Evolution and systematics

This small household of simply two residing species has created greater than its share of taxonomic debate. Feather-tailed possums had been as soon as thought to be true possums of the household Phalangeridae. In the 1970s, they had been moved to the pygmy possum household, Burramyidae. Soon after that, they got full household standing of their very own and have become the Acrobatidae, allied first to the pygmy possums within the superfamily Burramyoidea, then with gliding possums within the Petauroidea. In 1987, the household was replaced once more, this time alongside the honey possum within the superfamily Tarsipedoidea. Acrobatids differ from different possums in having six pads on their ft as a substitute of 5 (an adaptation to improve grip when climbing) and a tail with rows of lengthy stiff hairs alongside either side, forming a feather-like construction. Undoubtedly, that is an adaptation to gliding. In the Australian pygmy glider ( Acrobates pygmaeus), the tail is used as a rudder to give the animal elevated management because it glides although the air on membranes of pores and skin stretched between its back and front legs. But the opposite species, New Guinea’s feather-tailed possum ( Distoechurus pennatus), doesn't have such a membrane and can't glide. The featherlike tail is a relic that reveals that this species has deserted the gliding way of life its ancestors spent a number of million years evolving.

Physical traits

Feather-tailed possums possess quite a lot of variations to life within the bushes, in addition to a variety of bodily traits that set them properly aside from different possums. Acrobates is tiny—the smallest gliding marsupial, weighing lower than 0.5 oz (14 g). The gliding membrane is a slim strip of furry pores and skin. The fingers and toes finish in expanded spherical pads with minutely serrated surfaces and sharp claws, thus guaranteeing good grip on tough and easy surfaces alike. Distoechurus is longer and three to 4 instances heavier than its gliding cousin and its fingers and toes lack expanded tips. Its face bears distinctive markings within the type of black and white stripes. Both species have giant eyes and rounded, sparsely haired ears with advanced fleshy nodules on the opening to the ear canal.

Distribution

Both species of feather-tailed possum are likely descended from a standard ancestor that lived all through what's now jap Australia and New Guinea earlier than rising sea ranges flooded the Torres Straits. Distoechurus is endemic to New Guinea and Acrobates is discovered from the acute northeastern tip of Australia at Cape York all the way in which down to southernmost Victoria and South Australia. It doesn't happen on Tasmania.

Habitat

Acrobatids are strictly arboreal. Individuals hardly ever, if ever, enterprise to floor degree, the place they'd be susceptible to predators, together with different mammals and reptiles. The pygmy glider lives in a various vary of forest habitat from tropical rainforest of northern Queensland to the montane eucalyptus woodlands of the south.

Behavior

Feather-tailed possums are nocturnal, shy, and elusive. They reside in tall bushes, usually in distant forests, and Acrobates has the flexibility to swoop from one tree to one other. All this makes shut commentary extraordinarily troublesome; many particulars of their on a regular basis lives stay unknown. Even pygmy gliders saved in captivity have proved tough topics for examine—gliders saved in sparse enclosures or in pairs moderately than teams don't survive properly or breed. Acrobates is very social. In the wild, teams of up to 20 or extra animals of each ####es and varied ages might construct and share a collection of nests inside a joint dwelling vary. Aggression is outwardly uncommon, and animals of all ages relaxation huddled shut collectively, particularly during times of chilly climate or food scarcity once they enter a deep lethargic sleep. In distinction, Distoechurus spends extra time alone or in pairs. Being comparatively giant, it's much less depending on shared physique warmth to preserve vitality. Both species of acrobatid possum are very good climbers, however solely Acrobates has retained the flexibility to glide. A glide is an prolonged leap, throughout which the animal splays its 4 limbs to open a slim net of furry pores and skin known as the “patagium.” This serves as a parachute, slowing the speed of descent and giving the possum some management over its trajectory and permitting it to journey 65 ft (20 m) or extra via the air. Just earlier than touchdown, the possum swings its hind ft ahead, thus lowering airspeed, and bracing all 4 legs for touchdown on a vertical floor akin to a tree trunk. The featherlike tail is used as a rudder and a brake to assist management the quick “flight.”

Feeding ecology and weight loss program

Feather-tailed possums concentrate on high-energy, highprotein meals akin to nectar, flowers, and bugs. Most feeding happens at evening, though nursing moms are generally compelled to forage throughout the day to meet their household’s calls for for milk.

Reproductive biology

Breeding can occur at any time of year within the tropics, however births in each species have a seasonal peak in spring. Female pygmy gliders breed of their first year and should share a nest with different adults, together with different breeding females. A postpartum estrus and embryonic diapause imply {that a} second litter could also be born inside a day or two of the primary litter being weaned. Very little is thought in regards to the reproductive biology of Distoechurus. Both species is perhaps polygynous.

Conservation standing

Both Distoechurus and Acrobates are thought to be widespread in appropriate habitat, although detailed inhabitants info is strictly restricted.