Look out for Phascogales

Phascogale photo by Bianca Fammartino

Recently Wombat Forestcare hosted a talk about Brush-tailed Phascogales, Phascogale tapoatafa tapoatafa, at Trentham. by La Trobe University student Jess Lawton. Jess is conducting research on this threatened arboreal mammal, which inhabits dry eucalypt forests and woodlands.

They are secretive animals but easy to identify due their small size and big brush like tail.

Some of her research has been to check out nest boxes erected in one of the Connecting Country project areas . Phascogales prefer largish hollows, but they will move into nest boxes that are designed for them and have small entrances.

Sugar gliders also like the nest boxes, but when you open the lid it is easy to spot which animal has taken up residence. The sugar gliders have a much cleaner nest with lots of eucalypt leaves. Phascogales use feathers, fur, fleece and shredded bark but you will also find scats (droppings) which give the nest a strong smell.

During summer, phascogales are busy growing and males are dispersing to find females. After a frenzy of mating in the autumn, the males die from exhaustion. In winter the young are born. There are usually around six to eight in the litter and they feed on milk for about 3 months. Whatever has been used to make the nest regulates the heat in the hollow or box.

Phascogale photo by Trevor Pescott (creative commons license NatureShare)

In the spring, the young disperse and only about 1/3 of the females go onto have young in their second year. Female phascogales need about 50 hectares and males about 100 hectares as a home range, but may make do with a smaller range if it is well connected and there are enough large old trees. Link to further information.

The main reason that phascogales are listed as vulnerable is due to disturbance of their habitat. This may be from timber harvesting, firewood collection, urban expansion, altered fire regimes and drought. If the males dies each autumn and the females only last two years then unplanned fires and drought may have a big impact on them and their food source.

 

What can we do if we live in or near the bush?

  1. Control your cat; this will also help birds, other small mammals and lizards. Don’t let your pets roam at night and build your cat a special enclosed run.
  2. Leave fallen timber, logs and dead trees. Phascogales eat juicy insects, but also skinks and frogs and the insects need decaying logs and leaf litter to breed in.
  3. Phascogales also need hollows to breed in.

Before removing a standing dead tree with a trunk diameter of 40 centimetres or more at a height of 1.3 metres above ground level, check with Council to see if a planning permit is needed.  Dead trees are very important to a range of birds and animals that need hollows to nest in.

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