Tag Archives: marsupials

Happy as a possum in a pouch

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills is talking about getting cozy. While we swelter in the heat of our Australian summer, getting cosy is the last thing we are thinking of. Keeping cool is our current priority. (Note: cozy in North America, is cosy in Australia!)

When I think of cosy, I think of huddling in front of a fireplace, shawl over my knees, cat at my feet, and a glass of wine, perhaps Prosecco, in my hand. This is not something I have ever experienced. It is an image portrayed on Christmas cards, book covers, and in movies.

It’s a bit of a stretch for me to contemplate cosy at the moment, and I wondered how young Australians with little experience of “cosy” might respond to the word.

I asked 7-year-old grandson what he thought of when he heard the word “cosy”. He said,

“Nice and warm in bed.”

His Dad thought there could be no better definition. In fact this is the definition provided by Google:

cosy

I asked grandson if he thought we would want to be cosy in summer and he said, “Well maybe not warm, but snuggly.” I think he did pretty well in defining the word.

Snuggly makes me think of the children in bed as shown in Helen Magisson’s version of The Night Before Christmas. (Look for the interview with Helene on the readilearn blog later this month.)

No doubt you have heard the expression, “snug as a bug in a rug”. Like cosy, the expression refers to being in a pretty comfortable position. I figured that being in a pouch would be about as cosy as a creature could get and, since Australia is home to many marsupials, it seemed a perfect fit for the post.

Marsupials are mammals that give birth to live young before they are fully developed. The young, usually referred to as joeys, continue to develop in the mother’s pouch for a number of months, suckling on their mother’s milk.

feeling-prickly-marsupials

As explained in Feeling a little prickly, Australia is home to almost 70% of the world’s marsupials. Other marsupials are found in the Americas, mostly South America. Kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, possums, wombats, Tasmanian devils, numbats, bilbies, and quolls are among the species of marsupials found in Australia.

Brushtail possums are common in Australia and frequently share our homes as well as our neighbourhoods.

At the moment, a mother and baby have taken up residence in Hub’s carport/workshop. We’re not particularly happy when they share our homes, but I love to hear and see them in the garden. Although I must admit that hearing a male brushtail possum for the first time can be a disturbing experience. I wrote about this in Sounds like …

While possums are not popular in New Zealand and efforts are being made to eradicate them, and other introduced pests, from the island nation; I think they are rather cute. When I was young I climbed everywhere and got into everything and, as a result, was nicknamed “Possum”. (What happened to that inquisitive child?)

I have previously written about some of my favourite picture books about possums, including  Possum in the House and Possum Goes to School in Listen to the sounds, and Possum Magic by Mem Fox in A celebration of Australian picture books #2 – Mem Fox

Possum goes to school2015-09-19-10-55-23

When Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a cozy story, how could I not write about a cute little possum joey getting cosy in the mother’s pouch. I hope you like it.

Happy as a possum in a pouch

Warm and cosy in mother’s pouch, for months he did no more than suckle and sleep. Lulled by her gentle heartbeat and rhythmic breathing, he barely noticed as she scurried about at night; foraging for food, leaping from branch to branch, avoiding neighbourhood cats, sometimes scouring dogs’ bowls for leftovers, or accepting humans’ sweet titbits. For him, nothing else existed.  Until … one night, a strange feeling stirred inside. He poked his whiskery nose outside. Sniff, sniff. The most delicious scent beckoned him out. Mother offered him something red. Zing! His senses ignited. Milk was forgotten, nightly foraging began.

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Feeling a little prickly?

Australia is home to a great diversity of, and many unique animals. Most native Australians are not found anywhere beyond its territories. I guess that’s not surprising since it is the world largest island or smallest continent country with vast expanses of ocean between it and other continents.

feeling-prickly-marsupials

Australia is home to almost 70% of the world’s marsupials. Other marsupials are found in the Americas, mostly South America. Kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, possums, wombats, Tasmanian devils, numbats, bilbies, and quolls are among the species of marsupials found in Australia.

Marsupials are mammals that give birth to live young before they are fully developed. The young, usually referred to as joeys, continue to develop in the mother’s pouch for a number of months, suckling on their mother’s milk.

feeling-prickly-monotremes

There is another group of even more unusual mammals: the monotremes. Monotremes are egg-laying mammals. The platypus and the echidna, the only existing species of monotremes, are unique to Australia.

The platypus

When Europeans first saw a platypus, they thought it was a hoax with its bill like a duck’s, tail like a beaver’s, and feet like an otter’s. It has fur like other mammals but, unlike other mammals, it lays eggs.

The platypus lives in burrows on the banks of freshwater streams and small rivers in eastern Australia, including Tasmania. It spends much of its time foraging in the muddy river beds for crayfish, worms and insect larvae.

Female platypus usually lay two eggs. When the young hatch, the mother releases milk from pores in her skin. The milk pools on her abdomen and is lapped up by the young for about three to four months. There is no special baby name for baby platypus. They are simply called ‘baby platypus’.

The male platypus, with a poisonous spur on its hind foot, is one of only a few venomous mammals.

Platypus predators include crocodiles, eagles, dingoes, and introduced animals such as foxes and feral cats.

The echidna

Echidnas, the oldest surviving mammals, live all over Australia in many different habitats. They usually live alone and are not territorial. Although it is rare to see an echidna in the wild, they are considered common. They generally hide away under vegetation, in logs, or in the burrows of other animals.

Echidnas eat termites and ants, and sometimes the larvae of other insects. They use their long snouts to forage in leaf litter, rotting logs, or ant mounds in search of food. Their long tongues are covered in sticky saliva for catching prey.

Echidnas are covered with spines along the head, back and tail. The spines are sharp and used for defence against predators.

Female echidnas usually lay one egg at a time. When the young, called a “puggle”, hatches, it makes its way to the mother’s pouch area to suckle milk. When the puggle starts to develop spines, at about 50 days, it is removed from the pouch. The mother continues to suckle it until it is about six to seven months old, at which time she deposits it at the entrance to the burrow, then walks away and abandons it.

Predators include goannas, Tasmanian devils, dingoes, eagles, and introduced animals such as foxes and feral cats. When threatened an echidna may run away or curl up in a ball.

Although all have spines, echidnas are not related to either hedgehogs or porcupines.

Here is a great article about these amazing echidnas.

If you are looking for books about Australian animals, check out the Steve Parish Storybook Collection by Rebecca Johnson, featured in last month’s Author Spotlight, which includes stories about both monotremes, many marsupials, and other fabulous creatures.

Monotremes and marsupials feature in the readilearn stories Bullfrog’s Billabong and Little Koala’s Party and their suite of resources.

Bullfrog's Billabong - coverlittle-koalas-party-cover

I was prompted to think about the diversity and uniqueness of these Australian animals, especially the echidna, by this week’s flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications. She challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a prickly story. I thought there was no better opportunity to share with you some of our amazing creatures, particularly since just last week I was lucky enough to see an echidna in the wild for the very first time.

The uniqueness and diversity of Australian animals reflects our own individual uniqueness and the diversity among us. We have much to learn about accepting difference, appreciating diversity, and acknowledging the unique characteristics each individual contributes to the enrichment of our collective humanity. Together we stand. Divided we fall.

Here is my response. I hope you enjoy it.

Stronger together

She bristled, warning platypus to stop. He didn’t.

“Feeling a little prickly, are we?”

Kookaburra, oblivious, laughed at the “joke”.

She smarted. Couldn’t he see the hurt in his words? Like a spur in her side, that last barb, really stung. Mocking difference pushed them apart.

The bush quietened. Not a breath of wind. Not a leaf’s rustle. Not a bird’s chirrup. Were all waiting for the victor to be decided?

Suddenly, out of the undergrowth, rushed a devil, hungry for blood.

Platypus turned to echidna. She contemplated leaving him. But stayed. Spur and spines together: a powerful defence.

 

Author’s note: Tasmanian devils have been known to eat echidnas, spines and all!

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.