Marsupials

WOMBAT, Vombatus ursinus

The Wombat is the largest burrowing mammal and its closest relative is in fact the Koala. With its short tail and legs, characteristic waddle and 'cuddly' appearance the wombat is one of the most endearing of Australia's native animals. The common Wombat was once found throughout southeastern Australia but now, partly as a result of European settlement, is restricted further to the south. It occupies Tasmania, eastern New South Wales and eastern Victoria with scattered populations in southeastern South Australia and southwestern Victoria. It is a fairly large, solidly built animal with a squat, round, bearlike body, small ears and eyes, and a large naked nose. Its thick, coarse fur varies in colour from sandy brown to grey and black, and is sometimes flecked with fawn. The Tasmanian Wombat is not as large or bulky as on the mainland, averaging 85 cm in length and 20 kg in weight, while the Flinders Island Wombat is smaller still at only 75 cm in length. They have short legs, large paws and long, strong claws which are used in the excavation of burrows.. It differs from all other marsupials by having a single pair of upper and lower incisors (front teeth). These teeth are never ground away as they are both rootless and never stop growing; which is just as well as the wombat often uses them for cutting through obstructions, much like a beaver! Being marsupials, female wombats have a pouch that in their case opens backward to prevent dirt and debris entering while burrowing. In Tasmania the wombat is widespread and found from sea level to alpine areas but shows a preference for heathland, coastal scrub and open forest, where soils favour their burrowing habits. The distinctive cube shaped dung of the Wombat is a useful indication of its comings and goings. Any new object within a home range is a prime target for marking with dung, particularly if it is elevated. Fallen trees, fresh mushrooms, rocks and even an upright stick have been found with dung on top! The cube shape means that dung is less likely to roll off such objects.

Wombats often dig their burrows in the areas above creeks and gullies. Burrows can be up to 20 m long and more than 2 m below the ground, and have numerous connecting tunnels and entrances. There may also be more than one nest in the burrow, which they make from sticks, leaves and grasses.

Wombats are mostly nocturnal, usually coming out at night to graze when temperatures are lower. However, in cold periods they may sometimes be seen about during the day either grazing or basking in the sun. They graze for between 3 and 8 hours a night, during which time they may travel many kilometres and visit up to four burrows within their home range to rest or tidy up the burrow. Although they are solitary animals, with only one wombat inhabiting any one burrow, the overlap of home ranges does occasionally result in a number of wombats using the same burrow.

The rump of the Wombat is covered by a very tough, thick skin. If threatened, a wombat will dive into a nearby burrow or hollow log, using its rump as protection from the teeth and claws of its attacker. The wombat is also capable of crushing attackers against the burrow roof. The diet of the wombat is composed entirely of plant material. Its main food is native grasses but shrubs, roots, sedges, bark and herbs are also eaten, while moss seems to be a particular delicacy. At times of food shortages they may dig up sections of dead grass to get at the roots. When feeding, the front feet of wombats are surprisingly dextrous -- they can pick up vegetation with one foot and 'hand' it to the mouth! The Wombat is common in Tasmania, particularly in the northeast of the state, and can be easily seen in certain spots both during the day and at dusk.

EASTERN QUOLL, Dasyurus viverrinus

Male Eastern Quolls (also called native cats) are about the size of a small domestic cat averaging 60 cm in length and 1.3 kg in weight; females are slightly smaller. They have thick, soft fur that is coloured fawn, brown or black. Small white spots cover the body except for the bushy tail which may have a white tip. Compared to the related Spotted-tail Quoll, the eastern quoll is slightly built with a pointed muzzle. It has two colour phases -- ginger-brown or black, both with white spots on the body but not the tail. Eastern quolls once occured on mainland Australia, with the last sighting occuring in the Sydney suburb of Vaucluse in the early 1960s. They are now considered extinct on the mainland, but the species, fortunately, is widespread and locally common in Tasmania. It is found in a variety of habitats including rainforest, heathland, alpine areas and scrub. However, it seems to prefer dry grassland and forest mosaics which are bounded by agricultural land, particularly where pasture grubs are common. Eastern Quolls can be seen in all but the Narawntapu Range National Park and the Arthur River area. They are common in Mt. Field National Park. The Eastern Quoll is largely solitary and nocturnal, occasionally foraging or basking during daylight. . It hunts and scavenges, feeding largely on insects.

Eastern quolls are nocturnal and only occasionally forage or bask during daylight. Like the Spotted-tail Quoll, the Eastern Quoll is an opportunistic carnivore that takes live prey and scavenges. It is an impressive hunter, taking small mammals such as rabbits, mice and rats. They can also be quite bold when competing with the larger Tasmanian devil for food. Eastern Quolls sometimes scavenge morsels of food from around feeding devils.

SPOTTED-TAIL QUOLL, Dasyurus maculatus

The Spotted-tailed Quoll (or tiger cat as it can also be  known) is the second largest of the world's surviving carnivorous marsupials. Spotted-tailed Quolls vary from reddish brown to dark chocolate brown with white spots on the body and tail (unlike eastern quolls which do not have spots on the tail). The species is considerably larger than the Eastern Quoll, with males measuring up to 130 cm long and 4 kg in weight. Females are significantly smaller than males. The Spotted-tailed Quoll is also found on the east coast of mainland Australia, but is rare, unlike in Tasmania where they thrive in cool temperate rainforest, wet sclerophyll forest and coastal scrub along the north and west coasts of the state. They are largely solitary and nocturnal, although the species does sometimes forage and bask during daylight hours. Spotted-tailed Quolls spend a tenth of their time moving with agility above the forest floor on logs or in trees. It is a skilled hunter that, like the eastern quoll, kills its prey by biting on or behind the head. Prey taken by the spotted-tailed quoll include rats, gliding possums, small or injured wallabies, reptiles and insects. Birds and eggs are also taken from time to time. Carrion is frequently eaten by spotted-tailed quolls and even tip scavenging and beachcombing occur. Large spotted-tailed quolls compete directly with Tasmanian Devils for food - one female has even been seen to chase a Tasmanian Devil away from a carcase!

The species is fully protected in Tasmania.

THYLACINE, or TASMANIAN TIGER, Thylacinus cynocephalus

The Thylacine is one of the most fabled animals in the world. Yet, despite its fame, it is one of the least understood of Tasmania's native animals. European settlers were puzzled by it, feared it and killed it when they could. After only a century of white settlement the animal had been pushed to the brink of extinction. The Thylacine looked like a large, long dog, with stripes, a heavy stiff tail and a big head. Its scientific name, Thylacinus cynocephalus, means pouched dog with a wolfs head. The short, soft fur was brown except for 13 - 20 dark brown-black stripes that extended from the base of the tail to almost the shoulders. The stiff tail became thicker towards the base and appeared to merge with the body. Thylacines were usually mute, but when anxious or excited made a series of husky, coughing barks. When hunting, they gave a distinctive terrier-like, double yap, repeated every few seconds. Unfortunately there are no recordings.

The Thylacine was shy and secretive and always avoided contact with humans. Despite its common name, 'tiger' it had a quiet, nervous temperament compared to its little cousin, the Tasmanian Devil. Captured animals generally gave up without a struggle, and many died suddenly, apparently from shock. When hunting, the Thylacine relied on a good sense of smell, and stamina. It was said to pursue its prey relentlessly, until the prey was exhausted. The Thylacine was rarely seen to move fast, but when it did it appeared awkward. It trotted stiffly, and when pursued, broke into a kind of shambling canter.

Bass Strait protected a relict population of Thylacines in Tasmania. When Europeans arrived in 1803, thylacines were widespread in Tasmania. Their preferred habitat was a mosaic of dry eucalypt forest, wetlands and grasslands. They emerged to hunt on grassy plains and open woodlands during the evening, night and early morning. The arrival of European settlers marked the start of a tragic period of conflict that led to the Thylacine's presumed extinction. The introduction of sheep in 1824 led to conflict between the settlers and thylacines.

In 1863, John Gould, a famous naturalist, predicted that the Tasmanian Tiger was doomed to extinction. Bounty records indicate that a sudden decline in Thylacine numbers occurred early in the 20th century. Hunting and habitat destruction leading to population fragmentation, are believed to have been the main causes of its demise. The remnant population was further weakened by a distemper-like disease. The last known thylacine died in Hobart Zoo on 7th September, 1936 since when no conclusive evidence of a Thylacine has been found. However, the incidence of reported thylacine sightings has continued. Most sightings occur at night, in the north of the State, in or near areas where suitable habitat is still available. Although the species is now considered to be 'probably extinct', these sightings provide some hope that the thylacine may still exist. In a detailed study of sightings between 1934 and 1980, Steven Smith concluded that of a total of 320 sightings, just under half could be considered good sightings.

FORESTER (Eastern grey) KANGAROO, Macropus giganteus

The Forester Kangaroo is the largest marsupial in Tasmania and the second largest in the world -- males can reach over 60 kg and, when literally on tippy toes, stand 2 m tall! Colour varies from light brownish grey to grey. They have relatively large ears and differ from the other two species in having hair between the nostrils and upper lip. They often make clucking sounds between themselves and give a guttural cough when alarmed. The species is common on mainland Australia, where it is commonly known as the Grey Kangaroo. It is restricted to northeastern Tasmania and small areas in central Tasmania. The Mt William National Park in the northeast provides the opportunity to see these animals along 'Forester Drive'. A drive, or stroll along this road at dusk is most rewarding. The Forester has also been introduced to Maria Island National Park and Narawntapu National Park. Preferred habitat is dry sclerophyll forest with open grassland clearings.

BENNETTS WALLABY, Macropus rufogriseus

The Bennetts Wallaby is one of Tasmania’s most commonly seen native animals. The species is also widespread in the southeast of mainland Australia, where it is known as the Red-necked Wallaby. Visitors to most of our national parks are highly likely to encounter these animals during their stay. Often referred to as a Kangaroo in Tasmania, males can weigh more than 20 kg and stand up to 1.5 m tall. They can be distinguished from the Pademelon and Forester Kangaroo by their black nose and paws, and white stripe on the upper lip.

Near the Fluted Cape entrance to the South Bruny National Park, a small population of rare, white Bennetts Wallabies may be seen feeding in the open paddocks at dusk.

The species is largely solitary, allthough loose groups, known as mobs, often share common feeding areas. They feed at afternoon and dusk, generally grazing on grass and herbs.

TASMANIAN PADEMELON, Thylogale billardierii

The unusual common name, Pademelon, is of Aboriginal derivation. It is also sometimes referred to as the rufous wallaby. The Pademelon is a stocky animal with a relatively short tail and legs to aid its movement through dense vegetation. It ranges in colour from dark-brown to grey-brown above and has a red-brown belly. Males, which are considerably larger than females, have a muscular chest and forearms, and reach up to 12 kg in weight and 1 - 1.2 m in overall length, including the tail. Females average 3.9 kg in weight.

Pademelons are solitary and nocturnal, spending the hours of daylight in thick vegetation. Rainforest and wet forest is the preferred habitat, although wet gullies in dry open eucalypt forest are also used. Such habitat next to cleared areas where feeding can occur is especially favoured. After dusk, the animals move onto such open areas to feed, but rarely stray more than 100 metres from the security of the forest edge.

The species is abundant and widespread throughout the state of Tasmania. It is commonly seen around many of the state's national parks. It is extinct on mainland.

LONG-NOSED POTOROO, Potorous tridactylus

Potoroos reach 1.3 kg in weight and range in colour from red-brown on the west coast to grey on the east coast, with paler fur on the belly. Most individuals have a white tip at the end of their tail. The Potoroo may also be identified by its darker colour, and its larger, more pointed nose which has a bare patch of skin above the nostrils. The species is widespread in Tasmania and are found on Flinders Island and Bruny Island. The Potoroo is common in suitable habitat. However, it can be affected by the clearing of bush areas, with new growth forest being less suitable for their needs. It is wholly protected.

TASMANIAN BETTONG, Bettongia gaimardi

The Bettong is only found in the eastern half of Tasmania. It became extinct on the mainland in the early decades of the twentieth century, largely because of predation by foxes and large scale land clearance. Bettongs typically reach 2 kg in weight and are coloured brown-grey above and white below. The tail of the bettong is as long as the head and body while; in comparison, the tail of the potoroo is significantly shorter. The bettong prefers dry open eucalypt forests and grassy woodlands. It is nocturnal, spending the hours of daylight in a domed, camouflaged nest of grass. The bettong collects suitable nesting material and carries it back to the nest site in its prehensile tail, which it curls downward around the bundle. In comparison to the potoroo which does not venture far when feeding, the bettong may travel up to 1.5 km from the nest to a feeding area; quite a journey for an animal this size! The species is wholly protected.

EASTERN BARRED BANDICOOT, Perameles gunnii

The endearing Eastern-barred Bandicoot is a small (640 g) marsupial characterised by a slender, elongated head tapering to a pink nose and well whiskered muzzle. It has large, prominent ears. Its soft fur is greyish brown, while across the hindquarters are the characteristic pale bars or stripes that give the easily distinguish it from the brown bandicoot, which lacks such strips. The belly, feet and short, thin tail are creamy white.

The Eastern-barred Bandicoot is considered threatened because the species is potentially at risk of becoming extinct. Although common in parts of Tasmania, the eastern barred bandicoot is now extinct in South Australia and 'critically endangered' in Victoria, where the population has been reduced to a mere 200 individuals.

BRUSHTAIL POSSUM, Trichosurus vulpecula

The lively Brushtail Possum is one of Australia's most familiar marsupials, the most common possum species and largest tree-dwelling marsupial herbivore. It is the size of a domestic cat with a pointed face, long oval ears, pink nose and bushy black tail. The Tasmanian Brushtail has 3 main colour variations: silver grey, black and gold. The very dark Possums inhabit denser, wetter forests than the grey. Pure Golden Possums are the result of a genetic mutation and most do not survive long in the wild because they are conspicuous to predators.

Brushtails are widespread throughout Tasmania and are highly adaptable to a wide range of natural and human environments. Their natural and preferred habitat is forest, where they nest in tree hollows. They will also cohabit with humans in cities and towns where they seek shelter, warmth and protection in the dark recesses of buildings. A favoured spot is between the ceiling and the roof and this can be a problem to some people. Brushtail possums lead a largely solitary life. However in areas where numbers are high and shelter is in short supply several may share sleeping places. Home ranges vary from 1 to 15 hectares. They communicate by sound and scent. Those ferocious sounding screeches and gutteral growls are used often, particularly in the breeding season, to ward off intruding possums near the nest or home range.

Brushtails rub secretions from glands under their chin; on the chest and near the anus to mark.

Studies of the a behaviour of brushtail possums showed that about 16% of their time is spent feeding, 30% travelling 44% immobile and 10% grooming.Their main predators are owls and Tasmanian devils, but if lucky a Possum can live to 11 years old.

COMMON RINGTAIL POSSUM, Pseudocheirus peregrinus

Like all Ringtail Possums, the common Ringtail Possum has a strongly prehensile tail which acts as a fifth limb, and which is carried tightly coiled when not being used. It can be distinguished from the brushtail by the light covering of fur on its tail, as well as the white tail tip. The common ringtail occurs along the entire length of the eastern seaboard of mainland Australia and in the south west corner of western Australia. It is widespread throughout Tasmania, where it occurs in a variety of vegetation types, especially eucalypt forests and areas of tall, dense tea-tree.

LITTLE PYGMY POSSUM, Cercartetus lepidus

The appropriately named and adorable Little Pygmy Possum reaches a mere seven grams and has a head and body length of only 5-6.5 cm. It is indeed the smallest of all possums. It is largely found in Tasmania, in a range except rainforest and most commonly in drier forests and heathlands in the east of the state.

EASTERN PYGMY POSSUM, Cercartetus nanus

Like its close relative, the Little Pygmy Possum, the Eastern Pygmy Possum has some special adaptations to cope with the cold of Tasmanian winters. Both species go into torpor during cold spells. Its small size means that the animal has, in comparison to its body volume, a lot of skin through which to loose body heat. In other words, it has a high surface area to volume ratio. Torpor is a means by which an animal is able to reduce energy expenditure by lowering its metabolism. Its body temperature can drop to near that of its surroundings. Unlike true hibernation, torpidity generally only lasts for a few days at a time. The Eastern Pygmy Possum is found throughout the wetter forests of the western half of the state.

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