Wild Mother with 2 Joeys - L. D'Arcy
To raise and release any native species requires you to have a license from D.E.R.M. If you are interested in becoming a carer, please read through this site, then contact this group or another to find out about joining.
This information is a guide only. Practices change and are updated constantly.
Any creature that comes into your care must be provided with the appropriate food and habitation to allow its eventual release back into the wild. These animals are not to be treated as pets, for if they are, the chances of their survival when released decreases dramatically.
Ringtail possums in particular are delicate creatures when young, and stress can cause their death quite quickly. They must not be handled by small children or given to other adults to ‘hold’ as you would a kitten. Ringtail joeys do much better in pairs, or even small groups, called colonies, rather than a single possum on their own. They are by nature a colony animal, and having a partner or two can often make the difference between life and death.
The gestation period for ringtail possums is short, and the young are underdeveloped when born. They make their way to the mother’s pouch, and hold onto a teat. Ringtails have four teats, and are capable of raising quadruplets, but the usual is one or two young.
Common Ringtails, like the Brush-tails, have learnt to live in domestic situations like cities and the surrounding suburbs. Ringtails build dreys for sleeping in. They prefer rainforest and shrubby woodlands. Found from Cape York through the eastern seaboard down to Tasmania and across to South Australia.
Ringtails are generally shyer, quieter and smaller, than their bigger cousins. Colours range from light grey to rufus brown to almost black. Limbs, even on darker possums, usually have a rufus tinge. Lower body ranges from white to amber, sometimes even a bright rufus brown. They can have pale or white facial markings, around the eyes and ears. They have small round ears, close to the head.
42 days – 20gm – may be independent of teat
95 days - 35-50 gm- eyes are opening.
skin darkens prior to fur appearing.
110 days - 45 -50 gm- fine covering of fur appears, starting to emerge from pouch
125 days – 70 -90 gm- may permanently leave the pouch.
150 - 200 days – 130 /400g- young may be weaned by mother
200 days – 350 gm – young may be independent of mother
400 days – 550 gm – independent of mother
Joeys emerge from the mothers pouch at around 3 to 4 months old, and then back ride on the mother, still drinking her milk as well as eating solids. They are weaned by the time they are 6 – 9 months old.
A furless brushtail joey has a better chance of survival than a furless ringtail joey. At around 40 gram, a ringtail may have its eyes open. Ringtail pinkies do not have as great a survival rate as the Brushtails – they are much more delicate creatures. Some carers have raised them from very small sizes, but it takes much dedication to do so.
At some point of being a carer, you may be required to remove a baby from a dead mother’s pouch. If the baby is still attached to the teat, DO NOT PULL IT OFF. If you do, you will cause irreparable damage to the joey’s palate, and the baby will eventually die. Ensure first that the mother is dead, then place a safety pin or paper clip THROUGH the skin of the teat above the baby’s mouth. Cut the teat from the mother, but leave it in the baby’s mouth. The baby will eventually (in around 2-3 hours) spit out the teat itself. Please don’t be put off by this. There is no blood or mess, and the skin of the teat is very thin, smaller than a straw. There is no other way to remove the baby to save it.
When in the pouch, the mother stimulates the joey to encourage them to toilet by licking their genital area, which encourages them to defecate or urinate. This keeps the pouch clean. This is a job that you will now have to do. Hold the baby firmly in one hand, and using a tissue, tickle the area around the cloacae, and baby will do the right thing for you! Because they can wee quite a lot, I use an old butter container, holding them above it so the wee drops into it. You can then put a lid on it. I get a clean container every day. A joey needs to be stimulated in this way every feed. Be gentle. Over stimulation can cause damage. A baby first into care may not wee much, as it may be dehydrated. As the joey grows older, it will go to the toilet by itself. Do not be overly concerned if your baby does not defecate.
Ringtails have a day time faeces and a night time faeces. Baby ringtails often ‘pap’, which means they re-ingest the daytime faeces as this helps to produce the bacteria in their guts that they need. They do not produce as much in the way of skats as joeys as other possums do until they are more independent in a cage. When it starts to toilet on its own, your job in that area is done!
If your ringtail appears jittery and nervous, although happy to be with you, you may find it needs a partner. Make sure that you let the register heads know the weight of your baby, so they can keep an ear out for a partner for your baby.
Offer native foliage and flowers from the time your baby is around 80 grams, as well as milk. As the baby grows older, drop milk from the mid-evening feed, offering a wide variety of foliage and flowers instead. Ringtails much prefer native foliage to human food of any kind. They particularly like Cadagi – a type of eucalyptus tree.
Be careful of where you collect your foliage – if you roadside collect, there is a chance of lead poisoning occurring from traffic pollution - wash your foliage before giving it to the joey. Stand the branches in water (I use an old drink bottle tied to the side of the cage) to keep them fresh. Replace each day or every second day, depending upon how fresh they are.
Husbandry when they first come into care.
When an animal comes into care, it may well be cold and in shock. Do not attempt to feed a joey in this condition. Warm it gently, either with your own body heat or a hot water bottle. Once the baby is warm and more responsive, you can offer Spark. Milk is not offered until the joey has toileted.
There are several things that can be offered to counteract shock –
As a general rule, ringtail joeys first into care need careful handling – many are lost on their first night in. If the joey is less than 60 grams, then extra care must be taken. Place the baby in a pouch, and gently warm to an ambient temperature of 28 to 32 C.
45 grams to 60 grams
The survival rate of un-furred ringtails is poor. Joeys of this size will need three hourly feeding, all through the night. They will only take around 1 ml of milk per feed, which does not seem much, but remember how small their tummy is!
60 grams to 80 grams
At this stage the baby does need to be kept warmed, but not always confined. They should be on around 5 milk feeds a day. Offer native foliage, remembering that ringtails prefer foliage to any other variety of food.
60 grams – around 2 mls per feed
80 grams – around 3 mls per feed
80 grams to 100 grams
If your joey is new into care, still offer heat – this reduces the effects of shock. Joeys at this age need more room to investigate. A Cockatoo cage that has been safely wired with small bird wire is a good place to hang the pouch. This way they can come and go as they please.
80 grams -3 ml per feed
100 grams – cut down the amount of feeds to three feeds a day – around 5 ml per feed.
Native foliage is a definite.
100 grams to 150 grams
New babies into care may still need heat for the first 24 – 48 hours. After that, check body warmth, but the baby should be generating its own heat.
100 grams – 3 feeds – 5 ml per feed – joey should be lapping
150 grams – 15-25 ml with one feed – joey should be lapping.
150 grams to 200 grams
By this stage the baby should be lapping milk, and one feed of milk can be left out for night time. A joey first into care may need heating, but once settled, should be self regulating.
Native foliage for a ringtail this size will be appreciated by your joey.
OVER 250 grams
Joeys of this size should not be handled – they are no longer babies, but juveniles, and should be treated as such. Supply native foliage and fresh water. Take care in introducing them to an already established colony. Sometimes they will not be accepted.
At this point, it is time to start playing together in the outside aviary. Take the joeys outside to the aviary each day, holding them until they become game enough to leave you and explore the aviary on their own. This takes around 2 weeks. Leave the joeys in the aviary by themselves for an hour, then go back and get them. Do this each day, gradually increasing the time they are left until you feel they are ready to spend a night out by themselves. Make sure you check them first thing in the morning.
Now comes the hard part! From around 350 - 400 grams you will need to start cutting down your contact with the colony. Take forage in during daylight hours.
Make sure they have access to fresh water, and keep the foliage fresh. Now all you need to do is watch until they are old enough to be released.
DO NOT neglect native foods – Foraging for native branches is part of your commitment to being a carer.
Native foliage should be offered. Look for flowering natives, as they intrigue the little ones to start with. Native foods are always best.
All possums, like people, have individual tastes, and you will have to experiment until you find what your joey will eat. Sometimes they refuse a food when they are little, then love it when they are older!
Most native plants/foliage is suitable to offer but try some of these:
E. ptychocarpa (Swamp Blood wood)
E.curtisii (Plunkett Mallee)
E. tereticornis (Forest Red Gum)
E.camadulensis (River Red Gum)
Grevillea (leaves and flowers)
Calliandra (Pom Pom) (leaves and flowers)
Lilly Pilly (leaves, fruit and flowers)
Mango (leaves, fruit and flowers)
Crepe Myrtle (flowers)
Bottlebrush (leaves and flowers)
Mulberry (leaves, fruit and flowers)
DON’T OFFER- Azalea, Oleander, Pepper Tree and Allemande – These are poisonous to possums.
Releasing a possum does not mean taking it out into the bush and dumping it there with a banana. Before the time comes for release, you need to find a suitable release site.
If you can soft release from your place all the better. A possum needs a couple of weeks in an aviary at the place it is going to be released, to accustom it to the noise and smells of the area.
The animals are released by opening the door, and allowing them to choose when they will come and go. Adult ringtails may decide to go out for the night and return to sleep in their own drey and they will often do this for a few weeks. After a few nights, you can hang the drey out in a tree near the aviary. Ringtails scent mark their trails, so they can usually find their way home! For the first few nights, I still supplement feed by putting native branches in the aviary. Eventually, when the possums decide not to return home, I still leave the door open for 5 days, to give the option of a safe haven. After that, I put feed on top of the aviary in case it is needed, for a week. Then they are on their own. I let my neighbours know that I am releasing, so that if my animal ends up in their yard, they can call me. This way, everyone looks out for my babies!
Release weight for a ringtail varies with the animal, but standard is when the smallest in the colony reaches 550 gram.
This is information is written from my own experience with raising ringtails. I have collected and collated the information over several years, gained from sharing information with other carers. This publication is designed to provide an overview of the subject matter covered, and whilst due care was taken in writing the materials, no liability is accepted for any error, omission or reliance upon information or advice.
Feeding Blossom - B. Clarke
Ringtail Joey - L. D'Arcy