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Brushtail possum.jpg
Common brushtail possum
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Clade: Synapsida
Class: Mammalia
Infraclass: Marsupialia
Order: Diprotodontia
Superfamily: Phalangeroidea
Family: Phalangeridae

The Phalangeridae are a family of nocturnal marsupials native to Australia and New Guinea, including the cuscuses, brushtail possums, and their close relatives. Considered a type of possum, most species are arboreal, and they inhabit a wide range of forest habitats from alpine woodland to eucalypt forest and tropical jungle.


Phalangerids are relatively large, compared with other possums. The smallest species, the Sulawesi bear cuscus, is cat-sized, averaging 34 cm (13 in) in length, while the largest, the black-spotted cuscus is around 70 cm (28 in) long, and weighs 5 kg (11 lb). Besides the large size, other key features distinguishing phalangerids from other possums include the presence of bare skin on at least part of the tail, and low-crowned molar teeth. They have claws on the fore feet, but none on the hind feet, although these do have an opposable first toe to help grip onto branches. Additionally, in all but one species, both the first and second digits of the fore feet are opposable. The fur is typically dense or woolly, and may be grey, black, or reddish-brown, often with spots or stripes.[2]

Most phalangerids are folivores, feeding primarily on leaves. Like some similar species, they have a large cecum to ferment this highly fibrous food and extract as much nutrition as possible. However, their teeth are not as highly adapted to this diet as in other possums, and they also eat fruit, and even some invertebrates. The only exception to these general rules is the ground cuscus, which is carnivorous, and is also less arboreal than other phalangerid species.[2] The dental formula of phalangerids is:


Gestation in phalangerids lasts 16–17 days in those species so far studied. The females have a well-developed pouch, and typically raise only one or two young at a time, less than many other possums. The adults are typically solitary, defending territories marked by scent-gland spray, odiferous saliva, urine, or dung.[2]

Most possums conserve the functions of the epipubic bones. The exception is Trichosurus, which remarkably among marsupials has shifted the hypaxial muscles from the epipubic to the pelvis, exploying a more placental-like breathing, having lost the benefits of the epipubic in regards to lung ventilation. In general, these possums are more terrestrial than other members of this group, and resemble terrestrial primates in some respects.[3]


This classification is based on Ruedas & Morales 2005. The family Phalangeridae consists of six genera and 28 species.[1]


  1. ^ a b Groves, C.P. (2005). Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M., eds. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 45–50. OCLC 62265494. ISBN 0-801-88221-4. 
  2. ^ a b c Dickman, Christopher R. (1984). Macdonald, D., ed. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. pp. 850–855. ISBN 0-87196-871-1. 
  3. ^ Reilly SM, McElroy EJ, White TD, Biknevicius AR, Bennett MB, Abdominal muscle and epipubic bone function during locomotion in Australian possums: insights to basal mammalian conditions and Eutherian-like tendencies in Trichosurus, J Morphol. 2010 Apr;271(4):438-50. doi: 10.1002/jmor.10808.
  • Ruedas, L.A. & Morales, J.C. 2005. Evolutionary relationships among genera of Phalangeridae (Metatheria: Diprotodontia) inferred from mitochondrial data. Journal of Mammalogy 86(2):353-365.