Journal of Zoology

The feeding ecology of the striped possum Dactylopsila trivirgata (Marsupialia: Petauridae) in far north Queensland, Australia

D. R. Rawlins a1 and K. A. Handasyde a1
a1 Department of Zoology, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, 3010, Australia


The diet of striped possums Dactylopsila trivirgata inhabiting the tropical forests of far north Queensland, Australia, was investigated by observing foraging behaviour and analysing stomach samples collected opportunistically from dead animals. In contrast to non-dactylopsiline petaurids, which frequently use plant exudates as well as invertebrates, observations on the foraging behaviour of D. trivirgata indicate that it is an opportunistic forager feeding mainly on invertebrates. Animals occasionally fed on plant exudates but these contributed little to the diet. Nine different orders of invertebrates were present in stomach samples, with wood boring coleopteran and lepidopteran larvae, and adult hymenopterans and isopterans being most frequently represented in the diet. This is consistent with the unusual morphological characteristics of D. trivirgata's, such as their elongated fourth finger and powerful jaws, which appear to be adaptations for extracting prey such as wood-boring larvae. Two of the important prey taxa in the diet (alates of Formicidae, and larvae of Cerambycidae) had a very high fat content (44% and 40% of dry weight, respectively) suggesting that the animals may target prey of high nutritional value. Anatomical investigations indicated that, relative to body weight, the digestive tract of D. trivirgata was shorter than that of most other petaurids. These data further support the idea that D. trivirgata is more reliant on invertebrates than other members of the family Petauridae.

(Accepted June 13 2001)

Key Words: striped possum; Dactylopsila trivirgata; Petauridae; marsupial; diet; foraging behaviour; digestive tract morphology.