Notoryctes caurinusnorthern marsupial mole

Geographic Range

Northern marsupial moles, Notoryctes caurinus are found in north-central Western Australia in and around the Great Sandy, Little Sandy, Gibson, and Great Victoria deserts. Specimens have been collected from Sturt Creek, Wallal Downs, Balgo Hill Mission, Warburton Range, the Canning Stock Route, Talawanna Track, and Nifty Mine. They have been sighted in other areas in north Western Australia, though their range is limited. ("Northern Marsupial Mole, Northwestern Marsupial Mole (Notoryctes caurinus)", 2012; Benshemesh and Burbidge, 2008; Benshemesh, 2004; Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2012; Pearson and Turner, 2000)


Northern marsupial moles are fossorial and inhabit sand dunes, sandplains, dunefields, inter-dunal flats, and sandy soils along river flats. These habitats allow swift movement through burrow systems underground. Preferred habitat is sometimes associated with spinifex (Triodia basedowii). Although they spend the majority of their time underground, northern marsupial moles do surface occasionally, particularly in wet, cool weather. Because they cannot travel very far above ground, they prefer continuous areas of suitable habitat. Northern marsupial moles generally travel 0.1 to 2.5 m below the surface. ("Northern Marsupial Mole, Northwestern Marsupial Mole (Notoryctes caurinus)", 2012; Benshemesh and Burbidge, 2008; Benshemesh, 2004; Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2012; Pearson and Turner, 2000)

  • Range depth
    0.1 to 2.5 m
    0.33 to 8.20 ft

Physical Description

Northern marsupial moles are very similar to in appearance to placental moles and have body characteristics comparable to golden moles, gophers, and mole rats. They have short, dense, cream colored fur, a reduced tail, and a tubular body shape. They also have short, strong forelimbs for digging, large flat claws on their third and fourth digits, keratinized skin on their snout, slit-like nostrils, and a pouch that opens to its posterior. Northern marsupial moles lack functional eyes and outer ear pinnae. Differentiating between sexes is difficult, as males have internal testes. Internally, northern marsupial moles have a conical skull that is thin-walled dorsally and anteriorly while strong at the basicranial region. The strengthened vertebral column is flat and and fused at vertebrae 4 and 5.

Northern marsupial moles are smaller but otherwise very similar in appearance to southern marsupial moles (Notoryctes typhlops). They weigh 30 to 70 g (40 g average) and measure 100 to 205 mm (160 mm average) in length. ("Northern Marsupial Mole, Northwestern Marsupial Mole (Notoryctes caurinus)", 2012; Benshemesh, 2004; Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2012; Kearns-White, 1998; Ladeveze, et al., 2008; Pearson and Turner, 2000; Warburton, 2003; Withers, et al., 2000)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    30 to 70 g
    1.06 to 2.47 oz
  • Average mass
    40 g
    1.41 oz
  • Range length
    100 to 205 mm
    3.94 to 8.07 in
  • Average length
    160 mm
    6.30 in


Little is known about the mating systems of northern marsupial moles. ("Marsupial Moles: Notoryctemorphia - Behavior And Reproduction", 2012; Benshemesh, 2004)

As they are infrequently observed, little is known about the reproductive habits of northern marsupial moles. Because females have two teats within their pouch, they are thought to have a maximum of 2 offspring per litter. Young move directly to the pouch after birth. Northern marsupial moles breed around November. ("Marsupial Moles: Notoryctemorphia - Behavior And Reproduction", 2012; Benshemesh, 2004)

  • Breeding season
    Northern marsupial moles breed in November.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2

Northern marsupial moles are born underdeveloped and move to the mother's pouch directly after birth. Mothers lactate for an unknown period of time. There is no evidence of paternal investment. ("Marsupial Moles: Notoryctemorphia - Behavior And Reproduction", 2012)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


The lifespan of northern marsupial moles is currently unknown. Individuals of a similar species, Notoryctes typhlops, are expected to live 1.5 years in the wild. (de Magalhaes and Costa, 2009)


Northern marsupial moles are solitary fossorial marsupials and are rarely observed by humans. Above ground, they shuffle side-to-side and are slow, clumsy, and vulnerable to predators. The energetic cost of sand-swimming underground is much less than above ground travel. They normally tunnel 10 cm to 2.5 m under the surface. Because sand fills in behind them, they do not leave permanent tunnels. ("Marsupial Moles: Notoryctemorphia - Behavior And Reproduction", 2012; Benshemesh, 2004; Pearson and Turner, 2000; Withers, et al., 2000)

Home Range

Little is known regarding the home range of northern marsupial moles.

Communication and Perception

Northern marsupial moles perceive their environment with their forelimbs and via structures in their inner ear. These structures allow them to sense orientation while underground. They likely sense shifts in sand, which helps them identify prey location. Because of their fossorial lifestyle, they lack functional eyes and tissue has grown over the area where eyes would be. (Benshemesh, 2004; Kearns-White, 1998; Warburton, 2003; Withers, et al., 2000)

Food Habits

Northern marsupial moles primarily consume invertebrates found underground. They also consume small salamanders, small lizards, eggs, as well as some seeds and vegetable matter. Specifically they prey on beetles, beetle larvae and pupae, ant eggs, and centipedes. (Benshemesh, 2004; Kearns-White, 1998)

  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • eggs
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts


Northern marsupial moles spend most of their time underground, allowing them to avoid predators. However, on the surface their slow, clumsy movements make them vulnerable to predation. Remains of this species have been found in the feces of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), feral cats (Felis catus), and dingos (Canis lupusdingo). ("Northern Marsupial Mole, Northwestern Marsupial Mole (Notoryctes caurinus)", 2012; Benshemesh, 2004; Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2012; Pearson and Turner, 2000)

Ecosystem Roles

Northern marsupial moles aerate soil and redistribute underground materials. They may also affect populations of undergrad invertebrates that are an important part of their diet. (Benshemesh, 2004; Benshemesh, 2004)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Northern marsupial moles have been featured in aboriginal mythology for thousands of years. Their daily movement aerates soil, which may aid agricultural practices. They may also control populations of insects. (Benshemesh, 2004)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of northern marsupial moles on humans.

Conservation Status

Northern marsupial moles are generally considered endangered, though they are considered "Data Deficient" by the IUCN due to their rareness. This species has been known to science for over a century and to indigenous peoples for thousands of years. The numbers of specimens collected has considerably decreased in recent years, appearing in museums at a rate of 5 to 15 per decade. In addition to predation, changes in fire and grazing regimes threaten northern marsupial moles. Conservation efforts have been implemented since the publication of Joe Benshemesh’s Recovery Plan in 2004, and additional research is underway to determine further conservation efforts. (Benshemesh and Burbidge, 2008; Benshemesh and Johnson, 2003; Benshemesh, 2004; Pearson and Turner, 2000)


Ben Wasleske (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Christopher Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Gail McCormick (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



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

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

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.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


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.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


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.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


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

soil aeration

digs and breaks up soil so air and water can get in


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


2012. "Marsupial Moles: Notoryctemorphia - Behavior And Reproduction" (On-line). Accessed February 21, 2012 at

2012. "Northern Marsupial Mole, Northwestern Marsupial Mole (Notoryctes caurinus)" (On-line). Accessed February 21, 2012 at

Benshemesh, J. 2004. Recovery Plan for Marsupial Moles Notoryctes typhlops and N. caurinus, 2005-2010. Alice Springs: Northern Territory Department of Infrastructure.

Benshemesh, J., A. Burbidge. 2008. "Notoryctes caurinus" (On-line). In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. Accessed February 21, 2012 at

Benshemesh, J., K. Johnson. 2003. Biology and Conservation of Marsupial Moles. Pp. 464-475 in M Jones, C Dickman, M Archer, eds. Predators With Pouches: The Biology of Carnivorous Marsupials. Collingwood VIC, Australia: CSIRO Publishing.

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2012. "Notoryctes caurinus" (On-line). Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Canberra. Accessed February 21, 2012 at

Kearns-White, R. 1998. Eye Can't Believe It!. Life, 21/11: 44.

Ladeveze, S., R. Asher, M. Sanchez-Villagra. 2008. Petrosal anatomy in the fossil mammal Necrolestes : evidence for metatherian affinities and comparisons with the extant marsupial mole. Journal of Anatomy, 213: 686-697.

Pearson, D., J. Turner. 2000. Marsupial Moles Pop Up in the Great Victoria and Gibson Deserts. Australian Mammalogy, 22: 115-119.

Warburton, N. 2003. The 3-Dimensional Anatomy of the North-Western Marsupial Mole. Records of the Western Australian Museum, 22/1: 1-7.

Withers, P., G. Thompson, R. Seymour. 2000. Metabolic Physiology of the North-western Marsupial Mole, Notoryctes caurinus. Australian Journal of Zoology, 48: 241-258.

de Magalhaes, J., J. Costa. 2009. A database of vertebrate longevity records and their relation to other life-history traits. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 22/8: 1770-1774. Accessed August 15, 2012 at