Possums – real pests in NZ…

Introduced to New Zealand in 1837 to establish a fur trade, the possum has become one of the greatest threats to our natural environment.

In its native land the possum is up against dingoes, bush fires and less palatable vegetation. In New Zealand there are no predators and lots of very palatable vegetation. As a result, possums have a huge impact on New Zealand ecosystems.

The Australian brush tailed possum was introduced into New Zealand in 1837 to establish a fur trade.


The possum has a thick, bushy tail, a pointed snout and long, fox-like tapering ears.

Size and weight of possums varies greatly across New Zealand. Adult possums are typically between 65 and 95 cm in length, and can weigh anywhere between 1.4 and 6.4 kg.

Possum scavenges woodpigeon nest.
Possum scavenges abandoned woodpigeon nest

There are two general colour forms, grey and black, although each of these varies greatly.

  • Grey possums are generally a clear grizzled grey on the body, with the face pale grey, darker around the eyes and on the side of the snout, and white at the base of the ears.
  • Black possums are generally a deep, yellowish-brown, tinged with rusty red. The ears have little or no white at the base and the tail is nearly entirely black.

The sternal gland stains fur on the throat and chest a dark rusty red, more prominently in males than in females, and more prominently in grey than in black possums.

Behaviour and life cycle

Possums can live anywhere that has shelter and a varied food supply. They can be found all across New Zealand, with the exception only of the high rainfall, mountainous terrain of Fiordland.

Possum and rat preying on a thrush nest.
Possum and rat both preying on a thrush nest

Forests are the major habitat, especially hardwood mixed forests, where possum densities are particularly high. Forest/pasture margins are also known to support very dense populations.

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