Friday, August 17, 2012

Ground Cuscus

Phalanger gymnotis
After a week of cold-blooded, carnivorous Sharks, I think we're due for something warm, fluffy, and fruit eating. Meet the Ground Cuscus, a furry Marsupial native to New Guinea and its surrounding islands.

The Ground Cuscus has short grey hair with a white belly, along with a prehensile tail and opposable digits on their back feet to assist in climbing. They are nocturnal, solitary creatures, and feed during the night on fruits and leaves. The Cuscuses really only come together to breed, and like all Marsupials they have very, very short gestational periods. A mother Cuscus will be pregnant for only 13 days, though it will be another 100 days before their young actually leave the pouch.

Cuscuses are relatives to the Possums, and like the Possums, most of them are found living up in the trees almost exclusively. Not so with today's Cuscus! While they do feed in trees (and have the aforementioned adaptataions to help with climbing) they actually burrow in the ground (hence the name). They are the only Cuscus species to do this, but unfortunately those burrows make them easy to find by predators as well as human hunters.

Ground Cuscuses are taken by humans for use in traditional medicine, as food, and for the pet trade. Though they are listed as being of Least Concern (due to their large range and number of individuals), the population is on the decline overall and has actually been eliminated from some areas. Currently the species can be found in a handful of protected locations, but more measures will need to be taken if the downward trend continues.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : New Guinea
Size : Body Length up to 17in (44cm), Weight up to 6.5lbs (3kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Diprotodontia
Family : Phalangeridae -- Genus : Phalanger -- Species : P. gymnotis

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