Possums compete with native birds for habitat and for food such as insects and berries. They also disturb nesting birds, eat their eggs and chicks and may impact on native land snails.
The damage to native forests is clear. Possums ignore old leaves and select the best new growth. In some areas they have eaten whole canopies of rata, totara, titoki, kowhai and kohekohe.
Dairy and deer farmers have the added worry of possums spreading bovine tuberculosis.
Possums are a nuisance in suburban gardens, and sometimes even indoors.
Evidence shows stoats and possums are eating kea. Researchers using nest-cameras have witnessed the gruesome reality inside defenceless kea nests invaded by stoats and possums in South Westland. More information.
The possum has a thick, bushy tail, a pointed snout and long, fox-like tapering ears.
Size and weight of possums varies greatly across New Zealand. Adult possums are typically 65 to 95 cm long and weigh 1.4 to 6.4 kg.
There are two general colour forms, grey and black, although each of these varies greatly.
- Grey possums are generally a clear grizzled grey on the body, with the face pale grey, darker around the eyes and on the side of the snout, and white at the base of the ears.
- Black possums are generally a deep, yellowish-brown, tinged with rusty red. The ears have little or no white at the base and the tail is nearly entirely black.
The sternal gland stains fur on the throat and chest a dark rusty red, more prominently in males than in females, and more prominently in grey than in black possums.
Possums can live anywhere with shelter and a varied food supply. They are found across New Zealand, with the exception of the high rainfall, mountainous terrain of Fiordland.
Forests are the major habitat, especially hardwood mixed forests, where possum densities are particularly high. Forest/pasture margins are known to support very dense populations.
Possums are nocturnal, although in winter starving or sick animals may emerge to feed in the afternoon.
You can help to control possums
Regular predator control will help to control possum numbers and get us closer to the Predator Free 2050 goal.
DOC is charged with the care of New Zealand's native plants and wildlife. The survival of whole ecosystems is affected by the possum.
We are one of the agencies that manage possum control - other agencies include TBfree New Zealand, regional councils and the Ministry for Primary Industries. More information on possum management agencies.
DOC commits resources to possum control at priority sites to ensure long-term survival of species and the ecosystems that support them.