A common spotted cuscus. (Credit: Michael Thirnbeck/Flickr)

Common spotted cuscus a marsupial furball

  • March 09, 2018

Like balls of fluff, cuscus species are some of the most adorable marsupials on the planet.

Bec Crew

Becky Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.

WHAT A SWEET little face. This is the common spotted cuscus (Spilocuscus maculatus) from all over Papua New Guinea and the far north region of Queensland's Cape York Peninsula.

Like a white chocolate and caramel puff the size of a house cat, this species is wrapped in an incredibly beautiful coat, the females in an overall creamy colour with a ginger face, and the males ginger all over with a network of white splotches arranged like dappled sunlight.

This striking coat is what makes the spotted cuscus one of the world's prettiest marsupials, but it also makes it stand out like a beacon in the forest canopy.

With nothing but claws, teeth, and some kicky back legs to defend itself, the cuscus is easy prey for large birds like the Papuan eagle, tree pythons, and yes, humans.
One strategy to hide itself is a nocturnal lifestyle, but how does it keep out of sight in the light of day?

Cuscus use palm fronds to hide

In 2002, ecologist Thomas Heinsohn from the Australian National University visited New Ireland, a large island off the east coast of Papua New Guinea. Here he met an adult male spotted cuscus sleeping in a coconut palm.

Cuscuses don't curl themselves up in tree hollows like other possums do, so Heinsohn could spot it resting between the branches, about 12m up, with its head tucked between its legs in typical cuscus sleeping fashion. Curiously though, it looked like a palm frond had been deliberately pulled down and tucked around its body, obscuring the brightest shades of its coat.

"During steady observation through binoculars over the next hour, the resting cuscus was observed to actively grab hanging palm frond pinnae with its forepaws, pull them in towards itself, and tuck them in around its body to improve its quite effective camouflaging shield of vegetation," Heinsohn reported in the journal Australian Mammology. "Eventually only patches of its bright white and ginger-red spotted pelage were visible with the aid of binoculars through gaps in the camouflaging foliage."

So this adorable golden possum sleeps in trees with its head between its legs, wrapped in leaves like a cool green blanket.

The common spotted cuscus might have the most beautiful coat you've ever seen, but check out the blue-eyed spotted cuscus (Spilocuscus wilsoni) [Credit: WWF]

Discovered just 10 years ago, this extremely rare species somehow ended up with the most stunning pale blue eyes. Classified as critically endangered almost as soon as it was named, this species has so far eluded every recent survey to find a single individual in the wild.