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. It's 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.
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, which are ginger-brown or black, both with white spots on the body but not the tail. Eastern quolls once occurred on mainland Australia, with the last sighting occurring 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.
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 the 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.
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 a 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 Forester Kangaroo is the largest marsupial in Tasmania and the second largest in the world and males can reach over 60kg and stand 2m 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.
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.
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 12kg in weight and 1- 1.2m in overall length, including the tail. Females average 3.9kg in weight. Pademelons are solitary and nocturnal, spending the hours of daylight in thick vegetation. Rainforest and the 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 the mainland.
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 it's 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 for rainforest and most commonly in drier forests and heathlands in the east of the state.
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 lose 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.
Photo Credits: Stuart Gibson