Common planigale (Planigale maculata)
|Also known as:||coastal planigale, pygmy marsupial mouse, pygmy planigale|
|Size||Head-body length: up to 10 cm (2)|
Tail length: up to 9 cm (2)
Male weight: c. 15.3 g (2)
Female weight: c. 10.9 g (2)
- The common planigale’s scientific name means ‘spotted flat-weasel’.
- The first specimen of the common planigale, collected on the Clarence River in New South Wales, had white spots on its belly. However, most individuals lack these spots.
- The common planigale is able to survive in harsh environments simply by modifying its behaviour.
The common planigale is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
A small but fierce carnivorous marsupial, the common planigale (Planigale maculata) is endemic to Australia (1) (2). It is mouse-like in appearance, with a long, pointed snout, large, rounded ears and a remarkably distinctive flattened skull. The upper body of the common planigale is a varied shade of grey-brown, while the underparts are a pale tawny colour (2) (3). Occasionally, small white spots may be found on the belly (4).
The fur of the common planigale is thick and soft all over the body, with shorter hairs covering the tail (2). Males are typically larger than females (5), and females have a rear-facing pouch with 5 to 10, or possibly up to 15, mammae (2).
The common planigale is widely distributed across northern and eastern Australia, including, but not limited to, coastal north-eastern New South Wales, coastal east Queensland and Arnhem Land (1) (3).
It is probable, however, that populations of the common planigale in the Northern Territory are actually a separate species, and that those from Barrow Island and the Pilbara are new, undescribed species (1).
The common planigale most frequently inhabits savanna woodland and grassland. However, it is also known to be found in rainforest, eucalypt forest, marshland, mangroves and rocky areas, usually close to water (1) (2) (3). This marsupial takes shelter during the day, using either the bases of trees, hollow logs, rocks or clumps of grass as cover (2).
The common planigale is a nocturnal marsupial, sheltering during the day in a saucer-shaped nest lined with dry grass, eucalypt leaves or shredded bark (2) (3). An avid predator at night, it hunts for insects and small vertebrates to feed on (3). Its main diet consists of insects, spiders, small lizards and small rodents such as Leggadina species. Astonishingly, the common planigale is able to catch and kill grasshoppers practically its own size, and although terrestrial, it is also a capable climber (2).
This marsupial has demonstrated an ability to adapt to the invasion of the toxic cane toad (Bufo marinus) across northern Australia. This toad is thought to be the cause of many population declines of native predators in the area. The common planigale uses chemical cues to distinguish and therefore avoid this toxic prey, or kills and eats it snout-first in order to avoid the toad’s toxic glands (5).
To attract a mate, the female common planigale produces a courtship call of repetitive clicks, described as ‘tstitts’. The male may then respond with a similar call, initiating a duet (6). Females are able to give birth to more than one litter each year. The gestation period of the common planigale is 19 to 20 days, and its litter size ranges from 4 to 12 young, averaging at 8 (2). Repeated reproduction throughout the year and efficient dispersal of individuals may contribute to this species’ ability to survive in environments that are not habitable all year round (6).
The common planigale is well adapted to live in soil cracks due to its unusually flattened skull and body. Survival of this species in harsh environments is ensured by its low energy requirements and its behavioural adaptations to reduce energy and water expenditure, such as basking and short-term hibernation. The common planigale’s insectivorous diet is also advantageous to its survival, due to the high water content of insects (7).
Although there are currently no major threats to the common planigale, it is at risk from predation by domestic cats (1) and foxes. It is also vulnerable to poisoning from introduced cane toads, although research has shown that the common planigale has an ability to counteract this risk (3).
Coastal habitat loss and fragmentation due to urban development may also cause some decline in common planigale populations (1) (3). In addition, this marsupial is vulnerable to regular burning and overgrazing of its habitat, which eliminates ground cover, and to disturbance of vegetation around water bodies (3).
The common planigale is found in many protected areas within its range (1). In addition, the Office of Environment and Heritage has outlined eight priority actions to aid this species’ recovery in New South Wales. These involve education programmes to ensure the protection and restoration of its habitat, consideration of the species in forest management activities, controlled fire planning, and feral and non-feral predator control. Research should also be conducted on habitat use by the common planigale, as well as its dispersal capabilities and habitat preferences, and habitat management should ensure that adequate ground cover is maintained (3).
Find out more about the common planigale:
New South Wales Government, Office of Environment and Heritage - Common planigale:
Byron Shire Council: Threatened Species Profile - Common planigale:
Brisbane City Council: Small Marsupial Carnivores Conservation Action Statement:
Chevron Guide to the Mammals of Barrow Island:
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- Carnivorous marsupial: a marsupial in the order Dasyuromorphia, a group which includes the quolls, dunnarts, numbat, Tasmanian devil and thylacine. Most members of the group are specialised for an insectivorous (insect-eating) or carnivorous (meat-eating) diet.
- Endemic: a species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- Feral: previously domesticated animals that have returned to a wild state.
- Gestation: the state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
- Gland: an organ that makes and secretes substances used by the body.
- Hibernation: a winter survival strategy in which an animal’s metabolic rate slows down and a state of deep sleep is attained. While hibernating, animals survive on stored reserves of fat that they have accumulated in summer.
- Insectivorous: insect-eating.
- Mammae: the organs of females that produce milk. Also known as mammary glands.
- Marsupial: a diverse group of mammals characterised by their reproduction, in which gestation is very short, and the female typically has a pouch (marsupium) in which the young are raised. When born, the tiny young crawls to the mother’s teats, where it attaches and stays for a variable amount of time, while it continues to develop. Marsupials also differ from placental mammals in their dentition.
- Nocturnal: active at night.
- Vertebrates: animals with a backbone, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.
IUCN Red List (October, 2012)
- Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
New South Wales Government, Office of Environment and Heritage - Common planigale (October, 2012)
- Strahan, R. and Conder, P. (2007) Dictionary of Australian and New Guinean Mammals. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
- Webb, J., Brown, G., Child, T., Greenlees, M., Phillips, B. and Shine, R. (2008) A native dasyurid predator (common planigale, Planigale maculata) rapidly learns to avoid a toxic invader. Austral Ecology, 33: 821-829.
- Armati, P., Dickman, C. and Hume, I. (2004) Marsupials. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
- Warnecke, L., Cooper, C., Geiser, F. and Withers, P. (2010) Environmental physiology of a small marsupial inhabiting arid floodplains. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, Part A, 157: 73-78.