Eastern quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus)

Also known as: eastern native cat, native cat
Synonyms: Satanellus viverrinus
  
French: Chat Marsupial Moucheté
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderDasyuromorphia
FamilyDasyuridae
GenusDasyurus (1)
SizeMale head-body length: 32 - 45 cm (2)
Female head-body length: 28 - 40 cm (2)
Male tail length: 20 - 28 cm (2) (3)
Female tail length: 17 - 24 cm (2) (3)
Male weight: 0.9 - 2 kg (2)
Female weight: 0.7 - 1.1 kg (2)

The eastern quoll is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The eastern quoll is a medium-sized carnivorous marsupial with thick, soft fur that is fawn, brown or black and covered in small white spots, except on the tail (3) (4) (5). The tail is long and bushy, and sometimes has a white tip (4) (5).

This species occurs in two distinct colour morphs, the first being fawn with whitish underparts, and the second being black with brownish underparts (3). The fawn morph of the eastern quoll is more common, but both can occur in the same litter. Both morphs possess the distinctive white spots (2) (3) (5).

The male eastern quoll is larger than the female (3) (4). Both sexes have a long body, short legs, a narrow head with a tapering snout, and erect ears that have rounded tips (3) (5). Compared to the closely related spotted-tailed quoll (Dasyurus maculatus), the eastern quoll is slighter in build and has a more pointed muzzle (4) (5), and is also distinguished by the lack of spots on its tail (2).

The eastern quoll once occurred across southeast Australia, from South Australia, through Victoria to the central coast of New South Wales (1) (2) (3). However, after reductions of between 50 and 90 percent in its historical range, the eastern quoll now exists in the wild only in Tasmania and on the nearby Bruny Island, where it may have been introduced (1) (3).

In Tasmania, the eastern quoll has a widespread but patchy distribution (1), being most common in the drier eastern half of the island (3) (5).

The eastern quoll occurs in a wide variety of habitats, including open forests, heaths, wet scrub, moorlands, woodlands, alpine habitats and grasslands (1) (2) (3) (4) (6), at elevations from sea level to around 1,500 metres (3). It is also found on agricultural land, being particularly common where pastures occur adjacent to forest (2) (3) (4) (5) (6).

The eastern quoll tends to live alone, foraging mainly for invertebrates such as beetle larvae and corbie grubs (Oncopera spp.). However, it is an opportunistic carnivore and will also hunt small mammals such as rabbits, mice and rats, as well as birds, lizards and snakes. It also scavenges on larger prey and occasionally feeds on grass and fruits (2) (3) (4). The eastern quoll may even compete with the larger Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) for food, darting around its kills to take small pieces of flesh (3) (4).

A nocturnal species, the eastern quoll shelters in a den by day, usually in an underground burrow, fallen log or rock pile (2) (3) (4). The eastern quoll is mainly terrestrial, moving across the ground with a bounding gait and only occasionally climbing (3).

The eastern quoll breeds in the early winter, between May and August (2) (3) (4) (5), with the young being born after a gestation period of around 21 days (3) (4). There may be up to 30 young in each litter, but the pouch of the female eastern quoll usually contains only 6 teats. This means that the only young to survive are those that can attach themselves to the teats in order to feed (2) (3) (4).

After about ten weeks, the young eastern quolls leave the pouch and the female leaves them in a grass-lined den in a burrow or hollow log, allowing the female to hunt and forage. If the female needs to move to a different den site, she may carry the young on her back (2) (3) (4). Weaning occurs when the young eastern quolls are about five months old (2) (3) (4), meaning that the young become independent around November, at a time of year when food availability is high (3).

While the young eastern quolls are being cared for by the female, their mortality rate is low. However, after weaning the young tend to disperse, and mortality is high during the first few months of independent life (2) (3) (4). The eastern quoll reaches sexual maturity within its first year, and may live for around three to five years in the wild (3) (5).

The last eastern quoll on the Australian mainland is thought to have been killed around 1963, although there have been unconfirmed sightings since (1) (3). The factors that caused the eastern quoll to become extinct on the mainland are not well known (1), but may have included predation by and competition with introduced carnivores such as red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and feral cats, as well as disease transmitted from these non-native species. The eastern quoll was also hunted in the past, and has been persecuted as it may sometimes prey on domestic poultry (3).

Although considered to be widespread and relatively common in Tasmania (1) (2) (4), the eastern quoll is now believed to be undergoing a rapid decline (6). The recent introduction of the red fox to Tasmania is likely to present the most significant threat to the eastern quoll there (1) (6) (7), although it may also face threats from habitat clearance, poisoning by insecticides, illegal persecution, and predation by and competition with feral cats (2) (3) (4) (5).

The eastern quoll is also vulnerable to mortality on roads (2) (3) (4) (5), with an increase in traffic speed resulting in an increase in the number of quolls killed (1). Although the biology of the eastern quoll is fairly well known, its precise habitat requirements, distribution, abundance and diseases are less well understood (1) (3).

To conserve the eastern quoll, the changes to its range and population density in Tasmania need to be monitored. The reasons behind its decline and its extinction on the Australian mainland also need to be better understood in order for management plans and habitat conservation measures to be put in place (1).

Further recommended conservation measures for the eastern quoll include the control of fox populations (1) (2), and the Tasmanian government is now undertaking a fox eradication programme (7). Suggestions have also been made to re-introduce the eastern quoll into parts of the mainland where red foxes are controlled (3) (8).

This small marsupial may also benefit from the protection and maintenance of suitable habitat, as well as measures to reduce road kills (2) (5). The eastern quoll is fully protected by law, and is listed under a range of national and regional legislation (2) (4).

Find out more about the eastern quoll and its conservation:

More information on conservation in Tasmania:

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 (January, 2012)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service: Threatened Species Information - Eastern Quoll (January, 2012)
    http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/nature/tsprofileEasternQuoll.pdf
  3. Jones, M.E. and Rose, R.K. (2001) Dasyurus viverrinus. Mammalian Species, 677: 1-9. Available at:
    http://www.science.smith.edu/departments/Biology/VHAYSSEN/msi/pdf/677_Dasyurus_viverrinus.pdf
  4. Tasmania Parks & Wildlife Service - Eastern Quoll (January, 2012)
    http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/index.aspx?base=4774
  5. Bryant, S. and Jackson, F. (1999) Tasmania’s Threatened Fauna Handbook: What, Where and How to Protect Tasmania’s Threatened Animals. Threatened Species Unit, Parks and Wildlife Service, Hobart. Available at:
    http://www.dpiw.tas.gov.au/inter.nsf/Attachments/RLIG-5425ZR/$FILE/threatfauna.pdf
  6. Fancourt, B. (2011) In Search of Disappearing Eastern Quolls. PAWS Newsletter, Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife. Available at:
    http://www.fnpw.org.au/PDFS/2011PAWSspring.pdf
  7. Hughes, C., Gaffney, R. and Dickman, C.R. (2011) A preliminary study assessing risk to Tasmanian devils from poisoning for red foxes. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 75(2): 385-392.
  8. Firestone, K.B., Houlden, B.A., Sherwin, W.B. and Geffen, E. (2000) Variability and differentiation of microsatellites in the genus Dasyurus and conservation implications for the large Australian carnivorous marsupials. Conservation Genetics, 1: 115-133.