flying possum

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flying possum

any of about six small phalangers-marsupial mammals of Australasia-that volplane from tree to tree like flying squirrels. Most have well-developed flaps of skin along the flanks; these become sails when the limbs are extended. An eastern Australian species, which feeds on nectar and insects, is the pygmy glider, or feathertail (Acrobates pygmaeus), only 15 cm (6 inches) in total length; it has narrow side flaps, and its 8-centimetre-long tail is stiffly haired laterally-a "feather" that helps it to navigate. The 25-centimetre-long pen-tailed phalanger (Distoechurus pennatus) of New Guinea lacks the flaps; its tail is furry at the base but otherwise featherlike.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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