Scaly-tailed possum: boss-level hide-and-seek skills

Name: Scaly-tailed possum (Wyulda squamicaudata).

Size: The size of a cute furry basketball, they can grow up to 2 kg and have a head body length of up to 40 cm, plus up to 30 cm of tail.

Diet: Primarily fruits, but also partial to seeds, leaves and flowers of rocky gorge plants.

Habitat/range:  Sheltered, fire-protected gorges from Victoria River region in far-west Northern Territory through to north-west Kimberley coast.

Conservation status: Vulnerable.

Superpower/fun fact: Would fit right in at Cirque du Soleil with their acrobatic capabilities and scaly, grippy tails!

Up close photograph of the scaly tail of a scaly-tailed possum
Scaly-tailed possum tail. Credit: Larissa Potter/AWC

These secretive adorable weirdos have boss-level hide-and-seek skills, being one of the last medium sized mammals described by European scientists from the East Kimberley in 1919. They were then only recorded in higher rainfall, coastal, north-west Kimberley for almost 100 years until 2012 when camera traps spied them in Emma Gorge in the East Kimberley. In 2018 scaly-tailed possums were again caught on camera, unbothered, relaxed and flourishing at Bullo River Station, a further 200 km to the east.

Their scientific name means ‘possum scaly tail’ with “Wyulda” being a First Nations’ word for possum taken from the Gascoyne Region of Western Australia, so is a bit of a misnomer! They have stout bodies and somewhat flattened skulls, incredibly grippy feet and prehensile tails; all perfect for squeezing into deep rock crevices for long daytime snoozes, and for frolicking through the night, climbing rocky escarpments and overhanging trees.

Their fascinating tail is covered in distinct tiny, non-overlapping keratinous scales – the stuff fingernails and hair are made of – and is used to help with climbing figs, palms and other trees and rocks in search of delicious fruits, seeds, leaves and flowers. They often hang only by their tail to reach the tastiest morsels, which is quite a feat of strength and they need lots of rock complexity and variation in plants growing near their den sites to live their best life.

Photo of a scaly-tailed possum at night, captured on a camera trap
Scaly-tailed possum captured on a camera trap. Credit: AWC

Studies in 2014 from a tiny 23 genetic samples found that the East and West Kimberley populations were pretty closely related, so there are very likely other populations of these enigmatic possums chilling out in their tropical gorges, and have been adapting and moving into the best homes for the last 40,000 years and no doubt sharing them with First Nations people.

Female and male possums often have overlapping home ranges and usually have one joey between March and August which hangs with Mum for around eight months.

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