World-first possum study finds they learn by watching others, which could hamper eradication efforts

A study into possum behaviour has found they learn by watching others, which could hamper eradication efforts if they can evade traps and bait.

For the study, which is a world first, over five nights, one group of possums were given a puzzle each, while another group watched on. At the end of the five days, the observing possums were given the puzzles.

"When we gave it to the observers, most of them in less than a minute on that first night, they had opened at least one of the targets. They were consistently faster," said possum researcher Emma Godfrey.

One enjoyed their treat at the end of the puzzle so much that it fell over. 

It's believed to be the first documented evidence of social learning in common brushtail possums, showing they learn by watching. This could mean possums learn how to avoid traps and bait by watching their peers get caught.

"It can have implications on pest control, now that we know possums learn from other possums," Godfrey said.

There are upsides to this research.

"Anything that can help us adjust our techniques in trying to achieve our national goal is good, because it's tough," said James Wilcox from Predator Free Wellington.

It's tough because pesky possums are incredibly destructive.

"They eat birds, they eat chicks, they eat eggs, they eat invertebrates, insects. They compete with our native birds for cavities in trees where a lot of our native birds like to nest," Wilcox said.

This is why the Government is aiming to eradicate all possums, stoats, ferrets, weasels and rats from New Zealand by 2050.

Godfrey is hoping her work will help.

"There are some exciting things that can be done from what we've found," she said.

So that the possum population keeps falling.