August 2018

Mouse or marsupial?

Stripe-faced Dunnart. Photo courtesy of Anthony McDonnell.

I found this little fellow under an old sheet of iron and thought it was a mouse, on closer inspection it looked different to the mice we usually get here. Can you tell me what it is?


Answer

This very cute ‘mouse’ is a Stripe-faced Dunnart (Sminthopsis macroura). Dunnarts may look like mice but are not actually rodents at all. Dunnarts belong to a group called dasyurids, which are native Australian marsupial mammals. Dunnarts give birth to tiny hairless babies about the size of a grain of rice that are nurtured for an extended period in a rudimentary pouch (a flap of skin) on the mother’s belly. Mice on the other hand are Placental mammals (like humans) their young nourished inside the mothers uterus before being born fully formed.

Another difference between mice and Dunnarts is their teeth. Mice have long incisors that continually grow and wear down over their lifetime of eating seeds and plant matter. Dunnarts have rows of very sharp teeth to tackle their exclusively carnivorous diet.

Dunnarts are voracious eaters of invertebrates but will feed on just about any animal small enough for them to overpower, including lizards, frogs, and other small mammals. They do not generally drink water, instead obtaining necessary fluids from their food. They commonly store fat in their tail, giving it a characteristic swollen look. Fat stores can be used by the animal when food is in short supply. These adaptations making it perfectly suited to the dry inland regions of Australia where moisture can be limited and food seasonally scarce.

Stripe-faced Dunnarts are strictly nocturnal and shelter during the day in cracks and crevasses or under logs, or sometimes in other animals burrows. The Dunnart that you found was probably using the iron as a place to shelter after its evening activities.

Australia has almost 20 species of Dunnart. You can read about two more of them on our website: 


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