Moss-Forest Painted Ringtail Possums (Pseudochirulus forbesi) in Bird's Tail Peninsula, New Guinea

by DerdriuMarriner

Names are IDs in New Guinea. Bird’s Tail Peninsula ringtails get called moss-forest possums for living super-high up. They get named painted ringtails for looking super-varied.

The southwest Pacific Ocean island of New Guinea continues as one of the Blue Planet’s alluring mysteries.

And yet it does not pose arrival problems for visitors since the world’s fourth-largest island is north of Australia and south of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. It is accessible by air and water. From the air, the entire island looks like an eco-tourist’s paradise with its big avian-like shape.

Comparisons of the island’s outlines to those of a huge bird pre-date aviation. New Guinea’s northwestern-most and southeastern-most extremes retain the respective names of Bird’s Head and Tail Peninsulas. Both shelter unique wildlife.

For example, moss-forest or painted ringtail possums only will be found on the Bird’s Tail.

Southeastern portion of island of New Guinea comprises Papuan Peninsula, also known as the Bird's Tail Peninsula:

In a perfect balance, northwestern portion of the island comprises Bird's Head Peninsula or Doberai Peninsula.
Location map of Papua New Guinea
Location map of Papua New Guinea


New Guinea belongs to independent Papua New Guinea on its east side and to Papua Indonesia on its west side. The island’s southeastern-most region carries the names Bird’s Tail Peninsula and Papuan Peninsula. The Bird’s Tail claims a geography of:

  • Cities, towns, and villages dominated by Papua New Guinea’s industrial center at Lae and national capital at Port Moresby;
  • Coasts, lowlands, and mountains dominated by the Owen Stanley Range peaks at 12,060.37-foot-high (3,676-meter) Mount Suckling and 13,248.03-foot-high (4,038-meter) Mount Victoria.

Temperatures cluster around 69.98°F (21.1°C). As much as 7.79 inches (197.82 millimeters) of precipitation fall monthly. But rainfall quickly gets recycled by being:

  • Evaporated back into the peninsular air;
  • Filtered through dense foliage;
  • Grounded with surface runoff.


Bird's Tail impressive geography, Papua New Guinea: Owen Stanley Range

Jungle clad ranges / Owen Stanley Range / Central Papua New Guinea
Jungle clad ranges / Owen Stanley Range / Central Papua New Guinea


Soils express surface geologies of:

  • Fine-grained sediments;
  • Igneous rocks, lavas, and pyroclastics (“fire-broken fragments”);
  • Metamorphosed sandstone, siltstone, and volcanics.

They favor:

  • Coastal freshwater swamps of AnisopteraCalophyllumCasuarina, and Terminalia;
  • Lowland alluvial and foothill forests;
  • Lower-, mid-, and upper-montane forests 4,593.18+ feet (1,400+ meters) above sea level.

Lowland vegetation includes:

  • Bigger-crowned, unevenly-canopied Anisoptera thuriferaBuchanania macrocarpaCanariumCeltisCryptocaryaDilleniaDysoxylumEucalyptopsis papuanaFicusHopea irianaKoompassiaPometia pinnataSyzygiumTerminalia, and Vatica;
  • Densely-growing climbers, epiphytes (air-rooted “upon another plant”), and ferns;
  • Open-canopied palms and shrubs;
  • Super-tall Araucaria stands.

Mountainous vegetation involves:

  • Densely-clustered, even-canopied, small-crowned Actinodaphne nitidaAraucariaBeilschmiediaCastanopsis acuminatissimaCinnamomum eugenoliferumCryptocaryaElaeocarpusEndiandraLithocarpusLitsea, and Phoebe laevis lower down;
  • Moss-covered Nothofagus higher up.


Painted Ringtail Possum (Pseudochirulus forbesi) range

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


Moss-forest painted ringtails associate with all of the above-mentioned vegetation -- except coastal swamps -- since home embraces altitudes of 1,640.42 – 9,842.52 feet (500 – 3,000 meters) above sea level. They in fact belong on all lists of Bird’s Tail-specific wildlife. They consequently count as bio-colleagues:

  • Eastern parotias (Parotia helenae);
  • New Guinea big-eared bats (Pharotis imogene);
  • Queen Alexandra’s Birdwings (Ornithoptera alexandrae);
  • Streaked bowerbirds (Amblyornis subalaris);
  • Van Deusen’s rats (Stenomys vandeuseni).

They emerge as southeastern-most New Guinea’s iconic ringtail even though:

  • The range of masked ringtails (Pseudochirulus larvatus) dovetails in the extreme northwest of the moss-forest painted ringtail’s bio-geography;
  • The ranges of coppery (Pseudochirops cupreus), golden plush-coated (Pseudochirops corinnae) and lowland (Pseudochirulus canescens) ringtails extend into Bird’s Tail Peninsula.


Golden Green Plush-Coated Ringtail Possum (Pseudochirus corinnae): overlapping range in Bird's Tail Peninsula with Moss-Forest Painted Ringtails ~

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 peninsula’s 30,000 square miles (77,699.64 square kilometers) accommodate sylvan life cycles and natural histories. Moss-forest painted ringtails function as:

  • Arboreal prey for raptors, reptiles, and villagers;
  • Nocturnal folivores (“leaf-eaters”) of calcium-, magnesium-, potassium-rich bark on 5+ tree species and leaves on 75+ tree species;
  • Obligate pest-controllers and vegetation-monitors in disturbed and primary foothill and montane forests;
  • Solitary occupants of dreys (squirrel-like nests) and hollows in extended-family home ranges overlapping 1 male with 2 females.

Spaciousness gives moss-forest painted ringtails means, motives, and opportunities for articulating subspecies whose bio-geographies and physiques slightly vary. It identifies why the moss-forest painted and pygmy (Pseudochirulus mayeri) ringtails’ ancestor ventured into elevations of 9,842.52+ feet (3,000+ meters) 2,400,000 – 6,000,000 years ago.


Michael Rogers Oldfield Thomas: British zoological genius described Moss-Forest Painted Ringtail Possum

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)


Scientists currently consider as possible subspecies:

  • Pseudochirulus forbesi barbatus and capistratus (per Paul Matschie [August 11, 1861 – March 7, 1926], 1915);
  • P.f. forbesi (per Michael Rogers Oldfield Thomas [February 21, 1858 – June 16, 1929], 1887);
  • P.f. lewisi (per John Guy Dollman [September 4, 1886 – March 13, 1942], 1930);
  • P.f. longipilis (per George Henry Hamilton Tate [April 30, 1894 – December 24, 1953] and Richard Archbold [April 9, 1907 – August 1, 1976], 1935).

The Thomas designation functions as the nominate (“first-described”) subspecies. The genus name Pseudochirulus honors a ringtail possum’s “false-handed,” human-like, opposable big toes and thumbs. The species name memorializes Henry Ogg Forbes (January 30, 1851 – October 27, 1932) as specimen collector on the Port Moresby-area Astrolabe Range.


Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, along shores of Gulf of Papua on southeastern coast of Papuan Peninsula:

Species name of Moss forest painted ringtail possum -- forbesi -- honors Scottish explorer Henry Ogg Forbes, specimen collector in Port Moresby area.
Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy off the coast of Papua New Guinea in support of Pacific Partnership.
Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy off the coast of Papua New Guinea in support of Pacific Partnership.


Every moss-forest painted ringtail has fine sensory whiskers and dense, short, woolly-soft fur. The prehensile (“grasping”) tail’s ring-curling tip and slip-proof undersides have little hair. White lightens:

  • Corporeal under-parts;
  • Ear fronts;
  • Eye rings encircling big, dark-adapted, rounded eyes;
  • Facial outlines;
  • Paw claws.

Continuous dark striping lines grey-brown upper-sides from the snout backwards. The grey-brown coat looks orange- to red-brown on both sides of the forehead’s dividing stripe. It makes the lower face and snout look super-dark, particularly when contrasted with:

  • The upper jaw’s 6 incisors, 2 canines, 6 premolars;
  • The lower jaw’s 8 molars and 4 incisors, 6 premolars, and 8 molars.

Mature head-and-body lengths and weights nudge 10.44 inches (26.52 centimeters) and 22.55 ounces (639.16 grams).


Moss-Forest Painted Ringtail Possum (Pseudochirus forbesi):

illustration by Joseph Smit (July 18, 1836 – November 4, 1929)
Oldfield Thomas, Catalogue of the Marsupialia and Monotremata in the Collection of the British Museum (1888), Plate I
Oldfield Thomas, Catalogue of the Marsupialia and Monotremata in the Collection of the British Museum (1888), Plate I



Agro-industrialism, globally-warmed climate change, over-hunting, and pollution challenge what locals call moss-forest painted ringtails:

  • Kuskus ekor kait hutan lumut;
  • Paygaegat;
  • Sab.  

Scientists indeed consider cumulative stresses from the above-mentioned gradual, intermittent, sudden, and sustained changes. For example, habitats get degraded, fragmented, heated, and polluted from:

  • Nickel mining;
  • Plantation agriculture;
  • Residential and urban expansion;
  • Road construction;
  • Timber harvesting.

They also get stressed by hunting-impassioned villagers since moss-forest painted ringtails:

  • Are vulnerable with pouch-confined and back-riding pre-adults;
  • Cannot escape arrows, bows, clubs, fires, and traps;
  • Deliver 1 annual newborn per mother;
  • Practice active avoidance.

Scientists nevertheless regard ambient stresses as presently non-catastrophic because of ample territories, environmental awareness, and protected areas at:

  • Abau;
  • Morobe;
  • Mounts Suckling and Victoria;
  • Popondetta.


Home to a variety of endemic species, Morobe Province's Mount Bosavi is collapsed cone of an extinct volcano on Great Papuan Plateau:

partly in Sulamesi Wildlife Management Area (established in 2006); also within Kikori River Basin/Great Papuan Plateau, proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site
Mount Bosavi, Southern Highlands province, Papua New Guinea
Mount Bosavi, Southern Highlands province, Papua New Guinea



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


Raggiana Bird-of-paradise, (Paradisaea raggiana) is the national bird of Papua New Guinea:

Areas of this brilliant bird's homeland coincide with homelands of Moss-Forest Painted Ringtails.
Raggiana Bird of Paradise, Paradisaea raggiana
Raggiana Bird of Paradise, Paradisaea raggiana

Sources Consulted


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Papua New Guinea's spectacular Owen Stanley Range:

biodiverse ecosystems which also comprise habitats in homeland of Moss Forest Painted Ringtails
View of the Owen Stanley Ranges from Ower's Corner,  31 miles (50 km) east of Port Moresby
View of the Owen Stanley Ranges from Ower's Corner, 31 miles (50 km) east of Port Moresby
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Moss-Covered Rain Forest in New Guinea Mountains: photo by Tim Laman

Moss-Covered Rain Forest in New Guinea's Foja Mountains

Disjunct population of Victoria Crowned-Pigeon (Goura victoria) on Cape Vogel has geographical proximity to Moss-Forest Ringtails in "feathers" of Papua New Guinea's Bird's Tail Peninsula: 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

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: 10/19/2021, DerdriuMarriner
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