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. 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.

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); Robert Collett, "On some apparently new Marsupials."
Proceedings of Scientific Meetings of the Zoological Society of London for the Year 1884 (May 20), Plate XXXI, between pp. 380-381
Proceedings of Scientific Meetings of the Zoological Society of London for the Year 1884 (May 20), Plate XXXI, between pp. 380-381


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.


Image Credits


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:Lemur-like_Ringtail_Possum_area.png

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/

Proceedings of the Scientific Meetings of the Zoological Society of London for the Year 1884 (May 20), Plate XXXI, between pages 380-381: Public Domain, via Biodiversity Heritage Library @ https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/28690273; Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PhalangistaLemuroidesSmit.jpg

Lemur-like Ringtail Possum, near Mareeba in Queensland: Wildlife Explorer @ Picasa Web Albums, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hemibelideus_lemuroides_-Queensland-8.jpg

north Brisbane, south east Queensland: Tatiana Gerus [Tatters:)], CC BY 2.0, via Flickr @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/62938898@N00/4440064627/

Figure 5, page 386: Public Domain, via Biodiversity Heritage Library @ https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/28690281

Figure 6, page 387: Public Domain, via Biodiversity Heritage Library @ https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/28690282

Territory Wildlife Park, Berry Springs, "Top End," Northern Territory: Andy Tyler (andy_tyler), CC BY-ND 2.0, via Flickr @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/68237153@N00/7241948100

Millaa Millaa Lookout (aka Gentle Annie Lookout), McHugh Road, Atherton Tableland, Far North Queensland: Mike Lehmann, CC BY SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:AthertonTableland.jpg

Millaa Millaa Falls, southern limits of Atherton Tableland: Boris Rüping (Schleimpilz), CC BY SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Milla_milla_fall.jpg


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

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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

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

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: 09/05/2023, DerdriuMarriner
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