What gives golden possums their colour?

By Jenna Hanson 31 August 2017
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A rare genetic mutation is behind the golden colour of this possum.

GOLDEN BRUSHTAIL possums, adorable and rare, are an unusual form of the common brushtail possum that get their fluffy golden coats from a genetic mutation that results in low levels of melanin in their skin and fur; this is the same pigment that gives human skin and hair its colour and makes you look tanned.

Unfortunately for these little guys, their colour is more of a bane in the wild because it makes them conspicuous to predators. It’s hard to hide among the leaves when you’ve got bright golden fur! Because of this, the golden brushtail possum is a rare sight in the wild, being found mostly in small pockets around Tasmania where they have fewer wild predators.

Possums: widespread marsupials

There are four main colour variations of the common brushtail possum: silver-grey, brown, black and golden. The common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) is one of the most widespread species in Australia, found throughout the eastern and northern parts of the continent, as well as some western regions, Tasmania and a number of offshore islands. Possums are omnivores, though they mainly feed on the leaves of trees and shrubs and enjoy succulent herbs, grasses and garden plants.

Bailey (also pictured below), is a part of the successful breeding program of golden possums at the Wildlife Zoo Sydney.