Find out how the lesser-known little pygmy-possum is faring post-bushfire

Learn about SA’s lesser-known bushfire-affected creatures. Here’s how the little pygmy-possum is faring today.

Interested in learning how some of Kangaroos Island’s lesser-known species are faring since South Australia’s devastating 2019-20 summer bushfires?

We’ve already highlighted the plight of the Kangaroo Island western whipbird, the Australian owlet-nightjarthe southern emu-wren, the bassian thrush, and the beautiful firetail.

Now it’s time to learn about the little pygmy-possum.

About little pygmy-possums

Pygmy-possums are among SA’s tiniest marsupials and are some of the cutest! Kangaroo Island has two species of pygmy-possums: the western and the little.

Western pygmy-possums are widespread across Kangaroo Island and the southern Australian mainland.

While little pygmy-possums also occur in the upper southeast of SA, adjacent areas of north-western Victoria and in Tasmania, the Kangaroo Island population is only found on the western, fire-affected parts of the island.

The little pygmy-possum is as small as a mouse and considered a threatened species in SA.

Its diet consists of nectar and pollen from a wide range of flowering plants. It also preys on small lizards and invertebrates, such as spiders, scorpions and insect larvae.

Pygmy possums can enter a state of torpor during unfavourable conditions. Torpor means the animal enters a state of decreased physiological activity, usually by a reduced body temperature and metabolic rate. Torpor helps animals to survive periods of reduced food availability.

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A little pygmy possum (image courtesy of Jody Gates)

What type of monitoring is underway and why?

Following the summer bushfires, National Parks and Wildlife Service South Australia (NPWSSA) has been monitoring wildlife on Kangaroo Island with motion sensor-activated cameras.

The surveying helps rangers and ecologists to better understand the native and feral animals living in, or passing through, the bushfire-affected areas of the island.

The cameras help NPWSSA learn about not only common species or those active during the day, but also capture images of nocturnal species like the little pygmy-possum.

How is the species faring post-bushfire?

On Kangaroo Island prior to the recent bushfire, the little pygmy-possums population was generally found on the west end of the island. This is the area that was hit by the bushfires.

Pygmy-possums can survive fire, but long-term effects of the recent fires on the little pygmy-possum are unknown.

Unlike other pygmy-possum species, little pygmy-possums stay close to the ground in vegetation. So, the bushfires may have resulted in very high mortality rates for this species.

Recent camera monitoring has helped to build knowledge about both species of pygmy-possum, their behaviours and the habitats where they have survived.

It is difficult to tell the western and little pygmy-possum apart by images captured by NPWSSA motion sensor cameras. Nevertheless, the monitoring help identify where some more focused surveying work can be done to determine little pygmy-possums versus western pygmy-possums populations post-bushfire. 

Do you want to learn more about how SA’s wildlife is recovering post-bushfires? Check out our recent stories about the Kangaroo Island western whipbird, the Australian owlet-nightjarthe southern emu-wren, the bassian thrush, and the beautiful firetail.

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