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Tasmania: land of the devils
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Tasmania: land of the devils
Tasmania: land of the devils
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Featured Creatures
Eastern Quoll | Pademelon | Wombat | Echidna | Forester Kangaroo | Tiger Snake
Courtesy of Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service

EASTERN QUOLL (Dasyurus viverrinus)

Male eastern quolls 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. The eastern quoll (or native cat, as it is sometimes called) has two color phases -- ginger-brown or black, both with white spots on the body, but not the tail.

Eastern Quoll Distribution and Habitat
Eastern quolls once occured on mainland Australia, with the last sighting occuring in the Sydney suburb of Vaucluse in the early 1960s. They are now considered extinct on the mainland, although some recent sightings in the New England region of northern New South Wales suggest that the species may still survive. The species, fortunately, is widespread and locally common in Tasmania. It is found in a variety of habitats including rainforest, heathland, alpine areas and scrub. However, it seems to prefer dry grassland and forest mosaics which are bounded by agricultural land, particularly where pasture grubs are common.

Behavior and Diet
The eastern quoll is largely solitary. It hunts and scavenges, feeding largely on insects. Eastern quolls are nocturnal and only occasionally forage or bask during daylight. During the day, they sleep in nests made under rocks in underground burrows or fallen logs.

Eastern Quoll Like the spotted-tail quoll, the eastern quoll is an opportunistic carnivore that takes live prey and scavenges. The eastern quoll is an impressive hunter, taking small mammals such as rabbits, mice and rats. They can also be quite bold when competing with the larger Tasmanian devil for food. Eastern quolls sometimes scavenge morsels of food from around feeding devils. However, the main commponent of its diet is invertebrates, especially agricultural pests such as the cockchafer beetle and corbie grub. Carrion and some fruits are also eaten.

Breeding occurs in early winter. After a gestation period of 21 days, females give birth to up to 30 young. However, the pouch contains only six teats, limiting survival to the young which can first attach themselves to these teats. After about 10 weeks the young are left in grass-lined dens located in burrows or hollow logs leaving the female free to hunt and forage. If the female needs to move to a different den she carries the young along on her back.

Towards the end of November, when the young are 18 to 20 weeks old, they are weaned (stop suckling) and become independent of the female. Within the first year, they have reached sexual maturity and begin breeding. As in spotted-tail quolls, the death rate of juveniles is low while they are in the care of their mother. However, after weaning they tend to move away, and deaths of these small, inexperienced quolls greatly increase.

The eastern quoll is classed as vulnerable under federal legislation, but is not listed under Tasmanian state legislation. Feral cats are well-suited to taking prey that quolls eat, the direct competition potentially forcing the eastern quoll from its habitat. Dogs, roadkills from collision with vehicles, and illegal poisoning or trapping by poultry owners are also causing declines. The species is wholly protected by law.

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PADEMELON (Thylogale billardierii)

The pademelon is a stocky animal with a relatively short tail and legs to aid its movement through dense vegetation. It ranges in color from dark-brown to gray-brown on its back, and has a red- brown belly. Males, which are considerably larger than females, have a muscular chest and forearms, and reach up to 12 kg in weight and 1 to 1.2 m in overall length, including the tail. Females average 3.9 kg in weight. The unusual common name, pademelon, is of Aboriginal derivation. It is also sometimes referred to as the rufous wallaby.

Pademelon Distribution and Habitat
Pademelons are solitary and nocturnal, spending the hours of daylight in thick vegetation. Rainforest and wet forest are the preferred habitats, although wet gullies in dry open eucalyptous forest are also used. Habitat next to cleared areas, where feeding can occur, is especially favored. After dusk, the animals move onto such open areas to feed, but rarely stray more than 100 meters 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.

The diet of the pademelon consists of herbs and green shoots, with short green grasses being preferred. Mosses are occasionally eaten. Pademelons were undoubtedly important in the diet of the Tasmanian tiger, and are now important in the diet of Tasmanian devils, spotted-tailed quolls, and wedge-tailed eagles.

Although there is no specific breeding season, 70 percent of pademelon births occur around the beginning of winter. Gestation is 30 days. Pouch life is 6.5 months. The young are weaned at seven to eight months, and are sexually mature at 14 to 15 months. Longevity in the wild may be five to six years.

This species is extinct on the mainland because of predation by foxes and large-scale land clearance, although two other species occur along the east coast of the mainland. In Tasmania, however, the pademelon is both widespread and abundant. Although partially protected, hunting is allowed; its pelt is commercially valuable and the meat is palatable.

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WOMBAT (Vombatus ursinus)

The wombat is the largest burrowing mammal. Indeed, it is such an accomplished burrower that early settlers called it a badger, but its closest relative is actually 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.

Wombat Distribution
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.

There are three subspecies of common wombat -- Vombatus ursinus hirsutus, which is found on the mainland; Vombatus ursinus tasmaniensis, which is found in Tasmania; and Vombatus ursinus ursinus, which was once found throughout the Bass Strait islands but is now restricted to Flinders Island.

Wombats can be seen in a number of national parks, including Asbestos Range National Park and Cradle Mountain National Park.

The wombat is a fairly large, solidly built animal with a squat, round, bearlike body, small ears and eyes, and a large naked nose. Its thick, coarse fur varies in color from sandy brown to gray and black, and is sometimes flecked with fawn. Often their true color is obscured by the color of the dirt or clay in which they have been digging. On the mainland, they average one meter in length and 27 kg in weight, yet can reach up to 1.2 m in length and weights of up to 35 kg. The Tasmanian wombat is not as large or bulky, averaging 85 cm in length and 20 kg in weight, while the Flinders Island wombat is smaller still at only 75 cm in length.

They have short legs, large paws, and long, strong claws that are used in the excavation of burrows. The forepaws are used for digging, and after pushing the dirt to one side, the wombat will back out, moving the loose dirt with both the front and back paws. It differs from all other marsupials by having a single pair of upper and lower incisors (front teeth). These teeth are never ground away as they are both rootless and never stop growing, which is just as well, as the wombat often uses them for cutting through obstructions, much like a beaver! Being marsupials, female wombats have a pouch that in their case opens backward to prevent dirt and debris entering while burrowing.

In Tasmania, the wombat is widespread and found from sea level to alpine areas, but shows a preference for heathland, coastal scrub and open forest, where soils favor their burrowing habits. Wombats often dig their burrows in the areas above creeks and gullies. Burrows can be up to 20 meters long and more than two meters below the ground, and have numerous connecting tunnels and entrances. There may also be more than one nest in the burrow, which they make from sticks, leaves and grasses.

Wombats are mostly nocturnal, usually coming out at night to graze when temperatures are lower. However, in cold periods they may sometimes be seen about during the day either grazing or basking in the sun. They graze for between three and eight hours a night, during which time they may travel many kilometers and visit up to four burrows within their home range, sometimes to rest, sometimes just to tidy up the burrow. Although they are solitary animals, with only one wombat inhabiting any one burrow, the overlap of home ranges does occasionally result in a number of wombats using the same burrow. To avoid the overlap of feeding areas, they use scent-marking, vocalizations and aggressive displays. Wombats not only leave their burrow to graze, but will also spend time rubbing themselves against logs or branches. If used often enough, these rubbing posts may be recognized by their worn or polished appearance.

The distinctive cube-shaped dung of the wombat is a useful indication of its comings and goings. Any new object within a home range is a prime target for marking with dung, particularly if it is elevated. Fallen trees, fresh mushrooms, rocks and even an upright stick have been found with dung on top! The cube shape means that dung is less likely to roll off such objects.

The rump of the wombat is covered by a very tough, thick skin. If threatened, a wombat will dive into a nearby burrow or hollow log, using its rump as protection from the teeth and claws of its attacker. The wombat is also capable of crushing attackers against the burrow roof. Their natural enemies are Tasmanian devils and eagles, while no doubt the thylacine once preyed upon them.

Although the wombat may breed at any time of the year, mating most often occurs during winter. The female has two teats in her pouch, yet despite this, 30 days after mating, only one young is born. The juvenile remains in the pouch for six months, after which it stays with the female up until it is 18 months old. From the time the juvenile leaves the pouch, it begins to substitute increasing amounts of plant material for milk until, when about 15 months old, it stops suckling altogether. Sexual maturity is reached at two years of age, and wombats live for in excess of five years in the wild. Due to the long period of time that the young is dependent on the mother, it is likely that females only rear one young every two years. However, if the young dies early, or if conditions are good enough for it to leave the pouch early, she may raise another.

The diet of the wombat is composed entirely of plant material. Its main food is native grasses, but shrubs, roots, sedges, bark and herbs are also eaten, while moss seems to be a particular delicacy. At times of food shortages, they may dig up sections of dead grass to get at the roots. When feeding, the front feet of wombats are surprisingly dextrous -- they can pick up vegetation with one foot and "hand" it to the mouth!

The wombat is common in Tasmania, particularly in the northeast of the state. However, since settlement, they have faced resentment from farmers because their burrows can be hazards to stock, and thousands were killed for this reason alone. Although common at present, the clearing of land for agriculture is reducing their range. Wombats are killed by poison intended to reduce rabbit or wallaby numbers. Dogs, indiscriminate shooters and vehicles also take their toll. It is protected in all states, although in parts of eastern Victoria, it is treated as a pest and has no protection -- mainly due to its damage to rabbit-proof fences.

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ECHIDNA (Tachyglossus aculeatus)

Echidnas, or spiny ant eaters as they are sometimes known, are familiar to most Australians. Echidnas are monotremes (mammals that lay eggs). There are only three species of monotreme in the world -- the platypus and two species of echidna, one of which is restricted to the New Guinea highlands. They have many features which are reptilian in nature such as egg laying, legs that extend outward then downward, and a lower body temperature (about 31 to 32 F), than other mammals.

Echidnas are 30 cm to 45 cm in length and weigh between 2 kg and 5 kg, with Tasmanian animals being larger than their Australian mainland counterparts. The body, with the exception of the underside, face and legs, is covered with cream coloured spines. These spines, which reach 50 mm in length, are in fact modified hairs. Insulation is provided by fur between the spines, which ranges in color from honey to a dark reddish-brown and even black. The fur of the Tasmanian subspecies is thicker and longer than that of echidnas in warmer mainland areas, and therefore often conceals the spines.

Echidna Distribution
The echidna is common throughout most of temperate Australia and lowland New Guinea. In Tasmania, it is particularly common in dry open country on the east coast. It is also found on open heathlands and in forests, and can sometimes be seen slowly wandering along roadsides in its characteristic rolling gait.

The echidna is shy and moves slowly and carefully, but can usually be approached by treading softly. It is solitary for most of the year, but at mating time, several males may follow a female. Their activity patterns differ with location and temperature -- in the warmer parts of Australia it is completely nocturnal, spending the daytime resting out of the heat. They typically shelter in rotten logs, stumps or burrows, or under bushes. In more temperate areas, foraging occurs around dusk, while echidnas in southern Australia are often active during the day, particularly during winter. If disturbed, echidnas will usually lower the head, and with vigorous digging, sink rapidly into the ground leaving only the spines exposed. On hard surfaces, they will curl into a ball -- presenting defensive spines in every direction. They are also capable of wedging tightly into crevices or logs by extending their spines and limbs.

The echidna is adapted for very rapid digging, having short limbs and powerful claws. The claws on the hind feet are elongated and curve backwards; to enable cleaning and grooming between the spines. However, despite this, they are infested with what is said to be the world's largest flea -- Bradiopsylla echidnae -- which is about 4 mm long.

Surprisingly, echidnas are good swimmers, paddling about with only the snout and a few spines showing. They have been seen to cross wide beaches to swim and groom themselves in the sea. Male echidnas, like their relative the platypus, have a spur on each hindfoot. However, unlike the platypus the spur is blunt and the venom gland is not functional.

The breeding season for echidnas is from the end of June to September. Two weeks after mating, a single rubbery-skinned egg is laid directly into a small backward facing pouch which has developed in the female. After 10 days, the egg hatches and the young remains in the pouch. During the following period of lactation, the female spends most of her time in a burrow, but will leave the young behind, covered with soil or wood fiber, to go foraging. As echidnas lack nipples, the mammary glands secrete milk through two patches on the skin from which the young suckle. Juveniles are eventually ejected from the pouch at around two to three months of age due to the continuing growth of their spines. Suckling gradually decreases up until the juvenile is weaned at about six months of age.

The diet of echidnas is largely made up of ants and termites, although, they will eat other invertebrates especially grubs, larvae and worms. The strong forepaws are used to open up the ant or termite nest and the echidna then probes the nest with its sensitive snout. Any insects in the nest are caught on the echidnas rapidly moving 15 cm tongue which is covered with a layer of sticky mucous, hence the name Tachyglossus, meaning "fast tongue." The jaws are narrow and have no teeth so food is crushed between hard pads which lie in the roof of the mouth and on the back of the tongue. Large grubs are squashed and the contents licked up. Echidnas eat a lot of soil and ant-nest material when feeding, and this makes up the bulk of droppings.

The echidna is common and widespread. They are less affected by the clearing of land than are other native animals as they can live anywhere that there is a supply of ants. Despite their covering of spines, they do have natural predators such as eagles and Tasmanian devils, which even eat the spines. They were a favorite food of Aboriginal people and early white settlers, although they are now wholly protected by law.

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FORESTER KANGAROO (Macropus giganteus)

The Forester kangaroo is the largest marsupial in Tasmania and the second largest in the world -- males can reach over 60 kg and, when literally on tippy toes, stand two meters tall! Color varies from light brownish gray to gray. 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.

Forester Kangaroo Distribution
The species is common on mainland Australia, where it is commonly known as the grey kangaroo. In many areas of the mainland, the clearing of bushland, creation of improved pasture and provision of farm dams has upset the natural balance in favor of increased macropod numbers. In Tasmania, however, the population was reduced to 15 percent of its previous level in the 1950s and 60s. The Forester kangaroo is restricted to northeastern Tasmania and small areas in central Tasmania. Preferred habitat is dry sclerophyll forest with open grassland clearings.

Forester Kangaroo Diet and Behavior
Foresters often feed during the day, but mostly in the early morning and evening. Grasses and forbs comprise the diet. Forester kangaroos are partially social animals that are usually seen in family groups of three or four, but may occur in loosely associated mobs of more than ten. Like all macropods, the Forester kangaroo moves by hopping. At moderate speeds, such a form of locomotion is more energy efficient than quadrapedal running.

Births occur throughout the year, with a peak in the summer. Gestation is 36 days. Pouch life lasts 11 months and weaning occurs at 18 months. The species is wholly protected in Tasmania.

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TIGER SNAKE (Notechis scutatus)

The tiger snake is a usually timid species that, like most snakes, usually retreats at the approach of a human. It is an interesting snake, which despite the name, may not have any striping at all.

Tiger Snake Description
The Tasmanian tiger snake has recently been shown to be the same species as that which occurs on the southeastern Australian mainland, (Notechis scutatus). The markings are extremely variable and should not be used in isolation to identify snakes. Colors range from jet black, to yellow-orange with gray bands, to sandy gray with no bands. There are unconfirmed reports of red-bellied tiger snakes in northeast Tasmania. Typical forms are of a black snake with either no bands or faint yellow to cream bands. Dark olive snakes with yellow bands are fairly common.

Generally, the belly is pale yellow, white or gray, the enlarged ventral scales often edged with black. The head is broad and blunt. It can be difficult to distinguish the tiger snake from the copperhead since sizes, habitat preferences and behaviour overlap somewhat. Tiger snakes have 13 to 19 rows of scales around the middle of the body, the usual number being 17. On the mainland of Tasmania, tiger snakes reach a length of one to 1.8 m. The Chappell Island population reaches prodigious lengths -- up to 2.1 m. Male tiger snakes reach a greater size than females and have larger heads.

Tiger Snake Ecology
Wide-ranging, from dry rocky areas to woodlands to wet marshes and grasslands, tiger snakes occur in most habitats in Tasmania. They become inactive over winter, retreating into rodent burrows, hollow logs and stumps. Groups of as many as 26 juvenile snakes have been found over-wintering in the same place. Generally, tiger snakes do not stay in the same place for more than 15 days, males being especially prone to wandering.

Tiger snakes feed mainly on mammals and birds under 300 grams in weight. Tiger snakes habitually raid bird nests, and have been found climbing trees to a height of eight meters. A good indicator of the presence of a tiger snake is the alarm calls of small birds such as honeyeaters and thornbills. They also eat other vertebrates including lizards, smaller snakes, frogs and occasionally fish. Juvenile tiger snakes will use constriction to subdue struggling skinks, a principal food of smaller snakes. Adult snakes are also known to use constriction on larger prey as well. Tiger snakes are important predators of introduced rodent pests and readily enter the burrows of mice, rats and even rabbits in search of their quarry. On a number of offshore islands, juvenile tiger snakes feed on small lizards; then as they approach maturity, the diet switches to muttonbird chicks. Because these resources are limited, competition is fierce, and the chances of these snakes reaching adulthood is less than one percent. Occasionally, tiger Snakes will eat carrion.

A slow, careful hunter that may stand its ground if surprised, the tiger snake relies on its impressive threat display for defense. Like most snakes, tiger snakes are first cowards, then bluffers, and only become warriors as a last resort. If threatened, a tiger snake will flatten out its neck, raising its head to make itself appear as frightening as possible. If the threat persists, the snake will often feign a strike, producing an explosive hiss or "bark" at the same time. Like most snakes, tiger snakes will not bite unless provoked.

Sexual actvity is sporadic throughout summer and reaches a peak in late January and February. Mating may last for up to seven hours, the female occasionally dragging the male about. Males don't eat during periods of sexual activity. Females stop eating three to four weeks before giving birth. Female litter sizes have been recorded as high as 126 young, and litter size is often related to female body size. Tiger snakes from small islands produce fewer, larger young. Baby tiger snakes when born are 215 to 270 mm in length. Females produce young at best every second year. There is no maternal care amongst tiger snakes. Tiger snakes do not become more aggressive during the breeding season, but a male snake tracking a female may well have his mind on other things, and may be more easily surprised or be in an unfamiliar environment. He may consequently be more nervous if disturbed.

The tiger snake is found in most habitats throughout Tasmania, and on many of the offshore islands, as well as southeastern mainland Australia. Tiger snakes have been recorded from the following Islands: Babel Is., Cat Is., Chalky Is., Christmas Is., Flinders Is., Forsyth Is., Great Dog Is., Hunter Is., King Is., Little Green Is., Maria Is., Mount Chappell Is., New Year Is., Seal Rks, and Trefoil Island.

Secure, although some island populations may decline if offshore activities threaten muttonbird colonies.

Now legally protected in Tasmania, tiger snakes still face great danger from human activities such as destruction and fragmentation of habitat. Many are needlessly killed on the road when deliberately run over.

Fangs and Poison
The highly toxic venom is produced in large amounts. The venom is mainly neurotoxic, affecting the central nervous system, but also causes muscle damage and affects blood clotting. The breakdown of muscle tissue can lead to kidney failure.

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