Crest-tailed mulgara (Dasycercus cristicauda)

Also known as: mulgara
Synonyms: Dasycercus hillieri, Dasyuroides cristicaudata
  
French: Rat Marsupial À Queue Crêtée
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderDasyuromorphia
FamilyDasyuridae
GenusDasycercus (1)
SizeMale head-body length: 12 - 23 cm (2)
Female head-body length: 12 - 17 cm (2)
Male tail length: 7 - 13 cm (2)
Female tail length: 7 - 10 cm (2)
Male weight: 75 - 170 g (2)
Female weight: 60 - 95 g (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The crest-tailed mulgara is a small, robust marsupial mouse, with fine soft fur that is light sandy-brown with a dark grey base on the upperparts, and greyish-white on the underparts (2) (3) (4). It has a short tail, with a reddish base and a prominent crest of black hairs near the tip, from which it gets its common name (4) (5). The eyes are large and the ears are thin and sparsely furred (4). The male crest-tailed mulgara is larger than the female (4).

The crest-tailed mulgara is one of two species within the genus Dasycercus (which means ‘hairy-tail’), the other being the brush-tailed mulgara (Dasycercus blythi) (3) (6). The crest-tailed mulgara can be distinguished from the brush-tailed mulgara by its thick tail with a crest of black hairs, unlike the thinner tail of the brush-tailed mulgara which simply ends in a tapering tip (5). Female crest-tailed mulgaras also have eight nipples, compared to the six of female brush-tailed mulgaras (3).

The crest-tailed mulgara is endemic to Australia. Its range extends throughout the inland deserts of central Australia, encompassing Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and northern South Australia (2). However, the exact range limits are uncertain as a result of the recent re-recognition of the brush-tailed mulgara (Dasycercus blythi) as a distinct species, requiring the identity of museum specimens to be re-checked before the true range limits of both species can be established (1).

The crest-tailed mulgara inhabits the inland sandy deserts of central Australia, primarily amongst Spinifex bush (2). It has also been found in dunes dominated by sandhill canegrass (Zygochloa paradoxa), nitre bush (Nitraria billardierei) grasslands, and sandhill canegrass flats near salt lakes (1).

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).

There has been no extensive research into the threats to this species; however, declines recorded in Queensland and South Australia have been suggested to be associated with habitat disturbances by rabbits and livestock, and predation by cats and foxes (7).

The crest-tailed mulgara is known to occur in at least one protected area, the Simpson Desert Regional Reserve in South Australia. Although not currently considered to be threatened with extinction, further research into the distribution, abundance, habitat requirements and threats to the crest-tailed mulgara would be beneficial, so that appropriate conservation strategies could be developed if necessary (1).

To find out about wildlife conservation in Australia see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Jones, C. and Parish, S. (2006) Field Guide to Australian Mammals. Steve Parish Publishing, Archefield, Queensland.
  3. Woolley, P.A. (2005) The species of Dasycercus Peters, 1875 (Marsupialia: Dasyuridae). Memoirs of Museum Victoria62(2): 213-221.
  4. Cronin, L. (2008) Cronin’s Key Guide to Australian Mammals. Allen & Unwin, Australia.
  5. Egerton, L. and Lochman, J. (2009) Wildlife of Australia. Jacana Books, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW.
  6. Woolley, P.A. (1995) Mulgara. In: Strahan, R. (Ed.) The Mammals of Australia. Reed Books, Sydney.
  7. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.