The solitary creatures are mostly nocturnal, spending the day in hollow tree trunks and crevices, or under brush piles and in burrows. They are excellent climbers and good swimmers. They have excellent memories and sensitive noses; if they are surprised during the day, they can enter a state of “playing possum,” which looks like fainting and lasts from less than a minute to six hours, and is intended to distract predators.
The females are the dominant sex, and home ranges (which may be 0.1-25 hectares) are handed down from mother to daughter; males usually move to new territory after reaching adulthood, which reduces inbreeding within the population. The average gestation period is 13-18 days and young joeys are carried in the pouch until they’re 10-12 months old.
Pompoms are often a nuisance in suburban gardens, where they can cause a lot of damage by eating berries, grapes and fruit trees, defecating on garden paths and patios and fighting with cats and dogs (they have teeth that are strong enough to inflict serious injury). They also feed on native ferns and shrubs, and the juicy, tasty flowers of native plants like fuchsia and wilson’s pinky.
Possums have an apparently limitless appetite for plant material, and their damage is visible: magnificent canopy trees once covered in green are reduced to skeletons with bare branches, and bush birds that filled the morning with song are rarely seen. The animals scavenge mainly on indigenous species such as fuchsia, rata, five-finger, karaka and kamahi, but they also eat introduced plants such as pine (they strip bark to get at the sweet tissues underneath), rewarewa, lancewood and titoki.