This close-up of possum fur is one of several new 'body covering' photos in the 'other clues' group on our Clues page, where clues such as an animal's smell, its sound, bite marks, characteristic eye shine and geographic distribution are also featured.
Body covering includes fur, feathers and, in the case of the plague skink, the scales that cover reptilian skin. These can be helpful identifiers, whether sighting the actual animal or finding traces of fur or feathers left behind.
Possum fur – much prized for its warmth and luxuriance – is easily identifiable. Its fuzzy softness is evident in even small tufts, with the brown and grey top coat giving the dominant colour over the dense pale-coloured undercoat. In comparison, the hair in the example of feral pig fur shown below (left) is coarse and straight compared to the fine strands in possum fur.
Sometimes you might find little more than traces of fur or hair. In the photograph below (right) a guard hair from a ship rat has adhered to a gnawed karo fruit. It was identifiable because of recent ship rat trap catches and the droppings left close by, which indicated the presence of ship rats, although the single hair on its own would not normally be enough to be sure. If you do find tiny traces and you need to know the source, DNA testing may be helpful. In New Zealand, EcoGene Services provide this service.
With some species, the body covering can be the easiest identifier. The footprints and droppings of magpies, for instance, are not easily distinguished from those of other perching bird species but their black and white plumage is distinctive.