The honey possum (Tarsipes rostratus) or noolbenger is a tiny Australian marsupial weighing just seven to eleven grams for the male, and eight to sixteen grams for the female—about half the weight of a mouse. Their physical size ranges from a body length of between 6.5 – 9 cm. They have a typical lifespan of between one and two years.
The honey possum has no close relatives. It is currently classified as the only member of the genus Tarsipes and of the family Tarsipedidae, but many authorities believe that it is sufficiently distinct to be more properly raised to a separate superfamily within the Diprotodontia, or perhaps even further. It is thought to be the sole survivor of an otherwise long-extinct marsupial group. Although restricted to a fairly small range in the southwest of Western Australia, it is locally common and does not seem to be threatened with extinction so long as its habitat of heath, shrubland and woodland remains intact and diverse.
It is one of the very few entirely nectarivorous mammals; it has a long, pointed snout and a long, protusible tongue with a brush tip that gathers pollen and nectar, like a honeyeater or a hummingbird. Its teeth are fewer and smaller than is typical for marsupials, with the molars reduced to tiny cones, and a dental formula of
Floral diversity is particularly important for the honey possum as it cannot survive without a year-round supply of nectar, and unlike nectarivorous birds, it cannot easily travel long distances in search of fresh supplies. Radio-tracking has shown, however, that males particularly are quite mobile, moving distances of up to 0.5 km in a night and with utilisation areas averaging 0.8 hectares. Both its front and back feet are adept at grasping, enabling them to climb trees with ease, as well as traverse the undergrowth at speed. Honey possums can also utilise their tail (which is longer than their head and body combined) to grip, much like another arm.
The honey possum is mainly nocturnal but will come out to feed during daylight in cooler weather. Generally, though, it spends the days asleep in a shelter of convenience: a rock cranny, a tree cavity, the hollow inside of a grass tree, or an abandoned bird nest. When food is scarce or in cold weather, it becomes torpid to conserve energy.
Breeding occurs during early summer, and honey possums typically begin to mate once they reach an age of six months, the fathers leaving as soon as the mating is over. Their gestation period lasts for about twenty eight days, and they typically produce two to four offspring. Once born, the babies will take refuge inside the mother's pouch and feed on her milk for around eight weeks until they grow a coating of fur which will enable them to survive outside of the pouch. As soon as they emerge, they are often left in a sheltered area (such as a hollow in a tree) while the mother searches for food for herself, but within days they learn to grab hold of the mother's back and travel with her. However, their weight soon becomes too much, and they will stop feeding off milk at around eleven weeks, and start to make their own homes shortly after this.
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