Spectacled hare-wallaby (Lagorchestes conspicillatus)

GenusLagorchestes (1)
SizeAverage head-body length: 47 cm (2)
Average weight: 2 – 3 kg (3)
Top facts

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The spectacled hare-wallaby is the only member of the Lagorchestes genus that remains widespread; two of the other species are extinct (Lagorchestes leporides and Lagorchestes asomatus) and the rufous hare-wallaby (Lagorchestes hirsutus) has a very restricted distribution (4). A mask of orange-coloured fur around each eye provides the spectacled hare-wallaby with its common name, while the fur on the back and sides is brown with white tips. The underparts have contrasting fluffy, white fur, and a distinctive line of white fur also runs along the hip (5). The scientific name of this species, Lagorchestes, means ‘dancing hare’, and it does indeed resemble a hare in its movements (6).

The spectacled hare-wallaby is endemic to Australia, where, over the last century, its range has declined (1) (4). Two subspecies of the spectacled hare-wallaby are recognised: Lagorchestes conspicillatus leichardti occurs in parts of Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory, while Lagorchestes conspicillatus conspicillatus occurs only on Barrow Island, off the coast of Western Australia (1) (4). L. c. conspicillatus previously also occurred on Hermite and Trimouille, but is now extinct on these islands (1) (4). Evidence has also been found of the spectacled hare-wallaby in Papua New Guinea, but information regarding its status there is limited (7).

Within its range the spectacled hare-wallaby inhabits a variety of environments including open forests, woodlands, shrublands and grasslands (8). It requires dense clumps (tussocks) of grass or small mounds (hummocks) of spinifex grass (Triodia angusta), under which it shelters during the heat of the day (8) (9).

Water loss in hot, arid areas of Australia proves a significant problem for many animals; however, hare-wallabies are well adapted for such harsh environments (3). Being nocturnal, the spectacled hare-wallaby spends the day under grass tussocks, which offers shelter from both heat and predation (8). It also possesses a number of physiological and behavioural adaptations to cope with low water availability, including feeding on plants with high water content, and having highly concentrated urine (3) (8). The diet of the spectacled hare-wallaby consists mainly of herbs and grasses, but it is also known to feed on certain fruits (8).

Female spectacled hare-wallabies can reproduce at one year of age, while males tend to mature at a later age. A single infant, or joey, is born at a time, after a gestation period of 29 to 31 days.  The joey is not yet fully developed at birth so, like all marsupials, development of the joey continues for an extra 152 days within the marsupium (pouch) of the female (10).

An array of threats is believed to have contributed to the decline of this species over the last century; many of these threats began with the European settlement in Australia (4). The agricultural industry introduced the threat of grazing competitors and changes in habitat composition. Traditional methods employed in burning land, that once appeared to benefit wallaby populations, were changed, resulting in reduced habitat variety and an increased risk in wild fires. In addition, climate change has resulted in severe drought in certain areas. All of these threats combine to cause a decline in the quality and range of habitat available for the spectacled hare-wallaby, increasing the risk of predation and exposure to heat from the sun (1) (4) (11).

Introduced species have exerted a negative impact on the spectacled hare-wallaby via predation and competition. Firstly, feral cats were believed to be responsible for the species’ extinction on Hermite Island and cats and red foxes are known to predate this species throughout its mainland range (4). Introduced rabbits once competed with the species and encouraged predation by cats and foxes, but as they do not commonly occur within the current distribution of the spectacled hare-wallaby, rabbits may not pose a current threat for this species (4).

Although not currently considered to be at risk of extinction, the spectacled hare-wallaby requires monitoring to ensure populations are not experiencing any declines due to the threats they face. Other conservation measures, particularly the protection and management of habitat, have also been recommended (1). The extinction or rarity of all other Lagorchestes species (1), highlights the importance of implementing conservation measures for the spectacled hare-wallaby, to ensure we do not lose another member of the ‘dancing hares’.

To find out more about wildlife conservation in Australia see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2010)
  2. Cronin, L. (2008) Cronin’s Key Guide to Australian Mammals. Allen & Unwin, Australia.
  3. Bakker, H.R. and Bradshaw, S.D. (1989) Rate of water turnover and electrolyte balance of an arid-zone marsupial, the spectacle hare wallaby (Lagorchestes conspicillatus) on Barrow Island. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Physiology, 92(4): 521-529.
  4. Ingleby, S. (1991) Distribution and status of the spectacled hare-wallaby, Lagorchestes conspicillatus. Wildlife Research, 18: 501-19.
  5. Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (2008)Approved Conservation Advice for Lagorchestes conspicillatus conspicillatus (Spectacled Hare-wallaby (Barrow Island)). Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Canberra, Australia.
  6. Nowak, R.M (1999) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
  7. Hitchcock, G. (1997) First record of the spectacled hare-wallaby, Lagorchestes conspicillatus (Marsupialia: Macropodidae), in New Guinea. Science in New Guinea, 23(1), 47-51.
  8. Ingleby, S. and Westoby, M. (1992) Habitat requirements of the spectacled hare-wallaby (Lagorchestes conspicillatus) in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. Wildlife Research, 19: 721-41.
  9. King, J.M. and Bradshaw, S.D. (2008) Comparative water metabolism of Barrow Island macropodid marsupials: Hormonal versus behavioural-dependent mechanisms of body water conservation. General and Comparative Endocrinology, 155: 378-385.
  10. Johnson, P.M. (1993) Reproduction of the spectacled hare-wallaby, Lagorchestes conspicillatus Gould (Marsupialia: Macropodidae), in captivity, with age estimation of the pouch young. Wildlife Research, 20: 97-101.
  11. Wildlife Australia (1996) Action Plan for Australian Marsupial and Monotremes. Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Australian Government, Canberra. Available at: