hobart M.; and E.I. Stearns. 20 May 1961. "Source of Color in the Fur of the Green Ring-Tailed Possum." Journal of Mammalogy 42(2):149-152. Retrieved on March 6, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/1376822?uid=3739936&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21103637166297

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  • Available at: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/486

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  • Available at: http://www.departments.bucknell.edu/biology/resources/msw3/browse.asp?id=11000132

Wrobel, Murray (Editor). 2007. Elsevier's Dictionary of Mammals: Latin English German French Italian. Oxford, U.K.: Elsevier B.V. 

 

Fig-leaf loving green ringtail possums are found in Curtain Tree National Park in Queensland's Atherton Tableland.

heritage-listed Curtain Fig Tree (Ficus virens); Tablelands Region, Far North Queensland
heritage-listed Curtain Fig Tree (Ficus virens); Tablelands Region, Far North Queensland
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Walker's Marsupials of the World by Ronald M. Nowak

Comprehensive guide to marsupials, unique category of mammals. Presents common and scientific names; biology; distribution. Illustrations from leading photographers and museums.
Walker's Marsupials of the World

2007 publication, based on Ronald Strahan’s first Dictionary of Australian mammals (published in 1981):

Includes all species, both native and introduced.
Dictionary of Australian and New Guinean Mammals [OP]

Walker's Mammals of the World (2-Volume Set)

Thoroughly describes every genus of the class Mammalia known to have lived in the last 5,000 years.
Walker's Mammals of the World (2-Volume Set)

Mammals of the World: A Checklist by Andrew Duff and Ann Lawson

Includes English and scientific names for 5,049 species.
Mammals of the World: A Checklist

The Atherton Tablelands, Queensland, Australia: photo by Robert Francis

Clearing of rainforest in Atherton Tablelands impacts occupancy there by green ringtail possums.
The Atherton Tablelands, Queensland, Australia

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: 10/03/2022, DerdriuMarriner
 
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DerdriuMarriner on 03/11/2014

Mira, You are welcome. Your interest in and appreciation of nature are obvious!

Mira on 03/11/2014

Thank you, Derdriu, for your response!

DerdriuMarriner on 03/09/2014

Mira, Curtain fig trees definitely have an other-worldly appearance because those are roots, not branches! They belong to the species of strangler figs, which have lengthy, aerial roots: very useful for strangling their host trees.
Yes, the sting from the silica-tipped hairs of Dendrocnide moroides can be fatal to humans. This species is one of the most virulent of its species.
It's fun to roam through forests. Such wonderful memories derive from the magical, freeing experience of forest walks and rambles.
I hope that you are able to resume forest roamings in the near future.
I know that I wish that for myself as well.

Mira on 03/09/2014

That curtain fig tree is so unusual. So the branches grow downwards?? Also, the sting of a plant like the one you're showing (Dendrocnide moroides) can be fatal to humans? I used to roam through forests as a child, and I'd like to do that again in the future :)

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