Australian Native Animals
There are six quoll species which vary little in body shape. At first the species was placed in the same genus as the American opossum – Didelphis. They now have the genus Dasyurus meaning 'hairy tail'. The term was first used in 1796.
There are two species in New Guinea. One, the New Guinea quoll, lives in Irian Jaya. It was first described in 1880 and frequents a rainforest habitat at altitudes of up to 3,500 metres. The New Guinea quoll has a coarse coat and hunts on the ground. On the other hand, the Bronze Quoll lives on the savannah of southwestern Papua New Guinea and is bronze to tan in colour. The tail is black and without spots. It was first described in 1988 and its only certain distribution is in the Wasur National Park.
The other four species are endemic to Australia. Although once found over most of Australia, all four species are now regarded as endangered. This situation has come about mainly due to habitat loss. Local aboriginals know the animal as 'quoll'. Early settlers often referred to them as "native cat", "native polecat" and "spotted marten". As early as 1770, Captain Cook collected specimens along the east coast of Australia.
The quoll is a marsupial and lives in forests and open valley land. They spend most of their time on the ground but also frequent trees. All species are solitary and nocturnal. Each quoll has many dens and they spend daylight hours resting. They are are small and carnivorous with a pointed snout and a long tail. The pelage is reddish to dark brown/black and distinctively spotted with white. The nose is pink.
The largest species is the spotted-tailed quoll which eats reptiles, birds and mammals such as possums, bandicoots, echidnas and rabbits. The spotted-tailed quoll is the only one to have a spotted tail as well as a spotted body. The smaller species eat frogs, lizards, insects, birds, snakes, small mammals and fruit. All will eat carrion and will scavenge around rubbish bins and campsites. Depending on the species, quolls are between 35 cm and 75 cm long. The tail is about 20 to 35 cm long. There are ridges on the pads of the feet. The teeth are strong and sharp.
The home range extends for several kilometers from a small core range. The male's range overlaps the range of several females. Toilet sites are positioned in open spaces and are shared. These sites also mark territories. During the mating season, male quolls travel widely. Mating takes place during winter. The gestation period is about 21 days. As with all marsupials, the young are tiny (the size of a grain of rice) and undeveloped. When born, they claw their way through the fur on the belly until they find the pouch, where they attach themselves to a teat. Three of the species have folds of skin that develop after mating. These folds take the place of a pouch. Only the spotted-tailed quoll has a true pouch. As many as 30 young may be born but any which don't find a teat will die. There are six to eight teats. The babies remain attached for about two months. They are then either carried on the mother's back and/or fed in a nest for another six weeks. By one year of age, the quoll is sexually mature. The larger, spotted-tailed quoll lives about four to five years. The smaller species live only about two years.
The Northern Quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus)
This species was once widespread across northern Australia from south-east Queensland to the Pilbara in Western Australia. However it is now restricted to six main locations. It is most commonly found within 50 kilometres of the coast. Its preferred habitat is rocky, sparsely vegetated areas and open woodlands.
The northern quoll male measures 12 to 31 cm in length with nearly as much again being added for the tail. Average weight for males is 0.4 to 0.9kg. Females are slightly shorter and lighter. This is the smallest of the Australian species. The fur is brown or grey-brown with large white spots. The northern quoll is more arboreal than the other species. For their dens, they look for rock crevices, termite mounds or tree holes. Males often die after mating, particularly if they live in flat, open grassland where they appear more stressed. In rockier habitats, males may live for two years. Generally six babies are born between June and September. They are carried for two months or a little more and weaned at around five months of age.
The introduced cane toad is fatal to those quolls who think it may make a nice snack. As a safeguard against the potential threat to the quoll, populations have been established on several islands off the coast of Arnhem Land. A bonus was the discovery of a new population of scaly tailed possums in the east Kimberley. It is almost 100 years since the last reported sighting in the area. Researchers using infra red cameras and looking for northern quolls were amazed to come across the possums at Emma Gorge near Kunurra.The small marsupials frequent steep, rocky escarpments. The find extends the known range of the scaly tailed possum by several hundred kilometres.
The Eastern Quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus) is widespread in Tasmania. It is thought to be extinct on the mainland. They frequent a variety of environments from open forest, alpine areas, scrub, heath and cultivated land. The males are similar in size to a small domestic cat. Males are larger than females, averaging 60 cm in length and 1.3 kg in weight. The fur is a soft fawn, brown or black with small white spots over the body. The tail is bushy and may have a pale or white tip. It has a pointed muzzle. It is an opportunistic carnivore and an courageous hunter, to the extent that it sometimes scavenges morsels of food from around feeding Tasmanian devils. The bulk of its diet comes from invertebrates, especially agricultural pests. Foxes are the major threat and could spell the end of the eastern quoll if they ever become established. The breeding season is from mid-May to early June. By October/November, the pups are weaned. The females will share dens if they are not raising pups. Males move up to a kilometre a night between dens and rarely share with others. The eastern quoll is protected by law.
The Western Quoll (Dasyurus geoffroii) is also known as the chudditch or western native cat. Nowadays it is found only in the extreme south-west of Western Australia. Once it was reasonably common across semi-arid Australia. Its preferred habitat is jarrah forests, mallee shrubland and drier woodlands. It is classified as nationally vulnerable. Aerial bating of foxes should help the chudditch re-establish itself. It is Western Australia's largest marsupial predator.
The chuddith lives in a burrow or tree hollow. Although not regarded as arboreal it is an agile climber. They have adjusted well to living near human habitation and will frequently rifle through trash bins.
The chudditch averages about 330mm, with the tail adding roughly another 280mm. Weight is around 2 kg for males with females being lighter. There are conspicuous white spots on the olive grey or brown fur. The tail is long and unspotted with grayish-tan thin fur and a brush of long black hairs on the end. The tummy is a creamy white.
A litter of up to six babies are born in June or July. They leave the pouch soon after two months of age and are weaned by about six months. They then leave to find a territory of their own. There is only one litter per year. The average lifespan is unknown although a captive chudditch lived for six years.
The spotted-tailed quoll (Dasyurus maculatus) is the largest marsupial carnivore left on mainland Australia. It is also known as the tiger cat and can be found on both sides of the Great Dividing Range from the Victorian to Queensland borders. There is a smaller Queensland subspecies which is nationally endangered. A larger south-eastern subspecies is fully protected and classified as nationally vulnerable although it is common in Tasmania. This species is half as big again as the other species. This species has a range of environments from rainforests, open country and dense, coastal heathland. An individual's territory can be up to 500 hectares. Virgin areas of this size are becoming very rare indeed and fragmentation of the species occurs as a result. The spotted-tailed quoll is a rich red-brown to dark chocolate-brown. There are bold white spots along the entire body and tail. The mouth opens very wide and the nose is thick. Males may be 130 cm long and weigh around 7 kg. Females are significantly smaller. To kill prey they bite on or behind the head. Large specimens compete directly with Tasmanian devils for food.
Mating occurs between April and July. There is a lengthy courtship and the female may be bitten quite severely. During the breeding season, males utter slow, deep growls and a very loud, explosive spitting sound. Copulation may last for eight hours. Up to six young (average five) may be born. After about 10 weeks the young are left in dens while the female hunts and forages. At 18 weeks, the young are weaned and become independent. Tiger quolls live for around five years.
Australia has the world's worst rate of mammal extinction but it is to be hoped that the unique Dasyurus genus will be around for many years to come.