Trichosurus vulpecula, the brushtailed possum, is native to Australia and was introduced to New Zealand during the 1800s with the ever popular notion of establishing a lucrative fur trade. Shockingly, the buggers got loose. Wait a few years and you have on your hands a bonafide invasive species with no known predators on the island. They’re kind of cute, kind of ugly, and really hungry. They are primarily folivorous, but have been known to eat small mammals in a pinch, also… wait for it… kiwi birds. Bad idea possums, might as well come to America and eat baby bald eagles or mooselets in Canada. This can mean only one thing.
The possums must be stopped.
They will be spun into fancy yarns and sold at a premium to knitters around the globe. (No really, I’m serious. Stick with me.)
Another fur trade contender and large herbivorous nasty looking thing from S. America, Myocastor coypus or the nutria/coypu/”beaver rat”, escaped farm life to the swamps of the US gulf coast in the 1930’s and 40’s. They proceeded to make themselves unwelcome by way of massive burrowing campaigns and appetites of biblical plague proportion. Attempts to market nutria fur and ephemera like sausages and jerky have met with waning enthusiasm over the years. So how is this Australian tree rat bridging a Pangean gap to the realm of luxury goods?
Possum fur/hair is an excellent insulator because the individual strands are hollow, like polar bear fur. It’s also a good deal lighter weight than sheeps’ wool and pretty soft. It has a decently long staple length, which makes it easier to spin into yarn. Possum yarn is also novel and much more available in relative terms to some other luxury fibres. Take for example qiviut. Qiviut is pound for pound the most expensive fibre I can think of offhand. It’s produced by the wild muskoxen of the arctic north. People collect small tufts of hair that become entangled in brush and on fences and it takes several years before a qiviut cooperative has enough collected to go to the mill for production. A possum/wool blend sells for about $8 per oz. and qiviut is about $40 per oz. “Plain” sheep’s wool can be had for $1 per oz.
I feel obligated to say that there is controversy regarding the furry rampage of death. Traditionally, knitting yarns, and almost all fibres used in textile arts, don’t require bloody mayhem. Sheep’s wool, alpaca fleeces, and angora bunny fluff are harvested from the creature in a non-destructive manner. The animal is shorn in the spring or errant hairs are collected as they slough off during molting or brushing. I was myself initially repulsed when I realized the possums had to die. (I saw an ad for a “possum plucking machine” on New Zealand Craigslist…) I got over it though. I eat Chicken McNuggets and those guys aren’t exactly invasive. Make your own call.