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Tropical North Queensland, Australia.
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Musky Rat Kangaroo Information

History   return to Musky Rat-Kangaroo page

  • Kangaroos evolved from possum-like ancestors, but any similarity to possums has disappeared in modern kangaroos- except for the Musky Rat-Kangaroo. 
  • The Musky Rat-Kangaroo retains a number of possum features including a great toe or hallux on the hind feet and a system of gripping grooves on it's foot pads. 
  • This bandicoot-sized chocolate-brown marsupial is active during the day but retires at night to a nest, often under tree roots. 
     (Script courtesy of Tablelands National Park Volunteers) 
  • A fossil specimen from about 5 million years ago shows it to have been the size of a modern kangaroo.

Family   return to Musky Rat-Kangaroo page

  • This is the smallest of all macropod species. It averages about 230mm in the head and body length and about 500g in weight. It is similar to a large guinea pig in size, much smaller than a rabbit or brushtail possum.
  • The Musky Rat-kangaroo is most closely related to the kangaroos and the wallabies. It is the smallest and most primitive macropod, possibly representing an early step in their evolution from a tree-dwelling possum-like ancestor.
  • Musky Rat-Kangaroo’s, Hypsiprymnodon moschatus are Australia’s smallest Kangaroo (Macropodoidea) weighing only 520g. This is a little more than half the weight of the next smallest in the group.
  • They are part of the Macropodoidea family, which includes kangaroos, wallabies and  Musky Rat-Kangaroos.
  • They contain many gross morphological features that are similar to those found in the early macropodoid line.
  • The Musky Rat-Kangaroo possesses characteristics that make it unique compared to other Kangaroo species. 
  • They have an opposable first digit on the pes; an unspecialised digestive tract; a running gait; retention of second incisors; and a ponderance of twin births.  
  • In the same family as the Musky Rat-kangaroo are the potoroos and bettongs.
  • It is the only member of its subfamily left since its nearest relatives became extinct four million years ago in Victoria.
  • One similarity it has to the possum (which all other macropods lack) is the mobile first toe on the hind foot that lets it climb along fallen branches and logs.
  • It often gallops around on all four legs (unlike kangaroos) even though its hind feet are longer than its fore feet. When travelling at greater speeds, it brings its hind legs forward outside its fore legs.

Habitat   return to Musky Rat-Kangaroo page

  • Generally found in the dampest areas of the rainforest, especially near creeks and rivers.
  • Although mainly ground dwellers, Musky Rat Kangaroo’s have a first toe on their hind foot, much like a possum, which allows them to climb on fallen branches and trees.
  • At midday and at night it sleeps in a nest of dried leaves and fern, most commonly located in a clump of Lawyer Vine (Wait-a-while)
  • They are diurnal, terrestrial, a frugivorous and restricted to Australia’s tropical rainforests.
  • They are important dispersal agents for rain forest plants.  
  • They inhabit almost the entire Wet Tropics (lowlands and highlands) to about 1200m. However, they are not found anywhere else.

Viewing Opportunities  return to Musky Rat-Kangaroo page

  • In early morning and late afternoon, they can be seen along the creek, on the pathways and during winter feeding under the Avocado tree at Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodge.
  • Easily seen on the perimeter walks of Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine.

Diet  return to Musky Rat-Kangaroo page

  • The diet of the Musky Rat-Kangaroo is more similar to the diets of other Potoroids than other Macropodoid diets.
  • The Musky Rat-Kangaroo is unlikely to be able to digest structural carbohydrates in the cell walls of plants as well as other macropods as it has a simple stomach compared to other macropods.
  • The Musky Rat-Kangaroo feeds primarily on fruits and seeds such as the fruits of the King Palm.
  • It consumes small invertebrates at all times of the year. 
  • The Musky Rat-Kangaroo also eats epigeal sporocarps of some Agaric Fungi. These foods are all low in fibre.
  • The Musky Rat-Kangaroo eats at least 44 species of plants from 23 families.                                                                                                                          
  • Occasionally the Musky Rat-Kangaroo will eat fleshy flowers from the Austrobaileya vine, Austrobaileya scandens, twigs and leaves. They have also been known to eat foliose lichen and the soft inner bark from several tree species. 
    Courtesy of: Andrew Dennis CSIRO  Tropical  Research Centre Atherton.
  • At first light it begins searching for food. To find small invertebrates to eat, it uses its front paws to turn over leaf litter on the rainforest floor. It also searches for fallen fruits, fungi and large seeds (it is an omnivore).
  • Its feeding methods contribute to plant regeneration in the rainforest as it eats the seeds and the actual kernel of the seed as well as the fruits. It has even been seen picking out fruit kernels from Cassowary droppings.
  • In captivity it eats earthworms and small grasshoppers. It picks up the animal in its mouth, sits back on its hind legs in a hunched position, and transfers the food to its forepaws for a firm grasp. Blade-like premolar teeth tear open the insects’ exoskeleton before the incisors tear apart the flesh.
  • Unlike other macropods, its tail does not act as support, but is stretched out behind the animal clear from the ground. Its tail is completely bare and scaly, resembling polished leather.

Reproduction return to Musky Rat-Kangaroo page

  • Musky Rat-Kangaroos have a short pouch life, which often leads to producing more than one successive young in a year.
  • They are continuous breeders with delayed gestation during lactation.
  • They Musky Rat-Kangaroos are seasonal breeders in response to variation in food resources. This is common in frugivorous animals, but relatively rare among macropods and not known in any other Potoroid.
  • Reproduction in Musky Rat-Kangaroos usually begins at 18 to 21 months and continues for approximately two to three years.  
    Courtesy of: Andrew Dennis CSIRO  Tropical  Research Centre Atherton.
  • Breeding begins in February and ends around July. It is preceded by a few days of courtship. From in front, the male moves toward the female. Both then stand erect, touching each other’s head and neck with its forepaws.
  • The Musky Rat-kangaroo has a litter of two young (unique among kangaroo-like marsupials), both of which are usually reared. 
  • No captive females are known to have reared more than one at a time however. 
  • Males and females are similar in appearance and colour, but males are slightly larger. 

Male Musky Rat-Kangaroo  return to Musky Rat-Kangaroo page

  • Male Musky Rat-Kangaroos become reproductively active during the period when fruit availability is at its highest each year.
  • The Males testes size usually increases dramatically between September and October each year. The testes contract between March and May each year. This would suggest that there is a five month period (May to September) when males were presumably incapable of breeding and a seven month period (October to April) when they were in breeding condition.
  • Male Musky Rat-Kangaroos in breeding condition are generally more nervous and aggressive.  
    Courtesy of: Andrew Dennis CSIRO  Tropical  Research Centre Atherton.

Female Musky Rat-Kangaroo   return to Musky Rat-Kangaroo page

  • The pattern of reproduction in females is consistent with that shown for males.
  • Females carrying young are usually encountered between the end of February and September each year.
  • Depending on the availability of food female Musky Rat-Kangaroos can have between one and three young. It is more common for the females to give birth to twins.
    Courtesy of: Andrew Dennis CSIRO  Tropical  Research Centre Atherton.

Life Cycle  return to Musky Rat-Kangaroo page

  • Young are born from February to April after a seven month period during which males are capable of reproduction.

  • The young are carried in the pouch until October. During this period of pouch life, food resources are at their minimum but the demands on the mother by the still small young are also at their minimum.

  • The young are evicted from the pouch in October when fruits are abundant. Juveniles are left at a maternal nest after pouch eviction. Through October, November and December young slowly begin to explore and feed themselves until they are weaned in January.

  • Musky Rat-Kangaroos usually live for at least four years.  

  • Its lifestyle is largely determined by the fruiting seasons; young are produced in times of plenty, while in times of scarcity adults may lose up to 21 percent of their body weight.

Click on small drawing 
for large life cycle drawing.

Courtesy of: Andrew Dennis CSIRO  Tropical  Research Centre Atherton.

Population size and space use in Musky Rat-Kangaroo's  return to Musky Rat-Kangaroo page

  • Musky Rat-Kangaroos maintain small home ranges and their population size tends to vary with the availability of fruits.

  • Several years with long periods of fruit scarcity may cause populations to undergo serious declines.

  • High fecundity allows a rapid recovery when conditions improve.

  • Musky Rat-Kangaroos display two patterns of movements, one being more nomadic or wide ranging while the other is more sedentary.

  • The mean population size of the Musky Rat-Kangaroos is 2.4/ha.

  • Generally a solitary animal, but aggregations of up to three individuals has been recorded.  
    Courtesy of: Andrew Dennis CSIRO  Tropical  Research Centre Atherton.

  • Rainforest clearing has a damaging effect on its distribution and populations.

  • They generally keep to themselves but sometimes can be seen in groups under fruiting trees.

Predators   return to Musky Rat-Kangaroo page

  • Musky Rat-Kangaroos are consumed by at least eight predator species and play an important role in supporting this diverse array of predators.
  • Dingoes are predators of the sub-adult population of the Musky Rat-Kangaroos. Musky Rat-Kangaroo remains are found in dingoes in March, April and May, soon after young Musky Rat-Kangaroos become independent.
  • The Amethyst Python, Morella amythestina, Grey Goshawks, Accipiter novaehollandiae, Rufous Owls, Nixox rufa, Lesser Sooty Owls, Tito multipunctata, Spotted Tailed Quolls, Dasyurus maculates, Domestic Cats, Felis catus, and farm Dogs, Canis familiaris are other predators consuming the Musky Rat-Kangaroo.
    Courtesy of: Andrew Dennis CSIRO  Tropical  Research Centre Atherton.

Nest Building   return to Musky Rat-Kangaroo page

  • Nest building is hard work – it first must collect the required materials with its mouth, transfer it into its front paws, then place it on the ground in front of its hind feet. It then curls its tail down and forwards towards its hind feet and kicks in the nest material. Held by its tail, the Musky Rat-kangaroo takes the vegetation off to its nest site.
  • The Musky Rat-kangaroo sleeps at night and in the hotter parts of the day in a hollow log, under a rock, or in a nest made from dried leaves, lichens and ferns, often amongst Lawyer Vine or between the buttresses of a tree up to a metre off the ground.
Musky Rat-Kangaroo's Role in Seed Dispersal  return to Musky Rat-Kangaroo page
  • Seed dispersal is vital to the rainforests ongoing plant diversity and ensures that plant species don't become localised to a specific area, but continue to grow right throughout the rainforest.
  • Musky Rat-Kangaroos disperse over considerable distances large seeds which most birds, other than the Cassowary, are unable to carry.
  • Studies have shown that the Musky Rat-Kangaroo carries seeds away from the area where the fruit falls and buries it to provide  a food source during the cooler months when food is scarce.
  •  The seeds that the Musky Rat-Kangaroo disperses have a better chance of germinating than the seeds that remain directly below the tree. 
  • A higher germination rate is found in the seeds buried further away from the trees base.
  • This could be due to higher concentrations of bacteria in the leaf litter directly below the tree that break down the seeds before they get a chance to germinate whereas seeds buried  further away from the trees base may not be subjected to the same amounts of destructive bacteria and  may also receive more water and sunlight than those directly below the tree.
  • The seeds that germinate and are allowed to grow into large trees ensure the Musky Rat-Kangaroo has an ongoing food source for the future.

Additional Information on the Musky Rat-Kangaroo  return to Musky Rat-Kangaroo page

  • The local Aboriginal people refer to this animal as durrgim yuri.
    Courtesy of: Andrew Dennis CSIRO  Tropical  Research Centre Atherton.
  • In a recent natural history documentary, Cairns filmmaker Ruth Berry filmed the Musky Rat-kangaroo for ABC Television. "Hypsi, the Forest Gardener" was filmed over eight months and was based on the research of Dr Andrew Dennis (the first scientist to study this animal in its natural environment). His research took three years, and many of his unusual experiments have been included in the film to show the great lengths he went to in his pursuit for data.
  • The name 'Hypsi' is short for the Musky Rat-kangaroo’s Latin name, Hypsiprymnodon moschatus. When the film was shown at the World Zoological Conference in Nagoya, it received the highest praises from attending zoologists. Mark Chapman produced the film with the assistance of the Pacific Film and Television Commission, and it was cut by Ruth Berry and editor Matthew Tucker for its strict deadline of release to the international market in Cannes in October.

 return to Musky Rat-Kangaroo page

Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodges
Lake Eacham, Atherton Tablelands
Tropical North Queensland, Australia.
PH & Fax: 07 4095 3754 International: 61 7 4095 3754

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