Friday, June 29, 2012

Animal Spotlight: The Mountain Pygmy Possum

You've probably never heard of the mountain pygmy possum (Burramys parvus); few people have, it being one of Australia's many lesser known marsupials.  One of five extant (opposite of extinct, or still living today) species of pygmy possum, the mountain pygmy possum has a very interesting story about its discovery, a story that we will now look at.

The genus Burramys, the genus the mountain pygmy possum is a part of, also contains three extinct species of possum.   In fact, prior to 1966, the mountain pygmy possum had been described solely from fossils dated from the Pleistocene Epoch.  (The Pleistocene Epoch dates from around 2.5 million years ago to around 10,000 years ago, when the last Ice Age ended.)  It was first described from these Pleistocene fossils by the famous geologist/zoologist/paleontologist Robert Broom in the year 1896, and was assumed to be extinct, just like the other three members of the genus Burramys.  That is until 1966, when one showed up in a ski hut on Mount Hotham, a mountain in New South Wales, southern Australia, and home to the Hotham Alpine Resort.

Since this surprising discovery, scientists have located three populations of the Mountain Pygmy Possum in different spots in southern Australia.  Although it is exciting to discover a species that was previously thought to be extinct, it is saddening to find out that this animal has a wild population of a mere 2,000 individuals, and is labeled "Critically Endangered" by the IUCN.  Means have been taken to protect the mountain pygmy possum, including the so-called "Tunnel of Love," a little possum-path that granted the males better access to the female habitat, and helping to reduce fatal encounters with automobiles.

Works Cited:

Mountain Pygmy Possum. (n.d.). - Just another weblog. Retrieved June 29, 2012, from

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