Phalanger lullulaewoodlark cuscus

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Geographic Range

Phalanger lullulae (Woodlark Island Cuscus) is only found on Woodlark Island, which is part of the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea, and on the neighboring island of Alcester, which is 70 kilometres south of Woodlark (Norris, 1999).

Habitat

Phalanger lullulae prefers primary and secondary lowland dry forest. For this reason, it is more plentiful on the eastern side of Woodlark Island, where this is the predominant type of vegetation, than in the dense jungle of the western side (Flannery, 1995).

Physical Description

Phalanger lullulae has a distinctive pelage. It is short and woolly with irregularly marbled brown, ochre, and white dorsal areas. The ventral fur is white with irregular dark spots. The color varies on individuals along a continuum from predominantly dark with some lighter spots to predominantly light colored with a few small darker spots (Flannery, 1995). The species has black facial skin and a pink rhinarium. Pale ear flashes are sometimes present.

Phalanger lullulae is a medium sized marsupial. The females are on average slightly larger than the males.

Phalanger lullulae is highly adapted to arboreal life. The tail is long and prehensile. The end of the tail is naked and used to assist in gripping. Digits one and two are opposable against three, four, and five. The first and second digits of the pes are syndactylous.

The skull is pear shaped and widest at the posterior end of the zygomatic arch. With age the supraorbital ridges fuse to form a sagittal crest. The intraorbital trough is broad and shallow. The lacrimal is broadly exposed on the face of the rostrum (Norris, 1999).

The dental formula is 3/1 1/0 2/1 4/4=32. There are also two to three unicuspids of unknown homology between i1 and p3 (Menzies, 1986). The molars are not strongly crenulated. There is a well developed paraconid on m2 (Norris, 1999).

  • Range mass
    1500 to 2050 g
    52.86 to 72.25 oz
  • Average mass
    1730 g
    60.97 oz
  • Range length
    638 to 717 mm
    25.12 to 28.23 in
  • Average length
    688 mm
    27.09 in

Development

Little is known about the specific development and life cycle of P. lullulae. However, like many marsupials the young are born naked and highly altricial. The young are carried in the marsupium, after which they grasp onto the mother's back and ride there while they continue to mature (Vaughn, Ryan, and Czaplewski, 2000; Norris, 1999).

Reproduction

Mating behavior has not been observed in P. lullulae. The only information on reproduction and ontogeny comes from the capture of five females in August 1987. Of these females, one was parous, one had no young, two had naked pouch young, and one had a well grown back young. From this it can be inferred that the breeding season is an extended period (Flannery, 1995).

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • viviparous

Behavior

Phalanger lullulae is a solitary species. Radio tracking studies showed a strong tendency for individuals to center their activities around a small number of sleeping trees. The animals sleep during the day sheltered in hollows within trees and emerge at night to forage in the upper part of the forest canopy. They are almost completely arboreal. Interactions between individuals are often aggressive (Norris, 1999)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Local people on Woodlark and Alcester Islands claim that P. lullulae feeds on two species of vine. The species of these vines have not yet been identified. It has been suggested based on information from other species of Phalanger that they may also eat fruit and even meat when available (Flannery, 1995).

Predation

No anti-predator adaptations have been described for Phalanger lullulae. Phalanger lullulae is the largest species of terrestrial mammal (with the exception of humans) on Woodlark Island, so it may have no predators in the wild (Norris, 1999). The animal is hunted by the people of the island (Flannery, 1995).

Ecosystem Roles

Phalanger lullulae may compete with the omnivorous sugar gliders and frugivorous bats (Dobsonia pannietensis, Nyctimene major, Pteropus conspicillatus, Pteropus hypomelanus- Flannery, 1995) which also forage in the forest canopy for food. It is not known to raid gardens, so it is not regarded as a pest (Norris, 1999).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Phalanger lullulae is hunted for meat by Woodlark Island's indigenous people. However, the meat from P. lullulae is only a minor part of the local diet, and the animals are only hunted when the sea is too rough to fish (Flannery, 1994).

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Conservation Status

Initial expeditions which concentrated on the western side of Woodlark Island found P. lullulae to be scarce, leading to fears that the species was endangered. More recent expeditions have found it to be moderately abundant on the eastern side of the island and on Alcester Island, even around human populations where it is hunted. The species is still considered vulnerable because of it's limited geographic distribution (Norris, 1999).

Contributors

Corie Hanna (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ondrej Podlaha (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

Pacific Ocean

body of water between the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), Australia, Asia, and the western hemisphere. This is the world's largest ocean, covering about 28% of the world's surface.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

island endemic

animals that live only on an island or set of islands.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Flannery, T. 1995. Mammals of the south-west Pacific and Moluccan islands.. Chatswood, New South Wales, Australia: Reed Books.

Menzies, J., J. Pernetta. 1986. A taxonomic revision of cuscuses allied to *Phalanger orientalis* (Marsupialia, Phalangeridae). Journal of Zoology (London), B1: 551-618.

Norris, C. 1999. *Phalanger lullulae*. Mammalian Species, 620: 1-4.

Vaughan, T., J. Ryan, N. Czaplewski. 2000. Mammalogy Fourth Edition. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders College Publishing.