Like other dunnarts, the sandhill dunnart is an insectivore. It has a generalist, opportunistic diet, taking a variety of invertebrates including ants, beetles, spiders, grasshoppers and termites. Occasionally, this species has also been known to eat small reptiles (5).
The sandhill dunnarts that occur in Eyre Peninsula nest in the hollow parts of spinifex hummocks that are created when the plants start to die off at the centre. The dunnart accesses these hollow areas by leaping up onto the hummock, climbing over the top of the plant and down into the centre, where it builds a circular space (5). Enclosed within the dense, prickly, needle-like leaves, the sandhill dunnart is relatively safe from predators, and is also provided with a fairly stable environment where it is protected against extremes of temperature (5) (6).
In the Great Victoria Desert, the sandhill dunnart lives within burrows that it digs beneath larger spinifex hummocks. The burrows range from 12 to 110 centimetres in length and are up to 46 centimetres deep, and like spinifex nests they provide shelter against extremes of temperature and humidity. The use of burrows therefore allows the sandhill dunnart to save energy and water in its desert environment (5) (6). On the Eyre Peninsula, adult female sandhill dunnarts occasionally dig burrows that spiral down from within a spinifex clump and end in a chamber containing nesting material like bark and leaves. However, these burrows appear to be only used for rearing young (5).
Male sandhill dunnarts use a much greater variety of nest sites than females, and have been found living not only in spinifex, but also in small burrows dug between spinifex clumps, in hollow logs, and in burrows dug by other species (5).
Mating in the sandhill dunnart appears to take place mainly in September (1) (5), although in captivity the female sandhill dunnart has been reported to be receptive for just a short period between June and July (7). The sandhill dunnart is likely to produce a single litter each year, but if conditions are favourable a second litter may potentially be produced. In some areas, young dunnarts have been recorded at other times of year, suggesting that the breeding period may be broader than currently thought (5). The interval between mating and the birth of the litter ranges from 16 to 19 days (7).
The female sandhill dunnart gives birth to a litter of four to eight poorly developed young, although not all of the young are likely to survive to weaning. For the first few weeks of their life, the young sandhill dunnarts stay in the female’s pouch, each one remaining permanently attached to a teat. By 27 days after birth, the young are large enough that they can no longer by fully enclosed within the pouch, and by 64 days old they are too large to stay in the pouch. At this stage, the female leaves the young in the nest or carries them around on her back (7).
By about December or January (5), at around 76 days old, the young sandhill dunnarts are weaned and start to eat insects that the female brings to them within the nest (7). Both the male and female sandhill dunnart reach reproductive maturity in their first year of life (5) (7).