Northern bettong (Bettongia tropica)

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderDiprotodontia
FamilyPotoroidae
GenusBettongia (1)
SizeHead-body length: 30 – 38 cm (2)
Tail length: 29 – 36 cm (2)
Weight1 – 1.5 kg (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

While this small, compact marsupial belongs to the kangaroo family, at first glance it appears similar to a rat, as its alternative common name of northern rat kangaroo suggests (4). Compared to most kangaroos, the northern bettong is delicately built, but it does retain short and muscular forearms with small, clawed paws and heavily muscled, well-developed hind legs, and it moves with a low, springy hop (5). Its head is broad with a flat, naked muzzle, short, pointed ears, and bright, black eyes (6). Short, dense hair covers most of the body (7), which is pale greyish-brown on the back and cream on the underside (4). The northern bettong also possesses a weakly prehensile (grasping) tail, which has a distinctive short, black brush of fur at the tip (4) (6). Initially, the northern bettong was considered to be a subspecies of the brush-tailed bettong (Bettongia penicillata) due to its similar genetics and appearance, but the two are now recognised as distinct species (4).

The northern bettong is endemic to Queensland, Australia. Currently, it is found in three geographically isolated locations: the Lamb Range, Coane Range and Mount Carbine Tableland, all in north-eastern Queensland. There may also be a population in one further location, the Mount Windsor Tableland, but the northern bettong has not been recorded here for several years. It has been documented at elevations from 800 to 1,200 metres above sea level (1).

This small mammal prefers to inhabit forests dominated by eucalyptus trees, with a dense canopy and grassy forest floor (4).

The northern bettong is a nocturnal animal, which spends the day resting in a well-disguised nest built of grass and vegetation, commonly dug into a shallow hole in the ground. During the night, it may travel large distances in order to locate the broadly dispersed truffles (edible fruiting bodies of fungi) which constitute 45 percent of its diet. Cockatoo grass (Alloteropsis semialata) is another important component of the northern bettong’s diet, and it will also feed on other grasses and fungi, as well as a wide variety of leaves, seeds, insects and tubers (1).

A solitary animal, the northern bettong occupies a large home range, containing three or four nest sites which the bettong moves between. Males typically occupy a ‘core’ home range of 72 hectares, while females occupy a smaller 49 hectares, and home ranges typically overlap (8).

The northern bettong may breed at any time of year, regardless of the season (9). Females produce two to three litters every year, with a single young born per litter after a gestation period of about 21 days. Like all marsupials, the young is very undeveloped at birth and continues its development in the protection of the mother’s pouch, where it remains for 110 to 115 days. Female northern bettongs reach sexual maturity at around 11 months of age, while males reach maturity later, at around 14 months (10). Life expectancy is approximately six years (6).

Numbers of this rare species are thought to be declining (1). This fall in numbers has been attributed to several different threats, in particular the alteration of the northern bettong’s preferred habitat as a result of a change in fire regimes in the last half century. Less frequent fires have allowed rainforest to encroach into the species’ eucalypt forest habitat and, along with invasive feral pigs, this has affected the supply of its primary food source, truffles. Over-grazing has also substantially diminished vegetation which the bettong requires for both shelter and food, such as cockatoo grass. Furthermore, predation by domestic dogs is of concern, particularly in areas where humans live close to bettong habitat (1) (4).

Some of the northern bettong’s range lies within protected areas, including the Lamb Range State Forest, Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and the Davies Creek National Park (1), which should hopefully offer some protection from the many threats it faces. In addition, a recovery plan for the northern bettong has been established which includes plans for the maintenance of habitat, a restriction on forest clearing activities, the monitoring and management of fire and grazing regimes, and the monitoring and control of feral pigs and predators (11). It is hoped that the recovery plan will improve the conservation status of the northern bettong, not only by maintaining the existing wild populations but also by creating new ones.

To find out about wildlife conservation in Queensland 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:
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  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Winter, J.W. and Johnson, P.M. (2002) Northern bettong. In:Strahan, R. (Ed.) The Mammals of Australia. Reed New Holland, Sydney.
  3. CITES (May, 2010)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. Pope, L. (2007) Conservation Management Profile: Northern Bettong Bettongia tropica. Environmental Protection Agency, Queensland Government, Brisbane.
  5. Strahan, R. (1998) The Mammals of Australia. Reed New Holland, Sydney.
  6. Queensland Government: Environment and Resource Management (May, 2010)
    http://www.derm.qld.gov.au/wildlife-ecosystems/wildlife/threatened_plants_and_animals/endangered/northern_bettong.html
  7. Seebeck, J.H. and Rose, R.W. (1989) Potoroidae. In: Walton, D.W. and Richardson, B.J. (Eds.) Fauna of Australia. Volume 1B. Mammalia. Australian Government Publishing, Canberra.
  8. Vernes, K. and Pope, L.C. (2001) Stability of nest range, home range and movement of the Northern Bettong (Bettongia tropica) following moderate-intensity fire in a tropical woodland, north-east Queensland. Wildlife Research, 96: 305-309.
  9. Johnson, C.N. and McIllwee, A.P. (1997) Ecology of the northern bettong Bettongia tropica, a tropical mycophagist. Wildlife Research, 24: 549-559.
  10. Johnson, P.M. and Delean, S. (2001) Reproduction in the northern bettong, Bettongia tropica Wakefield (Marsupialia: Potoroidae), in captivity, with age estimation and development of pouch young. Wildlife Research, 28: 79-85.
  11. Dennis, A.J. (2001) Recovery Plan for the Northern Bettong, Bettongia tropica 2000-2004. Report to Environment Australia, Canberra. Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Brisbane.