Rock-Haunting Ringtail Possum (Petropseudes dahli) of Groote Eylandt and Northern Australia

by DerdriuMarriner

Rock ringtail possums are not nest-building tree-dwellers. They enjoy life among large boulders and on rocky ledges. They hide by inserting just their heads in rocky crevices.

Wildlife-lovers typically associate Australia’s ringtail possums (Pseudocheiridae family) with life cycles that involve:
• Attempting to stare down competitors and predators;
• Building above-the-ground nests;
• Consuming flowers, fruits, leaves and sap;
• Dwelling in trees;
• Enjoying late-night hours;
• Flaunting beautifully big, dark, rounded pupils set in attractive, big, brown eyes.

Rock-haunting ringtail possums claim only two of the above-mentioned traits in common with fellow ringtails. For example, they consider hiding the appropriate response to threats from natural enemies and resource rivals. Hiding consists of avoiding eye contact by fitting the head inside a narrow crevice into which the rest of the body cannot and does not fit. Such an action plan nevertheless does mesh with all ringtail possums’ general defenselessness.

Michael Rogers Oldfield Thomas: assigned rock-haunting ringtail possum to its own genus, Petropseudes

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)


Rock-loving ringtail possums answer to the common names of:

  • Australian rock ringtail;
  • Rock ringtail possum;
  • Rock-haunting ringtail possum.  

They carry the binomial name Petropseudes dahli within the taxonomic system of Greek- and Latin-inspired nomenclature. The genus name Petropseudes combines the Greek words πέτρα (pétra, “rock”) and ψευδής (pseudēs, “false”). It honors the decision by Millbrook-born British mammalogist Michael Rogers Oldfield Thomas (February 21, 1858 – June 16, 1929) in 1923 to replace the original name Pseudochirus -- from the Greek words ψευδής and χειρό- (cheiró-, “hand”) -- selected in 1895 by Norwegian zoologist Robert Collett (December 2, 1842 – January 27, 1913). Spelled Pseudocheirus, the original genus name persists as the designation for common (peregrinus) and western (occidentalis) ringtails.


Norwegian zoologist Robert Collett: credited with first description of rock-haunting ringtail possum

Fotograf / Photographer: Robert Collett (1842-1913)
Fotograf / Photographer: Robert Collett (1842-1913)


The species name dahli continues unchanged since Robert Collett’s official description and designation of rock ringtails in 1895. It designates the zoological achievements of Hakadal-born Norwegian explorer and scientist Knut Dahl (October 28, 1871 – June 11, 1951) in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. It honors Robert’s decision to memorialize Knut’s commitment with taxidermist Ingel Holm to:

  • Collecting animal specimens for the University of Oslo’s Zoological Museum curated by Robert since 1864;
  • Identifying birds -- Banded Fruit-doves (Ptilinopus cinctus alligator), Chestnut-quilled Rock-Pigeons (Petrophassa rufipennis), and Hooded Parrots (Psephotus dissimilis) -- unknown to European audiences until the publication of official descriptions by Robert in 1898 as ZSL foreign member-elect in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London


Rock-haunting Ringtail Possum (Petropseudes dahli) range

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


Mary River’s granite boulder-riddled upper reaches and Arnhem Land’s granite- and sandstone-surrounded South Alligator River in the Northern Territory act as respective memorials to pioneer retrievals of 3 specimens by Knut in 1895 and of 24 by Kojonup-born Australian naturalist John Thomas Tunney (October 11, 1871 – June 10, 1929) in 1903 – 1904. The Northern Territory’s uplands indeed bear greater shares of Australia’s rock-dwelling possum populations. But four biogeographic centers demand checking out by wildlife-lovers who seek to go rock ringtail possum-watching:

  • Carpentaria Gulf Country, Kakadu National Park, and the Katherine and Roper River regions in the northerly Northern Territory;
  • Groote Eylandt (Dutch for “Big Island”);
  • Kimberley in northeastern Western Australia;  
  • Lauren Hill National Park in northwestern Queensland.


Australian naturalist John T. Tunney (1871-1929) collected 24 specimens of rock-haunting ringtail possums:

John T. Tunney preparing specimens during northern Australian expedition.
KM Helgen, R Portela Miguez, J Kohen, L Helgen(2012). Twentieth century occurrence of the Long-Beaked Echidna Zaglossus bruijnii in the Kimberley region of Australia. ZooKeys 255: 103-132.
KM Helgen, R Portela Miguez, J Kohen, L Helgen(2012). Twentieth century occurrence of the Long-Beaked Echidna Zaglossus bruijni...


Northern Australia accommodates rock-haunter needs for:

  • Rocky outcrops and sheltered crevices;
  • Savanna grasslands and scattered woodlands;
  • Scrub forests and wooded lowlands.

Vegetated flatlands allow:

  • Crevice- and ledge-sheltered dens;
  • Juveniles helping monogamous parents raise newborns;
  • Water access within 32.81 – 328.08 feet (10 – 100 meters).

They configure rock-haunters as:

  • Competitors to northern brushtail (Trichosurus arnhemensis) and scaly-tailed (Wyulda squamicaudata) possums;
  • Dispersers of apple (Owenia vernicosa), blackberry (Vitex glabrata), jujube (Ziziphus oenoplia), and plum (Terminalia ferdinandiana) seeds.
  • Predators of blossoms (Darwin’s stringybark [Eucalyptus tetrodonta] and woollybutt [E. miniata]), leaves (prune [Sersalisia sericea] and supplejack [Flagellaria indica]), and termites;
  • Prey for dingos (Canis lupus dingo), northern quolls (Dasyurus hallucatus), olive (Liasis olivaceus) and rock (Morelia oenpelli) pythons, and quolls (Dasyurus hallucatus).


Northern quolls (Dasyurus hallucatus), an endangered carnivorous marsupial:

preys upon rock-haunters
"Northern Quoll photographed between Mareeba and Cairns, Queensland, Australia."
"Northern Quoll photographed between Mareeba and Cairns, Queensland, Australia."


The rock-haunter’s diet causes bent cigar-shaped, black- or brown-red scat 0.59 – 0.98 inches (15 – 25 millimeters) long by inches (5 millimeters) wide. Along with scents and urine, coprophragically-reprocessed feces coat branches and posts within home ranges extending 0.0019 – 0.0046 square miles (0.005 – 0.012 square kilometers). Rabbit comparisons likewise hold in:

  • Creamy under-sides;
  • Grizzled, red- to silver-grey, thick pelage;
  • Mature head-and-body length of 13 – 15 inches (33.02 – 38.1 centimeters) and weight of 45 – 70.5 ounces (1.28 – 2 kilograms);
  • Rufous (red-brown) rump.

Non-rabbit-like features include:

  • Dark stripes mid-backwards;
  • Mature, part-furred prehensile tails 7.75 – 10.5 inches (19.68 – 26.67 centimeters) long, with tips at 80+-degree angles;
  • Pointed muzzles;
  • Two semi-opposable digits per short-clawed “hands”;
  • White-patched, rounded, small ears and vertically-pupiled eyes.


Pseudochirus dahli = Petropseudes dahli

illustration by Joseph Smit (July 18, 1836 – November 4, 1929)
Robert Collett, "On a Collection of Mammals from North and North-West Australia" (1897), Plate XXIII, opp. p. 329
Robert Collett, "On a Collection of Mammals from North and North-West Australia" (1897), Plate XXIII, opp. p. 329


Rock possums add survivalist behaviors to rabbit-like coloring and size. Mothers-to-be are thought to deliver 1 newborn 1 – 2 times yearly, March to September. After gestating 16 – 30 days, newborns crawl from the birth canal to the mother’s comfortable frontal pouch. They emerge five weeks later. They experience physical and sexual maturity by age 7 months. They form their own families in overlapping home ranges after:

  • Perfecting skills as sentinels perched on branches and ledges;
  • Practicing competitor- and predator-warning drills of beating tails against rocks, swinging limbs, and uttering growls and grunts;
  • Profiting from parents role-modeling grooming, socializing, and using bodies as bridges between separated branches;
  • Put into practice striking tails against branches until entire trees shake.


Rock-haunters favor fragrant panicle of white flowers of Flagellaria indica:

climbing plant is native to Australia and other subtropical and tropical regions of Australasia and Asia.
Flagellaria indica
Flagellaria indica

Conclusion: Protecting folivorous natives with a penchant for termite control


Every specimen appears distinct when each of Australia's 8 – 9 ringtail possum species lines up. For example, rock-haunters' bright eyeshine avoids the “frozen-in-the-spotlight” hallmark. Their females beat males in size and weight. Both genders care for offspring, who regularly receive ape- and human-like embraces. Both diverge from folivorousness (leaf-eating) by consuming and controlling termite populations. All likewise elude arboreal designations by climbing trees only if food is unavailable on ground-accessible branches and by dwelling among rocks. But they join all ringtail possums in:

  • Enduring habitat fragmentation-provoked in-breeding;

  • Engaging in heavy-duty scent-marking through anal (male) and chest (female, male) glands;

  • Enjoying in protected areas the admiration of visitors and expertise of personnel and researchers.


landscape of rock-haunters

Aboriginal Rock Art, Ubirr Art Site, Kakadu National Park, Australia
Aboriginal Rock Art, Ubirr Art Site, Kakadu National Park, Australia



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.


Groote Eylandt: island's biogeographic center protects rock-haunting ringtail possum

largest island in northeastern Australia's Gulf of Carpentaria; homeland of Anindilyakwa people.
Groote Eylandt from space, November 1989
Groote Eylandt from space, November 1989

Sources Consulted


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. 

Burbidge, A.; Woinarski, J.; Winter, J.; and Runcie, M. 2008. “Petropseudes dahlia.” In: IUCN 2013. International Union of Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. Retrieved on March 3, 2014. 

  • Available at:

Collett, R. (Robert). 1897. "On a Collection of Mammals from North and North-West Australia." Proceedings of the General Meetings for Scientific Business of the Zoological Society of London for the Year 1897.  Part II. Containing Papers Read in March and April. Vol. XX (March 16, 1897): 317-335. London: Longmans Green, and Co. Retrieved on March 3, 2014.

  • Available via Internet Archive at:

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

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

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 3, 2014.

  • Available via Internet Archive at:

Kerle, Jean Anne. 2001. Possums: The Brushtails, Ringtails and Greater Glider. Sydney: University of New South Wales Australian Natural History Series. Retrieved on March 3, 2014. 

  • Available at:

Larsen, Fredrik. June 8, 2012. "Norwegian Builders of Australia." ReiseFredrik i Australia. Retrieved on March 3, 2014.

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Malkin, Bonnie. December 3, 2008. “Australia’s White Possum Could Be First Victim of Climate Change.” Telegraph Media Group Limited. Retrieved on March 3, 2014.

  • Available at:

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 3, 2014.

  • Available at:

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. 

"Petropseudes dahli." Digital Morphology: A National Science Foundation Digital Library. Austin: University of Texas. Retrieved on March 3, 2014. 

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"Petropseudes dahli: Rock Ringtail Possum." Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved on March 3, 2014. 

  • Available at:

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

"Rock Ringtail: Petropseudes dahli." 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.

Schwarten, Evan. March 27, 2009. “’Extinct’ Possum Found in Daintree.” Ninemsn Pty Ltd. Retrieved on March 3, 2014.

  • Available at:

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

Stroede, Robert. 2007. "Petropseudes dahli: Rock Ringtail Possum (On-line)." Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved on March 3, 2014. 

  • Available at:

Webb, Myf. "TS-CRC Student Project - Ecology and Behaviour of Tropical Rock-haunting Possums (Petropseudes dahli and Wyulda squamicaudata)." Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre. Retrieved on March 3, 2014. 

  • Available at:

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

landscape of rock-haunters

Nourlangie Rock, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia.
Nourlangie Rock, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia.
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Photo jigsaw puzzle of Aboriginal painting, Kakadu, Northern Territory, Australia, Pacific: photo by Sybil Sassoon

0x14 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

Nourlangie Rock and Anbangbang Billabong, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia:

Schlenker Jochen
Nourlangie Rock and Anbangbang Billabong, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, 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: 08/12/2014, DerdriuMarriner
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


DerdriuMarriner on 03/04/2014

Mira, Yes, rock-haunters do care about survival.
Me, too, I enjoy the videos, but unfortunately no videos about rock-haunters could be found. :-(
Rock-haunters certainly live in an interesting landscape, including rocks decorated with aboriginal art. I would have liked to find a depiction of rock-haunters in aboriginal artwork.

Mira on 03/04/2014

So they eat leaves, fruit, flowers AND sap? They sure do know how to survive :)
I was also amazed by that stick figure drawing you're showing. Aboriginal art can be quite interesting. I was looking to find a video, too. Really enjoyed it/them last time. :)

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