Photo: C & D Frith
Australia's Wet Tropics
Yellow-footed Antechinus: Antechinus flavipes
- Other common names include the Yellow-footed Marsupial Mouse and the Mardo.
- A carnivorous marsupial
- Has a specific change in fur colour from the slate-grey head to the warm rufous rump, belly, feet and sides
- It has two pale crescent-shaped markings above and below the eyes - although these can be difficult to see - and the subspecies found in the Wet Tropics is distinguished from those elsewhere in Australia by its larger size and the rich russet fur of its body, which contrasts with its grey head. (Source: Environmental Protection Agency)
- Its change in fur colour from the slate-grey head to its orange-brown sides distinguishes it from other antechinuses. Fur colour varies throughout Australia, with the largest, most superbly coloured red individuals occurring in northern Queensland, and more drably coloured white-bellied ones occurring in Western Australia.
- Tail is tipped black.
Habitat and Distribution:
- It can be found in both upland and lowland areas, eucalypt woodland and rainforest.
- This nocturnal marsupial forages on the forest floor. It Is however possible to view the male during the day in the mating season which is late July to August.
- It is the most widespread of antechinuses and occurs from North-eastern Queensland to South-western Western Australia in habitats ranging from tropical forests to swamps and dry mulga country.
- It is one of the few small nocturnal marsupials that can sometimes be seen around houses and gardens in suburban areas.
- It can be both a welcome visitor and a nuisance. Its amusing hopping style produces a strobe-like effect the observer will generally only be able to see it in certain positions, not how it actually gets there (due to its high speed).
- Consists mostly of insects, but can include anything from flowers, nectar and small birds.
- It also likes to eat mice and is known to enter into their holes to eat the babies inside.
- Prey is devoured. Victims such as birds and mice are efficiently turned inside out and their skin is left for proof of a divine meal.
- Being cheeky, it also steals from the kitchen and has tendencies to build nests in television sets and lounge chairs
- Mating takes place once a year. The short mating season is apparently stimulated by a certain increase in daylight during the second half of winter (July, in northern Australia).
- During this time males travel extensively between communal nests in a hectic mating frenzy.
- Mating can take up to twelve hours, with the death of the males shortly after copulation.
- With all his attention and energy taken up with sex rather than feeding, stress hormones (Corticosteroids) strip his body of protein and fat. The result is a breakdown in the animal's immune system, and death within two weeks. (Source: Department of Environment)
- About a month or so after mating the females give birth.
- Dasyurids (of which the antechinuses belong) sometimes give birth to more young than they have teats. Many female dasyurids only reproduce once or twice, so they must maximise their chance of success. By giving birth to extra young they can be sure that each nipple is occupied.
- As the males die shortly after copulation, the females are left to raise their young alone. After about one months gestation, the female gives birth to up to 12 young which are carried in the pouch for up to 5 week and weaned after about 3 months.
- The young share a leafy nest until the following winter when they become territorial and more intolerant of each others company and the mother sometimes eats her young.
- Studies have shown that the female antechinuses sometimes eat their own young. This is not because they are hungry but more a case of sexual discrimination. First time mothers tend to eat most of their daughters but second time round kill the boys.
There may be good reason for this which include:
- sons grow faster and larger than daughters requiring more maternal energy, which may be easier for a young mother to cope with;
- After sons are weaned they leave the area whereas daughters remain in the area-causing sexual competition the following year.
- If she survives to the following breeding season it requires her less energy to raise daughters. She also doesn't have to worry about competition the following year, as she will not reproduce again.
- Although the removal of most males from the population leaves more resources for the mother and her daughters, this can be a risky strategy. If weather or predation is particularly bad, an entire local population can be wiped out if no young males survive.
- Can be seen on the pathways at Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodge.
- Also seen on the perimeter walks of Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine.
- July is a good time to see male Antichinuses out and about during the day. Although normally nocturnal, the urge to mate - stimulated by increasing daylight - leads these little animals to throw caution to the wind. (Source: Environmental Protection Agency)
- They are occasionally seen scavenging around the garbage bins at the Mossman picnic area on quiet afternoons.
- These relatively rarer marsupials are often confused with the much more common Melomys, a group of native rodents.
- Antechinus can be distinguished by their splayed out feet, sharper (rather than rounded) snout, and double lobed (rather than classic round) ears.
Script: Courtesy of Damon Ramsey BSc.(Zool) Biologist Guide
Additional Photos: Antichinus Mum with Young
Carnivorous Marsupials: Order Dasyuromorpha
In many ways, these are Australia's forgotten marsupials.
There are in fact over 50 species of these generally predatory marsupials (Strahan 1998), making it the biggest family of marsupials (Egerton 199), yet they are little known by the general public.
This is probably the result of the fact that, unlike kangaroos and possums, the dasyurids are very rarely seen, for on the whole they are small, fast and generally nocturnal in habit.
Feeding and Predation:
Being predators, they are also at the top of the food chain, and naturally less abundant.
Most dasyurids prey on insects and other invertebrates.
However, they are well known amongst biologists for their tenacious nature and it is not uncommon for them to tackle prey that are larger than themselves, such as small birds and other mammals.
The bigger dasyurids will catch larger birds and feed on carcasses.
In turn, they are prey for many Australian snakes, although it has been suggested that the aggressive nature of dasyurids has resulted in the high incidence of strongly venomous snakes in Australia relative to the rest of the world (Martin 1993).
Appearance and features:
Like many predators, they have evolved a fairly uniform morphology.
Dasyurids tend to have four equal length limbs.
The tail is not prehensile (Strahan and Cayley 1995) and may be covered in hair, be fluffy, or have a tuft at the end; in fact the group's name 'Dasyurid' means 'hairy tail' in Greek (Stahan and Cayley 1995).
The head usually has large round ears and an elongated snout.
Being predators, the long snout is filled with small, sharp teeth.
Many of the smaller dasyurids have the cute appearance of small rodents, and were often thus described as 'marsupial mice'.
They are now known under various little known names, such as Antechinus.
Much like pole-cats were named 'native cats' and are now known as 'Quolls' (Strahan 1998).
Most people are only really aware of the two biggest species of Dasyurid type marsupials, the 'Tasmanian Devil', and the now extinct 'Tasmanian Wolf/Tiger', more properly known today as the 'Thylacine'.
However, most of the 'Dasyurids' are generally very small, rodent-like marsupials with reported voracious and carnivorous natures.
Script: Courtesy of Damon Ramsey BSc.(Zool) Biologist Guide