Southern marsupial mole (Notoryctes typhlops)
|Also known as:||blind sand burrower, Itjari-itjari, marsupial mole|
|French:||Grande Taupe Marsupiale|
|Size||Head-body length: 90 – 180 mm (2)|
Tail length: 12 – 26 mm (2)
|Weight||40 – 66 g (2)|
The southern marsupial mole is listed as Data Deficient (DD) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is protected under the Commonwealth’s Endangered Species Protection Act 1992 (3).
Although no more related to placental moles than to any other placental mammal, the southern marsupial mole has a remarkably similar body form as a result of its burrowing lifestyle. The thick and powerful body is neatly adapted for moving around under the sand, with fused neck bones (vertebrae) for greater rigidity, a horny shield on the nose, and oversized flat claws on the third and fourth digits of the short forelimbs for digging. The southern marsupial mole spends much of its time in the dark under the sand and many of its features reflect this. The pouch opens to the rear to prevent sand entering during burrowing, the eyes are vestigial, the ear openings are well hidden under the fur and the nostrils are small and slit-like. The fur is silky and creamy-yellow to golden in colour, but can be pinkish brown to golden red as a result of iron-staining from the sand (2) (4) (5).
The southern marsupial mole is found in the central deserts of southern Northern Territory, northern and east-central Western Australia and western South Australia (1) (2).
This species inhabits sand dunes and sandy soils along rivers (1).
The distinct tracks of the southern marsupial mole, created by the hind feet and the hard tail swinging from side to side are most often found following rain, but it is not clear whether the mole emerges from under the sand more often after rain or whether the tracks are simply more obvious. Burrowing just beneath the surface, the mole travels fairly short distances pushing with the horny nose, scooping with the forefeet and throwing up the sand with the hind feet. The tunnels collapse behind the mole as it travels and it surfaces fairly frequently, propelling itself with its hind feet across the sand (2) (4) (5).
Reported separately as both diurnal and nocturnal, the southern marsupial mole appears to be quite active, favouring small reptiles and insects as prey (2) (4) (5).
Little is known about the reproductive habits of the southern marsupial mole, but it is thought to breed around November (4), producing one or two young, which move into the backwardly facing pouch after birth to suckle (2). Deep, permanent burrows are built for the young after they leave the pouch (2).
In the early 1900s, several thousand southern marsupial mole pelts were traded by Aboriginal people to Europeans. Little is known of the threats to the southern marsupial mole but the most obvious threat is predation by feral cats, foxes and dingoes. It is also thought that altered fire and grazing regimes have changed the abundance of prey (3).
Scientists are working with Aboriginal people to find and study marsupial moles in the Northern Territory and South Australia (3) as conservation work to prevent further decline of this species depends on a greater understanding of the ecology and threats to the marsupial mole.
To find out more about the southern marsupial mole, see:
Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE):
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- Diurnal: active during the day.
- Nocturnal: active at night.
- Placental: group of mammals characterised by their reproduction and physiological characteristics. The embryo is retained in the uterus, and born in an advanced state of development.
- Vestigial: a characteristic, often reduced in form, with little or no contemporary use, but derived from one which was useful and well developed in an ancestral form.
IUCN Red List (June, 2009)
Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) (January, 2010)
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts: Australian Government (January, 2010)
- Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
- Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.