Tasmanian pygmy possums, also known as little pygmy possums, are tiny tree-dwelling marsupials that might be mistaken for rodents. The large-eared, long-tailed critters grow no longer than 5 to 6 centimeters, or about 2 inches long, and weigh about 7 grams. They’re believed to be the smallest possums in the world, and because of their miniature size, it makes sense that they might be difficult to spot in the wild, even for wildlife biologists who know where to look for them.
Kangaroo Island, a 1,700 square mile island 8 miles off the coast of South Australia, suffered unprecedented damage during the bushfires that burned millions of acres and claimed the lives of dozens of humans and millions of animals during the 2019-2020 brushfire season. Multiple lightning strikes started fires on the island, resulting in the largest fires in the island’s recorded history, burning more vegetation than any previous fire on the island.
Because of this, environmentalists were worried that the island’s pygmy possum population had been wiped out.
Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife, a voluntary biodiversity conservation program, is part of the Wildlife and Habitat Bushfire Recovery Program. With a grant from the fund, the organization has been surveying the island to find and protect any threatened species. During their efforts, the team has discovered more than 20 different wildlife species, including pygmy possums.
“The status of the little pygmy possum (cercartetus lepidus) was unknown pre 2020 bushfires on #kangarooisland,” tweeted Pat Hodgens, a fauna ecologist with Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife.
“With most of its habitat severely burnt we are happy to have detected the species for the first time since the fires in the largest unburnt patch.”
The status of the little pygmy possum (cercartetus lepidus) was unknown pre 2020 bushfires on #kangarooisland. With most of its habitat severely burnt we are happy to have detected the species for the first time since the fires in the largest unburnt patch #BushfireRecoveryAU pic.twitter.com/tSRjPunDZ8
— Pat Hodgens (@terrainecology) December 4, 2020
“There’s only really been 113 formal records of the species [ever on Kangaroo Island],” Hodgens told ABC News Australia. “So certainly not very common and, obviously, the summer bushfires burnt through much of that habitat that species had, but we were certainly hopeful that we would find them.”
Other species the group has captured include several types of skinks and frogs, tammar wallabies, southern brown bandicoots and native bush rats.
There have been other signs of hope after the devastating brushfire season in Australia. Many animals were rescued during the fires, and wildlife organizations stepped up to house and provide medical care for koalas and other species. In May, a wildlife park in New South Wales announced its first koala joey born after the brushfires.