Animal Info - Red-tailed Phascogale

(Other Names: Red-tailed Wambenger, Wambenger)

Phascogale calura

Status: Endangered


Contents

1. Profile (Picture)
2. Tidbits
3. Status and Trends (IUCN Status, Countries Where Currently Found, History of Distribution, Threats and Reasons for Decline)
4. Data on Biology and Ecology (Weight, Habitat, Gestation Period, Birth Season, Birth Rate, Maximum Age, Diet, Behavior, Mortality and Survival)
5. References


Profile

Picture: Red-tailed Phascogale (73 Kb JPEG) (Mus. Vict.)

This small (weight = 35 - 70 g (1 - 2.5 oz)) marsupial mouse lives in rock oak communities, with hollow-forming eucalyptus species such as wandoo (which it uses for shelter), in areas that receive 350 - 600 mm (14 - 24 in) of rain per year. Most of the reserves where it is more commonly found have not been burned for many years (20 years or more) and, as a consequence, carry a climax vegetation community which provides it with potential nest sites and with sufficiently dense foliage for protection and foraging.

The red-tailed phascogale is an opportunistic feeder, preying on a wide range of insects and spiders, small birds and small mammals. It does not need to drink, obtaining water from its food. The red-tailed phascogale is arboreal and mainly nocturnal. It can travel through the canopy relatively easily. Its nest of leaves and twigs is usually constructed in the forks or holes of trees, or in the skirts of live and stumps of dead grass trees. There are 3 to 8 young per litter, and 1 litter per year.

Sparse populations of the red-tailed phascogale once occurred in arid and semi-arid Australia in central-northern Western Australia, central Northern Territory, and the far western border between New South Wales and Victoria. Since the late 1950's, or earlier, it has apparently occurred only in the southwestern Western Australia wheatbelt. Currently it is found in remnant bushland in the Western Australia wheatbelt between Brookton and the Fitzgerald River National Park, in areas that receive between 350 and 600 mm (14 - 24") annual rainfall.

The red-tailed phascogale has declined due to habitat loss and fragmentation from clearing for agriculture (in the wheatbelt), and possibly also due to predation by foxes and cats and changed fire regimes leading to a reduction in old, long-unburned vegetation.


Tidbits

*** Native herbivores have evolved a tolerance to the chemical fluoroacetate, as have the native carnivores that eat them. However, this chemical can be toxic to sheep and goats. In addition, the bodies of native herbivores can contain sufficient fluoroacetate to poison introduced carnivores - such as the fox - that eat them. The occurrence of the red-tailed phascogale in areas where plants that contain fluoracetate also occur may be a result of the protection these toxic plants provide from competition with livestock and from predation by introduced carnivores.

*** Although all wild males die after mating in their first year, captive males that are held in isolation, but allowed to mate in their first year, can live for up to three years.


Status and Trends

IUCN Status:

  • 1960's: Insufficiently Known
  • 1970's: Rare
  • 1980's: Indeterminate
  • 1994: Endangered
  • 1996 - 2004: Endangered (Criteria: B1+2bd) (Population Trend: Decreasing) (IUCN 2004)

Countries Where the Red-tailed Phascogale Is Currently Found:

2004: Occurs in Australia (southwestern Western Australia). (IUCN 2004)

History of Distribution:

Sparse populations of the red-tailed phascogale once occurred in arid and semi-arid Australia in central-northern Western Australia, central Northern Territory, and the far western border between New South Wales and Victoria. Since the late 1950's, or earlier, it has apparently occurred only in the southwestern Western Australia wheatbelt. As of 1996 it was found in remnant bushland in the Western Australia wheatbelt between Brookton and the Fitzgerald River National Park, in areas that receive between 350 and 600 mm (14 - 24") annual rainfall. It is confined largely to isolated reserves that exceed 450 hectares (1100 acres) but it also occurs in some small patches of forest that have not been disturbed by farming activities.

Distribution Map (4 Kb GIF) (Maxwell et al. 1996)

Threats and Reasons for Decline:

It has declined due to habitat loss and fragmentation from clearing for agriculture (in the wheatbelt), and possibly also due to predation by foxes and cats and changed fire regimes leading to a reduction in old, long-unburned vegetation.


Data on Biology and Ecology

Weight:

The female red-tailed phascogale weighs 36 - 48 g (average 43 g) (1.3 - 1.7 oz (average 1.5 oz)); males weigh 39 - 68 g (average 60 g) (1.4 - 2.4 oz (average 2.1 oz)).

Habitat:

Most information on habitat relates to the wheatbelt. No specific habitat information is available for the arid zone or the southern and eastern semi-arid zone.

The red-tailed phascogale prefers rock oak communities, with hollow-forming eucalyptus species (which it uses for shelter) such as wandoo, in areas that receive 350 - 600 mm (14 - 24 in) of rain per year.

Most of the reserves where the red-tailed phascogale is more commonly found have not been burned for many years (20 years or more) and, as a consequence, carry a climax vegetation community which provides it with potential nest sites and with sufficiently dense foliage for protection and foraging. Its preferred habitat appears to be the denser and taller climax vegetation communities that include species of plants that produce the chemical monosodium fluoroacetate, which can be lethal to sheep and cattle.

The red-tailed phascogale is found in both the Southwest Australia Biodiversity Hotspot (Cons. Intl. 2005) and the Southwest Australian Shrublands & Woodlands Global 200 Ecoregion. (Olson & Dinerstein 1998, Olson & Dinerstein 1999)

Gestation Period:

28 - 30 days.

Birth Season:

Mating occurs during a 3-week period in July. (Bradley in Strahan 1995)

In Western Australia, females give birth between mid-June and mid-August. (Menkhorst 1995)

Birth Rate:

There are 3 to 8 young per litter (average 7.5), and 1 litter per year.

Maximum Age:

Male red-tailed phascogales live slightly less than 1 year in the wild. Some females live long enough to reproduce in a second or third season.

Diet:

The red-tailed phascogale is an opportunistic feeder, taking a wide range of insects and spiders, small birds and small mammals (particularly the house mouse). It does not need to drink, obtaining water from its food.

Behavior:

The red-tailed phascogale is arboreal. Since it can make leaps of up to 2 m (6.6'), it can travel through the canopy relatively easily. It also feeds extensively on the ground. Although mainly nocturnal, it sometimes is seen during the day investigating potential food sources. Its nest of leaves and twigs is usually constructed in the forks or holes of trees, or in the skirts of live and stumps of dead grass trees. Many of these are in highly flammable locations.

Mortality and Survival:

All wild male red-tailed phascogales die after mating (age 11.5 months).


References

Burbidge & McKenzie 1989, Burton & Pearson 1987, Cons. Intl. 2005, IUCN 1966, IUCN 1994, IUCN 1996, IUCN 2000, IUCN 2003a, IUCN 2004, Kennedy 1992, Macdonald 1984, Maxwell et al. 1996, Menkhorst 1995, Mus. Vict., Nowak & Paradiso 1983, Olson & Dinerstein 1998, Olson & Dinerstein 1999, Strahan 1995


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Last modified: March 11, 2005;

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