Thursday, May 9, 2013
M is for MULGARA
There are two currently recognised species of mulgara, the crest-tailed mulgara and the brush-tailed mulgara. However, the taxonomy of mulgaras has been confusing, following a series of re-classificaitons. For most of the last 30 years only one species of mulgara - D. cristicauda - was recognised. More recently, Woolley (2005, 2006) re-assigned the species to the brush-tailed mulgara (D. blythi) and crest-tailed mulgara (D. cristicauda).
The historical taxonomic confusion means that the distribution of the two mulgara species is unclear. Both have suffered significant population reduction and fragmentation over the past 80 years. Both species are probably present at Kalamurina, in north-eastern South Australia, and are so similar that it is hard to distinguish which species is on the video clip. The brush-tailed mulgara also occurs on AWC's Newhaven Sanctuary, north of Kalamurina.
Mulgaras are small carnivorous marsupials closely related to the Tasmanian Devil and the quolls. They have short round ears, sandy coloured hair on their backs, light grey hair on their underside and a short tapering tail with a reddish tinge near the body and back. Brush-tailed mulgara tails taper to a round sharp point, but crest-tailed mulgaras have a prominent Mohican fringe towards the end of their tails. Males are larger than females, and both appear to grow throughout their lives. The largest males reach about 22cm (head and body) with a 12cm tail and weigh up to 190 grams. Females reach about three quarters of these dimensions. Mulgara store fat in their tails, which can be very thick at the base.
Mulgaras shelter in burrows up to 50cm deep during the day and emerge at night to hunt invertebrates and small vertebrates, including mammals, reptiles and birds. They are round in a range of vegetation communities but crest-tailed mulgaras may prefer sand dunes with Sand Hill cane-grass (Zygochloa paradoxa), and the the favoured habitat of brush-tailed mulgaras is spinifex grasslands. It is possible however that both species occur in close proximity to each other.
Mulgara breed in late winter. Crest-tailed mulgara have a litter of up to 8 young, and brush-tailed mulgara litters are up to six; the difference reflects the difference in nipple numbers between the two species. The young suckle for 12 to 15 weeks, hanging below the female's body since the pouch is reduced to a pair of lateral flaps. Unlike many other small dasyurids, males do not die after breeding and captive crest-tailed mulgaras of both sexes have remained reproductive for 6 years, indicating they may be fairly long lived. Another difference between the two species is that the crest-tailed mulgara has three upper premolars, whereas the brush-railed mulgara has only two!
Like almost all small native mammals in the desert regions of central Australia, the decline of the crest-tailed mulgara is at least partly due to habitat degradation from changed fire regimes and grazing, and predation by cats and foxes.
Family: Dasyuridae. Class: Mamalia
Crest-tailed Mulgara (Dasycercus cristicausa) = National Status : Endangered
Brush-tailed Mulgara (Dasycercus blythi) = National Statue - Vulnerable
Given the taxonomic changes, these listings require revision.