Lemur-like Ringtail Possums (Hemibelideus lemuroides) in Northeast Queensland, Australia

by DerdriuMarriner

Lemur-like ringtail mothers devote 7 months to raising young gliders. New generations nightly hone their skills. But no lemuroid possum ever is anything but a crash lander.

The words ballooning, flying, gliding, jumping, leaping, parachuting, and soaring call up ways for animals to travel through the air.
• Bats, birds, and insects immediately come to mind in terms of the animal world’s flight icons.
• Some wildlife-lovers consider as fliers fish, frogs, geckos, lemurs, possums, squid, and squirrels that have “flying” in their names.

But amphibians, fish, molluscs, and reptiles do not fly. Along with some mammals, they instead glide.

But just because one comes from a long line of gliders does not mean that one is going to be good at it.
• That statement may be never truer than in regard to what is perhaps the world’s most predictable crash lander, Queensland's lemur-like ringtail possum.

Lemur-like Ringtail Possum (Hemibelideus lemuroides) range

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


A 0.98-inch (25-millimeter) skin fold along the left and right sides of the body aids lemur-like ringtail possums in braving short distances between the branch of one tree and that of another. It allows the lemur-like glider to cover 6.56 – 9.84 feet (2 – 3 meters) while keeping the body flat, all four limbs outstretched, and the prehensile, ring-curling-tipped tail working as a rudder. It assists the tail in steering the lemur-like possum to the proper landing site. But it cannot guide the lemur-like ringtail to a soundless landing. The progress of the lemur-like ringtail possum through forages and forays does not involve stealth. It leaves a noisy trail of crash landings and heavy sounds throughout the night.


Norwegian zoologist Robert Collett:

credited with first description of lemur-like ringtail possum (Hemibelideus lemuroides)
Fotograf / Photographer: Robert Collett (1842-1913)
Fotograf / Photographer: Robert Collett (1842-1913)


But gliding does not count among the two physical traits which impressed the lemur-like ringtail possum’s first official describer and identifier. The honor of creating a taxonomic niche for the lemur-like possum goes to Robert Collett (December 2, 1842 – January 27, 1913), whose book Norges pattedyr (Norway’s Mammals) inspired Manchester-born English zoologist Charles Sutherland Elton’s (March 29, 1900 – May 1, 1991) concerns over fluctuating animal populations and twentieth- and twenty-first century research into the impacts on fauna and flora of aggressive native and introduced invasive animals and plants. It is the configuration of the spider web-like skin fold securing each hind paw’s digits and of the spirit-like eyes reminiscent of lemurs that prompted Robert’s categorization Phalangista lemuroides.


Hemibelideus lemuroides under synonym of Phalangista lemuroides

illustration by Joseph Smit (July 18, 1836 – November 4, 1929)
Plate XXXI, between pages 380-381: Robert Collett's "On some apparently new Marsupials" (1884)
Plate XXXI, between pages 380-381: Robert Collett's "On some apparently new Marsupials" (1884)


Lemur-like ringtails currently answer to the binomial (“two-name”) designation Hemibelideus lemuroides. The change in genus attributes importance to the possum’s role as one of the world’s gliders since the name combines the ancient Greek words hemi (“half”) and belideus (“dart, javelin”). But lemur-like ringtails continue with the common names which they always have held:

  • Brush-tipped ring-tailed possum;
  • Brushy-tailed ringtail possum;
  • Lemur possum;
  • Lemuroid possum;
  • Lemuroid ringtail.

The names designate the hallmark features of Daintree ringtails:

  • A full tail ending in a ring-curled tip;
  • Lemur-like eyes.

But the Daintree River ringtail (Pseudochirulus cinereus) also has lemur-like looks. All ringtail possums have ring-curling tail tips. So it is the fullness of the tail that is unique to lemur-like possums.


Lemur-like possum tail tips and undersides accommodate hairless, white friction pads. The lemur-like possum’s lush, subtly-tapered tail assumes the stubbiest configuration of all ringtails. It continues the body’s chocolate brown-colored, dense, long, woolly-soft fur. The upper coloring contrasts with:

  • Black paws;
  • Dark brown limbs;
  • Gray patches on the red-brown head and the shoulders;
  • Pale yellow under-sides.

It emphasizes the lemur possum’s:

  • Big, forward-facing, rounded, white-ringed eyes whose eyeshine is silvery in pre-adults and uniquely yellow in adults;
  • Curving, long, sharp claws;
  • Dog-like, short muzzle;
  • Rounded, small ears.  

Lemur-like ringtails have 2 digits opposable to 3 others on each front paw and 1 hallux (“big toe”) opposable to 2 sets of 2 fused digits on each rear paw.


distinctive eyeshine of Lemur-like ringtail possum

Lemur-like Ringtail Possum, near Mareeba in Queensland
Lemur-like Ringtail Possum, near Mareeba in Queensland


Digital opposability accounts for lemuroid mobility 52.5+ feet (16+ meters) above-ground within 197.68+-acre (80+-hectare) home ranges from Ingham northward to:

  • Cairns Highlands, at 1,476.38+ feet (450+ meters);
  • West of Mossman, at 3,608.92+ feet (1,100+ meters).

Lemuroids therefore adapt to:

  • Closely-spaced, upper canopies in slow-growing tall trees;
  • Cooler, loftier, more humid elevations.

They favor the innermost cores of the Atherton and Mount Carbine Tablelands’ mature, primary cloud and upland tropical rainforests. They find old, slow-growing trees in whose hollows they establish dens within extended-family communities. Until daybreak, they form nocturnal octets for:

  • Brown Bollywood (Litsea leefeana) buds and flowers;
  • Brown quandong (Elaeocarpus coorangooloo, Elaeocarpus ruminatus) and Queensland maple (Flindersia brayleyana) low-fiber leaves;
  • Yellow walnut (Beilschmiedia bancroftii) seed coverings.


young fruits and leaves of Queensland maple (Flindersia brayleyana):

lemur-like ringtail possums prefer young leaves but will also eat mature leaves
north Brisbane, south east Queensland
north Brisbane, south east Queensland


Everything accedes to family sustainability. Breeding months are June to November. In early August, mothers-to-be deliver 1 newborn to 6 -7 pouch-confined months. They get help from monogamously-committed fathers during the pre-adult’s 6 back-riding months, October/November to April. Pre-adults keep close to home despite achieving:

  • Independence at 9 months;
  • Sexual maturity at 2 years.

They lose their high-pitched, hissing, squeaking keening vocalizations before maturing to:

  • Dental formulas of 6 incisors, 2 canines, 6 premolars, and 8 molars in upper jaws and 4 incisors, 6 premolars, and 8 molars in lower jaws;
  • Head-and-body lengths of 11.81 – 14.96 inches (30 – 38 centimeters);
  • Tail lengths of 11.81 – 13.78 inches (30 – 35 centimeters);
  • Weights of 28.22 – 44.8 ounces (800 – 1,270 grams).


side view of skull and upper and lower jaws of female Lemur-like ringtail possum:

Robert Collett's "On some apparently new Marsupials from Queensland" (1884)
Figure 6, page 387
Figure 6, page 387

view of female Lemur-like ringtail possum, from the top:

Robert Collett's "On some apparently new Marsupials from Queensland" (1884)
Figure 5, page 386
Figure 5, page 386

Conclusion: Crash-landing ringtail gliders exhibit fatal sensitivity to rising temperatures and, when threatened, surround offspring in back-to-back formation.


Lemur-like habitats benefit from northeastern Australia’s Wet Tropics designation under United Nations Economic and Social Council-administered World Heritage programming. The status defends 3,451.75 square miles (8,940 square kilometers) against agro-industry. It does not remove habitat-fragmenting, specially-designed corridors, power-lines, and roads. It does not stymy:

  • Globally-warming climate change;
  • Predatory carpet pythons (Morelia spilota) and rufous owls (Ninox rufa).

With estimated 5-year lifespans, lemuroids exhibit uniform reactions to threats, by:

  • Expiring when temperatures reach 57.2 – 60.8°F (14 – 16°C) or 80.6 – 86°F (27°C).
  • Rubbing scent-gland secretions on their bodies and -- with offspring in the middle -- standing back-to-back to die.

It is a tragically brave extinction if Mount Carbine’s orange-tinged, white-bodied lemuroid ringtail morphs really are unfindable since 2005.


Rufous owl (Ninox rufa): one of two known predators of Lemur-like ringtail possum.

The only other known predator is the voracious carpet python (Morelia spilota).
Territory Wildlife Park, Berry Springs, "Top End," Northern Territory
Territory Wildlife Park, Berry Springs, "Top End," Northern Territory



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.


Landscape of Lemur-like ringtail possum: rainforests of Atherton Tableland, rich plateau inland from port city of Cairns

Millaa Millaa Lookout (aka Gentle Annie Lookout), McHugh Road, Atherton Tableland, Far North Queensland
Millaa Millaa Lookout (aka Gentle Annie Lookout), McHugh Road, Atherton Tableland, Far North Queensland

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. "Hemibelideus lemuroides.” In: IUCN 2013. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. Retrieved on March 12, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/9869/0

Chambers, John. “Lemuroid Ringtail Possum (Hemibelideus lumuroides [sic]).” Rainforest-Australia. Retrieved on March 12, 2014.

  • Available at: http://rainforest-australia.com/lemuroid_ringtail_possum.htm
  • Available at: http://wildlife-australia.com/lemuroid.htm

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 12, 2014.

  • Available via Biodiversity Heritage Library at: http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/28690276 
  • Available via Internet Archive at:  https://archive.org/stream/proceedingsofgen97scie#page/317/mode/1up

Collett, Robert. 1911-1912. Norges pattedyr. Kristiania, Norway: H. Aschehoug & Co.

Department of Environment and Heritage Program. 2014. “Lemuroid Ringtail Possum.” Brisbane: The State of Queensland Government. Retrieved on March 12, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.ehp.qld.gov.au/wildlife/animals-az/lemuroid_ringtail_possum.html

Duff, Andrew; and Lawson, Ann. 2004. Mammals of the World: A Checklist. Yale University Press. 

"Far North Queensland Place Names Mo - My." Queensland History > Far North Queensland Place Names. Friday, March 18, 2011. Jeremy2929. Blog. queenslandhistory.blogspot.com

  • Available via Blogger at: http://queenslandhistory.blogspot.com/2011/03/far-north-queensland-place-names-mo-my.html

Flannery, Timothy F. 1994. Possums of the World: A Monograph of the Phalangeroidea. Chastwood, Australia: GEO Productions in association with the Australian Museum.

"Hemibelideus lemuroides: Lemuroid Ringtail Possum." Digital Morphology: A National Science Foundation Digital Library at University of Texas, Austin. Retrieved on April 4, 2014.

  • Available at: http://digimorph.org/specimens/Hemibelideus_lemuroides/

Hume, Ian D. 1999. Marsupial Nutrition. Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge University Press.

Humfleet, Jennifer. 2006. “Hemibelideus lemuroides: Lemuroid Ringtail Possum (On-line).” Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved on March 12, 2014.

  • Available at: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Hemibelideus_lemuroides/

Kerle, Jean Anne. 2001. Possums: The Brushtails, Ringtails and Greater Glider. Sydney: University of New South Wales Australian Natural History Series. Retrieved on March 12, 2014. 

  • Available at: http://books.google.com/books?id=YDM0hjAwchUC&lpg=PT65&dq=Petropseudes%20dahli&pg=PT66#v=onepage&q=Petropseudes%20dahli&f=false

Larsen, Fredrik. June 8, 2012. "Norwegian Builders of Australia." ReiseFredrik i Australia. Retrieved on March 12, 2014.

  • Available at: http://reisefredrik.com/2012/06/08/norwegian-builders-of-australia/

"Lemuroid Ringtail Possum (Hemibelideus lemuroides)." ARKive. Retrieved on March 12, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.arkive.org/lemuroid-ringtail-possum/hemibelideus-lemuroides/

"Lemuroid Ringtail Possum -- Hemibelideus lemuroides." ClimateWatch > Species > Mammals. ClimateWatch. Web. Retrieved on March 12, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.climatewatch.org.au/species/mammals/lemuroid-ringtail-possum

"Lemuroid Ringtail: Hemibelideus lemuroides." P. 119 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.

“Lemuroid Ringtail Possum – Yellow Eyes at Night.” The Website of Everything: Mammals. Retrieved on March 12, 2014.

  • Available at: http://thewebsiteofeverything.com/animals/mammals/Diprotodontia/Pseudocheiridae/Hemibelideus/Hemibelideus-lemuroides.html

Menkhorst, Peter; and Knight, Frank. 2001. A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press. 

Meredith, Robert W.; Mendoza, Miguel A.; Roberts, Karen K.; Westerman, Michael; and Springer, Mark S. March 2, 2010. “A Phylogeny and Timescale for the Evolution of Pseudocheiridae (MarsupialiaDiprotodontia) in Australia and New Guinea.” Journal of Mammalian Evolution17(2):75-99. Retrieved on March 12, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2987229/

Nowak, Ronald M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Volume I. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 

Nowak, Ronald M. 2005. Walker's Marsupials of the World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 

Poland, Henry. Fur Bearing Animals in Nature and in Commerce. London: Gurney & Jackson, MDCCCXCII (1892).

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/details/furbearinganimal00polauoft

Ride, W.D.L. A Guide to the Native Mammals of Australia. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1970. 

Strahan, Ronald; and Conder, Pamela. 2007. Dictionary of Australian and New Guinean Mammals. CSIRO Publishing.  

"Wet Tropics of Queensland." UNESCO World Heritage Centre List. Retrieved on March 12, 2014.

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

Wilson, D.E.; and Reeder, D.M. 2005. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, Third Edition. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Wilson, Robyn F., Helene Marsh, and John Winter. 2007.  "Importance of canopy connectivity for home range and movements of the rainforest arboreal ringtail possum (Hemibelideus lemuroides)." Wildlife Research, Vol. 34: 177-184.

  • Available via ResearchOnline@JCU at: http://researchonline.jcu.edu.au/2391/



Millaa Milla Falls: scenic southern limits of Atherton Tableland, homeland of Lemur-like ringtail possum

From December 1995 to August 1997 the importance of canopy connectivity for Lemur-like ringtails was studied at nearby Mount Father Clancy
Millaa Millaa Falls, southern limits of Atherton Tableland
Millaa Millaa Falls, southern limits of Atherton Tableland
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Buttress roots of giant rainforest tree, Wooroonooran National Park, Atherton Tableland: photo by Steffen and Alexandra Sailer

Will Atherton Tableland rainforests suffice to protect and sustain Lemur-like ringtail possums?
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle: Giant rainforest tree - Ardea Wildlife Pets

Windy Hill Wind Farm, near Ravenshoe, Atherton Tableland: photo by Steffen and Alexandra Sailer

Will development, such as wind turbines, affect regional fauna such as Lemur-like ringtail possum?
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle: Windy Hill Wind Farm - Ardea Wildlife Pets

Millaa Millaa Falls wall mural: photo by Glenn Van Der Knijff

Milla Millaa Falls

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
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?



You might also like

Cinereus Ringtail Possums (Pseudochirulus cinereus) of Daintre...

Ghosts abhor the ground. They appear and disappear like grey floaters. The sa...

Common Ringtail Possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus) of Australia...

In Americanese, the word possum can apply to an opossum. In Australia, it can...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...