The common Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) is the best known of all the possums because it has adapted to living in our cities and suburbs. It especially likes the leafy suburbs of Canberra.
The Brush-tailed Possum is a marsupial about the size of a domestic cat, with silver-grey fur above and a white to pale grey belly. Males have a reddish chest, tinted by a scent gland. The ears are long and oval-shaped and its tail is long, black and bushy. The underside of the tail is bare, enabling it to grip branches.
Brush-tailed Possums can often be seen on the ground but prefer the safety of trees. They are nocturnal, sleeping during the day and coming out at night to feed mainly on eucalypt leaves and flowers. However, they also eat fruit and common garden plants. They particularly like rosebuds. The compost heap is also highly attractive to possums for an easy meal of fruit and vegetable scraps.
Possums normally make their homes in tree hollows but if none are available they will use any suitable, dark place including the space between the ceiling and roof of houses and in garages.
Here they can cause sleepless nights for the humans living below as they move about and interact with other possums.
Rats and mice will also inhabit the roof space and, although smaller than a possum, they can still make a lot of noise. The presence of rats and mice is sometimes obvious due to their distinctive smell and droppings.
If a possum has moved into your home, blocking the entry point at night when the possum is out feeding is the only way to guarantee that it will not return. People should contact a licensed pest control company who can assist in finding and blocking any entry points.
Contrary to popular belief, trapping is not the best option. If a possum is removed by trapping, its home site becomes vacant, ready for another to move in. Sprinkling camphor or naphthalene in the occupied space will also deter them.
If you do not hear the possum for a few nights, it has probably found a new home. It may remain in the area if it finds a suitable place to nest or it may move to a new location.
Possums can be delightful creatures with their impressive acrobatics and cute and cuddly appearance best enjoyed from a distance. You can encourage them to stay in your neighbourhood by providing an alternative home such as nesting boxes made of a hollow log blocked at one end, or some other form of homemade shelter. It should be waterproof and placed four to five metres above the ground.
Possums are protected under the Nature Conservation Act 1980 and it is illegal for an unauthorised person to trap or harm them. Trapping, removing or killing a possum without a licence carries severe penalties.
For more information contact Access Canberra on 13 22 81.
Do not attempt to look after sick or injured wildlife if you are not a licensed and trained carer with RSPCA Wildlife.