Estimating the proportions of various leaves in the diet of the opossum, Trichosurus vulpecula Kerr, by faecal analysis.
Ten captive opossums fed between experiments on grass pellets supplemented with bread, fruit and vegetables were given chopped fresh leaves of Pseudopanax arboreum, five-finger, and other trees, mixed into a cake with wheat flour, starch, sugar, salt and milk powder. Faeces were collected and fragments of abaxial cuticle were counted and graded by length. Mature leaves of 39 tree species were given to the opossums and all were detected in faeces. There was a wide variation in resistance of the leaf cuticle to digestion, between species, between animals and between trials on the same animal. Analysis of faeces can give a reliable list of species eaten but quantitative evaluation is complicated by the variance in persistence. Although leaves form a major part of the opossum's diet throughout the year, other foods are eaten and means of identifying them and assessing intake would be necessary before the diet of the wild opossum could be assessed from collected faeces.