Dibbler (Parantechinus apicalis)
|Also known as:||freckled marsupial mouse, Southern dibbler, speckled marsupial mouse|
|French:||Souris Marsupiale Mouchetée|
|Size||Tail length: 8-11 cm (2)|
Head/body length: 14 cm (2)
|Weight||40-100 g (2)|
Classified as Endangered (EN B1+2ce) on the IUCN Red List 2003 (1).
The dibbler is one of the rarest mammals in the world (2). It is a small marsupial carnivore found in Australia. Like other members of the dasyurid family, it has a distinctive pointed snout, well developed canines, 6-7 sharp cheek teeth and broad feet bearing sharp claws (3). Its small mouse-like body is covered in coarse fur which is brownish-grey in colour, with distinctive white speckles. The tail is hairy and tapering, and there are distinctive white markings around the eyes (3). Females, like most marsupials, have pouches in which they carry the newborns until they are fully developed (3).
This species is restricted to two small islands (Boullanger and Whitlock) off the southwest Western Australian coast. It also occurs on the Australian mainland in three widely separated areas (4).
Inhabits dense heath habitat and appears to prefer sites with sandy soils (4).
Dibblers are most active at dawn and dusk. They feed on ground-dwelling insects and other invertebrates but will also eat small lizards, small birds and small mammals. They are well adapted carnivores, with strong jaws and tiny sharp teeth, and are also incredibly agile and able to run through seemingly impenetrable undergrowth with ease. Not only are they well equipped for foraging in the undergrowth, but they can also run up trees and rocks. Their broad feet have claws on the toes, and grooves running along the feet pads which act as suckers (4).
Females have one oestrous cycle per year, and mating occurs in March or April (2). Following a gestation period of 44 days, the female gives birth to 8 young. The infants live and nurse in their mother's pouch for several weeks before growing too large (2).
This species has been lost from 90% of its former range in Australia (4). It is not known why this marsupial is so rare, although surveys suggest various factors. Land clearing and habitat fragmentation are thought to be significant causes of its decline. In addition, the frequent burning of heathland and litter may reduce the availability of invertebrates in the area. Predation by introduced mammals such as foxes and cats are also considered a threat to this species (4).
In 1992 a recovery plan for this species was developed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), addressing the threats facing this species (4). Predation by foxes and cats has now been brought under control by The Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) and, in the last decade, dibbler numbers have started to increase (5). Perth Zoo has been working with CALM to establish a captive breeding stock of over 100 individuals of this species (6). They have also translocated a group of dibblers to Escape Island; a predator free island which has suitable habitat for this marsupial. Here, radio tracking devices and trapping practices will be used to monitor the populations (5). Considering that the dibbler was on the brink of extinction, this recovery plan has been a great success. It is however essential to maintain these conservation efforts as the dibbler is still regarded as a severely endangered animal (1).
For further information on this species and latest news see:
Perth Zoo Wildlife and Conservation Projects.
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- Marsupial: a diverse group of mammals characterised by their reproduction. The embryo is born 11-35 days after conception. The tiny newborn crawls into the marsupium (pouch) and attaches to a teat where it stays for a variable amount of time. They also differ from placental mammals in their dentition.
- Oestrous: the time of ovulation (release of an egg from the ovary) in female mammals, when the female becomes receptive to males, also known as ‘heat’.
- IUCN Redlist (January 2004) www.redlist.org
- Walkers Mammals of the World ( January 2004) http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/walkers_mammals_of_the_world/marsupialia/marsupialia.dasyuridae.parantechinus.html
- Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Kennedy, M. (1992) Australian Marsupials and Monotremes. An Action Plan for their Conservation . IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
- CALM Report, Massive Step in Dibbler Recovery. (January 2004) http://www.calm.wa.gov.au/news/NewsData/html/mr_00153.html
- Perth Zoo Wildlife and Conservation Projects (January 2004) http://www.perthzoo.wa.gov.au/