MARSUPIAL MICE AND CATS,TASMANIAN DEVIL – [Dasyuridae]

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Members of the family Dasyuridae include marsupial mice and cats and the Tasmanian devil. Marsupials are animals that do not have a very well developed placenta. A placenta is an organ that grows in the mother’s uterus (womb) that allows the developing offspring to share the mother’s food and oxygen. Because of this, pregnancy in marsupials is short and the young are born undeveloped and unable to fend for themselves. After birth, the young move to the mother’s pouch and attach to her milk teats (nipples) until they have finished developing enough to live on their own. None of the members of the family Dasyuridae are very large.

This order includes some of the world’s smallest marsupials, members of the genus (JEE-nus) Planigale, some of which are less than 4 inches (10 centimeters) long and weigh less than 0.2 ounces (5 grams). Other members of this family vary in size up to the Tasmanian devil, which is the largest species. The Tasmanian devil can be up to 25 inches (62 centimeters) long and weigh up to 29 pounds (13 kilograms).

Marsupial mice and cats, as well as the Tasmanian devil, have four legs. They have four toes on each of their two front feet and either four or five toes on their two back feet. When they have five toes on their back feet, the fifth toe is a hallux (HALlux). A hallux is a toe that does not have a claw. The species in this family usually have pointed snouts and long tails.

The fur of animals in this family is mostly gray or brownish, and sometimes is black. Fur color often depends on the habitat in which the species lives, and the kind of fur that best camouflages them helps them avoid predators, animals that hunt them for food. Some of the species have other markings. The northern quoll has white spots on its otherwise brown body. The teeth of members of this family vary depending on the preferred diet, but most have some sharp teeth for slicing and biting and other wider, flatter teeth for grinding. This combination of teeth is helpful for catching and eating other animals and insects.

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE

Members of Dasyuridae live in Australia, New Guinea, and Tasmania, and can also be found on some small islands in that area of the Pacific.

HABITAT

Members of the family Dasyuridae live all over Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea, and occupy all types of habitats. Some species live in trees, but most species are ground dwelling; some species prefer open grassland, and others prefer forests. Animals that have different habitats have different ways of finding or making dens and different ways of finding food.

DIET

What the members of this family eat depends on their size. The species that have smaller bodies, such as the marsupial mice, usually eat insects and sometimes catch and eat small animals such as lizards. These smaller animals will eat large animals only if they are already dead, in which case they will feed from the carcass.

Larger species in this family eat mainly other vertebrates, or animals that have backbones, such as wallabies and birds. Species that eat mainly vertebrates will occasionally eat some insects and other invertebrates, animals without backbones, as well. Some species will even supplement their diet with food that does not come from other animals, such as flowers and fruit. All species in this family are scavengers when they get the chance. They will eat animals that are already dead, if they are available. Members of this family are usually nocturnal and hunt and are active mainly at night.

BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION

Like all marsupials, species in this family give birth to young that are often blind and hairless, and are not able to survive on their own. This means that pregnancy for these species is usually very short. When the young are born, they either move into the mother’s pouch or to her underbelly where they attach themselves to her teats. When attached in this way, the developing young travel with their mother for weeks or months as they continue to grow and develop. Once the young are able to survive on their own, they are weaned from their mother and detach from her nipples. After this, there is usually a period during which the young stay close to home and hunt away from their mother for increasingly long periods before going off on their own. The males of these species usually travel farther from the mother’s nest to find territories of their own than the females do.

Some species in this family mate only one time before they die. The males of these species often die soon after mating, although the females live long enough to raise their young and sometimes to have a second litter. Scientists think that the reason that males of some species only mate once and then die is because it takes so much energy for the males to mate, especially in years when there is not much food available. Scientists think that these animals use up so much energy mating that they no longer have enough energy to stay healthy.

MARSUPIAL MICE, CATS, TASMANIAN DEVIL, AND PEOPLE Members of this family usually do not have much direct interaction with people. Some species, however, have been thought to kill livestock and because of this have been hunted by farmers.

CONSERVATION STATUS

No species in this family are known to be extinct, but many, such as the Kangaroo Island dunnart, are Endangered. Animals that are considered Endangered face a very high risk of becoming extinct in the wild. Many other members of this family are Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.

There are some species in this family that scientists do not yet have enough information about to know if they are endangered or not.