NHMRC Public Consultations

Skip Navigation and go to Content
Visit NHMRC website

Revised draft A Guide to the Use of Australian Native Mammals in Biomedical Sciences submission

B. Please provide contact details

Personal information provided, e.g. contact details, will only be used for the purposes of developing resources relevant to this consultation document and will not be disclosed outside of members of NHMRC staff and NHMRC Committees. Such Information will not be used or disclosed for any other purpose, without prior written consent.

First Name: 
Prof Don
Last Name: 
E. Specific comments
Specific comments: 
Honey possum

My comments relate to the section on the marsupial Honey possum, Tarsipes rostratus, on which I and my colleagues have carried out research for the past two decades. The draft guidelines are sketchy and ignore relevant recent research and publications on this species.

Under Capture, Handling, Marking etc  workers are advised not to trap in wet weather. In fact we have shown that trapping success is highest during the passage of low pressure cold fronts and the possums experience no distress when confined on rainy nights in pitfall traps with sandy bottoms[1]. No mention is made in this section of the stress-prone nature of Honey possums, and the need to handle them with great care. We have shown that Honey possums possess adrenal glands that are approximately 100 times larger per kg body mass than those of other marsupials and with extremely high faecal excretory levels of the stress hormone, cortisol[2]. Rough handling of Honey possums can result in cardiac arrest within a matter of seconds and needs to be emphasised. They are particularly sensitive to high frequency noise and even the simple vigorous pulling of a Kleenex tissue from a box can be enough to evince a marked stress response. Mention should also be made of the fact that Honey possums are highly mobile, with recent radio-tracking showing 9g males moving up to 0.8km in a night[3], and that notice of this should be taken when installing traplines.

            Under Captive Husbandry their ease of maintaining animals in captivity in small cages is overemphasised. Not all individuals adapt to confinement in small cages and death due to inanition is common. Rather, the need for large-sized cages with the provision of adequate nutrition and access to fresh blossoms should be emphasised as confinement in small cages with controlled light and temperature regimes leads inevitably to a cessation of oestrous cycling in females[4],[5].  The question of a suitable diet for animals in captivity is somewhat confused, with early publications recommending a daily intake of 3 mL of a diet that subsequent studies have shown would be deficient in protein[6]. Measurements in free-ranging Honey possums have shown that a 9 g adult consumes, on average, 7 mL of nectar and 1 g of pollen per day[7] and that this provides the animals with approximately 10 times their daily minimal requirement of nitrogen (MNR) to maintain nitrogen balance[8]. The maintenance of a long-term colony over a number of years, with successful breeding and recruitment of young, was achieved after careful control of the composition and volume of diet offered to both males and females[9]. Contrary to what is advised in the draft, supplying “high levels of nitrogen” above a daily intake of 30 mg per day was found to be associated with gross kidney disease and renal failure[10].

            Under Anaesthesia, Analgesia and Sedation workers are referred to the preceding section for small possums, which is misleading. Most attempts to bleed Honey possums by conventional methods have led to rapid death by cardiac arrest, due to the stress involved. The only successful method that has been used with large numbers of Honey possums is orbital sinus bleeding which, if carried out by a highly experienced operator, is painless and well-supported by the animals with multiple bleeding of recaptured animals recorded in field studies7,[11].



[1] Bradshaw D, Phillips R, Tomlinson S, Holley R, Jennings S, Bradshaw FJ (2007) Ecology of the Honey possum, Tarsipes rostratus, in Scott National Park, Western Australia. Aust Mammal 29:25-38


[2] Oates J, Bradshaw FJ, Bradshaw SD, Stead-Richardson EJ, Philippe D (2007) Reproduction and embryonic diapause in a marsupial: Insights from captive female Honey possums, Tarsipes rostratus, (Tarsipedidae).  Gen Comp Endocrinol 150:445-461


[3] Bradshaw SD, Bradshaw FJ (2002) Short-term movements and habitat utilisation of the marsupial Honey possum, Tarsipes rostratus. J Zool, (Lond) 258:343-348


[4] Oates J, Bradshaw FJ, Bradshaw SD, Stead-Richardson EJ, Philippe D (2007) Reproduction and embryonic diapause in a marsupial: Insights from captive female Honey possums, Tarsipes rostratus, (Tarsipedidae).  . Gen Comp Endocrinol 150:445-461


[5] Bradshaw FJ, Bradshaw SD (2011) Progesterone and reproduction in marsupials: A review. Gen Comp Endocrinol 170:18-40


[6] Russell EM, Renfree MB (1989) Tarsipedidae. In: Walton DW, Richardson BJ (eds) Fauna of Australia: Mammalia. A.G.P.S., Canberra, pp 769-782


[7] Bradshaw SD, Bradshaw FJ (1999) Field energetics and the estimation of pollen and nectar intake in the marsupial honey possum, Tarsipes rostratus, in heathland habitats of south-western Australia. J Comp Physiol B 169:569-580


[8] Bradshaw FJ, Bradshaw SD (2001) Maintenance nitrogen requirement of an obligate nectarivore, the Honey possum, Tarsipes rostratus. J Comp Physiol B 171:59-67


[9] Bradshaw FJ, Everett L, Bradshaw SD (2000) On the rearing of Honey possums. West Aust Nat 22:281-288


[10] Bradshaw SD, Bradshaw FJ (2012) The physiology of the honey possum, Tarsipes rostratus, a small marsupial with a suite of highly specialised characters: a review. J Comp Physiol B. doi:10.1007/s00360-011-0632-9


[11] Bradshaw SD, Bradshaw FJ (2007) Isotopic measurements of Field Metabolic Rate (FMR) in the marsupial Honey possum, Tarsipes rostratus. J Mammal 88:401-407






F. General comments

 I have restricted my comments to the case of the Honey possum but I have also worked extensively on the physiology of a wide range of other marsupials and small mammals (quokka, tammar, euro. rock wallabies, chuditch, Gilbert’s potoroo, possums, bandicoot, rock rat,  Leggadina, Pseudomys, Rattus etc.).


As a former Chair of [institution name removed by ONHMRC] and Vice President and Chair of [institution name removed by ONHMRC] for over 10 years, I believe that my name could usefully be added to the list as “A Person with expertise in native mammals”.


My contact details are as follows:

Emeritus Prof Don Bradshaw

School of Animal Biology

University of Western Australia

[personal information removed by ONMHRC]

[personal information removed by ONHMRC]





Page reviewed: 24 April, 2014