This desert marsupial mouse is well-adapted to its arid habitat. Having evolved kidneys capable of producing highly concentrated urine, contributing to water conservation, the crest-tailed mulgara does not even need to drink, with its food providing it with adequate water (2). The crest-tailed mulgara is mostly nocturnal, foraging at night when the temperature is cooler, whilst residing during the day in a burrow it digs to escape the harsh desert sun (2). The burrow has a complex architecture, featuring tunnels, grass-lined nests, and numerous entrance holes (2) (7). The crest-tailed mulgara is territorial, and marks its territory and burrow with urine, while odours produced from the scent glands are used in communication (5). When threatened, the crest-tailed mulgara responds aggressively with bared teeth, hissing, growls, and shrieks (2).
A fast, efficient hunter, its small size and endearing appearance belie the crest-tailed mulgara’s aggressive nature, and it will even tackle prey bigger than itself (2). Moving with a bounding gait amongst the sand dunes (2), the crest-tailed mulgara preys upon insects, spiders, and even scorpions and small vertebrates, such as lizards, birds and rodents (2). It is also known to scavenge upon carrion (5).
The crest-tailed mulgara breeds from mid-May to October (5). As with all marsupials, newly born mulgara are helpless, being born blind and furless. Following birth, the young must succeed in climbing to the mother’s ‘pouch’, which is little more than two folds of skin on the abdomen. The young are carried around attached to a teat for the next five weeks, where they undergo most of their development (2). It is ‘survival of the fittest’ from birth, as often females give birth to a greater number of young than her eight nipples can suckle. Failure to securely attach to a teat is fatal, as not only is the newborn bereft of the energy and nutrients it requires to complete development, but in the relatively exposed pouch it is also at risk of being dislodged as the female forages (2).
Fed on a rich supply of milk, the young grow rapidly and once they are too large to be carried beneath the female’s belly they then cling to the female’s back as she forages (2). The juveniles are weaned within three to five months and reach sexual maturity at ten to eleven months. These hardy little animals live up to seven years, a considerable lifespan for a small marsupial (2).
The breeding cycle of the crest-tailed mulgara is attuned to the unpredictable and harsh conditions of the Australian desert. When food and water are scarce, it will delay breeding, but during favourable conditions, such as brief wet spells, the mulgara produces and raises young relatively quickly (2).