Six species make up the genus Dasyurus, which all inhabit roles as carnivorous marsupials through Tasmania, Australia, and New Guinea. Dasyurus species are small, with the largest, Dasyurus maculatus, weighing 4 kg, and the smallest, Dasyurus hallucatus, weighing around 500 grams. They are very similar in appearance, and may only appear to differ slightly in size, coloration, or spots. They all share a triangular face, spots, and a recognizable weasel or cat-like stance. As active nocturnal ambush predators, their prey may be as small as grubs and small reptiles, or as large as possums and wallabies. Though they can be relatively large and active, they are rarely seen during the day. Smaller species may be more arboreal. Males are slightly larger than females and will range further while hunting, which may lead to overlapping ranges, although both sexes of all species are solitary in their ranges. All Dasyurus species are near threatened or endangered. (Burbidge and Woinarsky, 2016; Burnett and Dickman, 2018; Oakwood, 2000; Oakwood, et al., 2016; "Dasyurus", 2005; Woinarsky and Burbidge, 2019; Woolley, et al., 2016a; Woolley, et al., 2016b)
The six species of Dasyurus are all becoming more isolated from one another due to increased habitat loss and fragmentation, but their collective range spans across the islands of Tasmania, Australia, and New Guinea. Dasyurus albopunctatus can be found over most of New Guinea excluding the southwest portion, while Dasyurus spartacus is found in a limited region of southern New Guinea. Dasyurus hallucatus occurs in pockets across northern coastal regions of Australia. Dasyurus viverrinus is extant on Tasmania, but its historical range also included regions of southern mainland Australia. Dasyurus maculatus is also found in Tasmania as well as limited and shrinking portions in the southeast of mainland Australia. The most isolated species in this genus, Dasyurus geoffroii, is now only found in the far southwest of Australia. Each of their current geographic ranges are now smaller than they have been historically. (Burbidge and Woinarsky, 2016; Burnett and Dickman, 2018; Glen and Dickman, 2006a; Oakwood, et al., 2016; Woinarsky and Burbidge, 2019; Woolley, et al., 2016a; Woolley, et al., 2016b)
Quolls are successful in a huge variety of habitats. They are primarily ground-dwelling, and their range contains various types of forest, shrubland, coastal scrub, grassland, savanna, and rocky areas. They are also skilled climbers, and some species spend significant amounts of time in trees. They do not tend to coexist with other mammalian predators including dingoes (Canis lupus dingo), invasive red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), and feral cats (Felis catus), as they are generally outcompeted or regarded as a prey item. Dens are made in tree hollows, rock piles, and burrows, and are chosen based on the availability of prey in their vicinity. Quolls do not build their own dens and they change dens often, so they rely on habitats that offer existing dens. Prey density is the most significant factor in choosing habitat, and acts as the limiting factor in habitat choice when there is enough space available. If density is permitting, quolls tend to prefer landscape features such as gullies, ridgelines, and rocky escarpments to unbroken hills or flat areas. (Belcher and Darrant, 2006; Burbidge and Woinarsky, 2016; Burnett and Dickman, 2018; Glen and Dickman, 2008; Oakwood, et al., 2016; Woinarsky and Burbidge, 2019; Woolley, et al., 2016a; Woolley, et al., 2016b)
The members of the genus Dasyurus belong to the family Dasyuridae, the subfamily Dasyurinae, and the tribe Dasyurini. Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire is credited with describing Dasyurus, distinguishing it from initial European comparisons to native European mammals and other members of family Dasyuridae. Its family, subfamily, and tribe were described in 1820 by Goldfuss. The common name “quoll” is likely a bastardization of the much older Guugu Yimithirr name dhigul, and has replaced “native cat” in common use in recent years. Within the tribe Dasyurini, which contains ten genera, Dasyurus is closely related to the more well-known Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii). ("Guguyimidjir-English dictionary", 2017; "Meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms", 2017; "Report: Dasyurus", 2006; "Dasyurus", 2005)
Members of Dasyurus are small-bodied with a long tail, species ranging between 500 grams and 4 kg, and range in color from light and dark brown to black. Their bodies are long and they have short, powerful legs. All species have distinctive white spots on their dorsal side, and Dasyurus maculatus also has a spotted tail. Members of some species have been observed to exhibit piebald variants of their normal pelage. Sexual dimorphism is generally negligible, although males tend to be slightly larger, weighing at most 1.5 times more than females. Female Dasyurus maculatus are the only species possessing a true pouch, which opens posteriorly. The other five species have folds that result in a shallow, pouch-like place within which young suckle. Dasyurus species have short, triangular faces with a pink nose and obvious canines, which lead Europeans to compare them to housecats. This resulted in the now less-common name “native cat.” (Burbidge and Woinarsky, 2016; Burnett and Dickman, 2018; Gorta, et al., 2021; Hill and Hill, 1953; "Dasyurus", 2005; Woinarsky and Burbidge, 2019; Woolley, et al., 2016b; Woolley, et al., 2016a)
Quolls are solitary, and only intentionally come together for the mating season. Mating takes place in winter, typically in late May or June. To allow for this, mating is synchronized within each respective Dasyurus species. Quolls display differing levels of polyandry, with Dasyurus hallucatus displaying very high levels of polygynandry, resulting in more social interaction than members of other species. Mating is an extremely time-sensitive issue and also represents the only real social contact after leaving their mother that any individuals ever experience, so there is frequent male fighting for access to females. Females may show preference for smaller or larger males based on external environmental factors. (Chan, et al., 2019; Hill and Hill, 1953; Oakwood, 2000; Oakwood, et al., 2016)
Members of Dasyurus are rare examples of semelparity among mammals. Males only live for a year and die off completely in most species within the first weeks or months following mating. Females, who tend to survive for two to three mating seasons, give birth first to mostly male litters, and later in life to mostly female litters. Due to their promiscuous mating style, each pup in a litter can have a different father. Litters are made up of anywhere between 8 and 30 pups, six of which will survive, as mothers only have six nipples. Prior to mating, the skin folds most species have will stretch to form more of a pouch. (Chan, et al., 2019; Hill and Hill, 1953; Oakwood, 2000; Oakwood, et al., 2016)
Because there is an almost complete male die-off following mating and prior to birth, there is no male parental investment in any Dasyurus species. Gestation takes around 22 days, after which the highly underdeveloped young move into the pouch and nurse. Once they are developed enough at roughly fifteen weeks old, they will move between a den and their mother’s back, and are very dependent on her for food. Within a year, they are sexually and physically mature. (Chan, et al., 2019; Hill and Hill, 1953; Oakwood, 2000; Oakwood, et al., 2016)
Members of Dasyurus can live for about 2-4 years in the wild, significantly shorter than placental counterparts like many small felids, which regularly live many times as long in the wild. Their lifespan is very centered on reproductive activity. Most males die after one breeding season, and females will usually only survive for one to two more if resources are available. Captive individuals are relatively uncommon, with the majority existing in wildlife rehabilitation centers, but their lifespan may be nearly double in captivity, although there has been almost no research done. (Glen and Dickman, 2006a; Glen and Dickman, 2008; Gorta, et al., 2021; Hill and Hill, 1953; Oakwood, 2000; Oakwood, et al., 2016)
Quolls are solitary and nocturnal, and spend most of their time developing as quickly as possible to reach sexual maturity by the breeding season. They are only ever in contact with other members of their species during mating and during the period in which pups are reliant on their mother. Most species spend the majority of their time on the ground and in and around fallen logs, although they are all well adapted to climbing trees and can regularly be observed doing so. Males and females both form territories. Females’ territories do not overlap, but a male’s territory may overlap many others. Near territorial borders, multiple individuals often use communal latrines. Within territories, individuals are highly vigilant and aware of predator or competitor presence. (Glen and Dickman, 2006a; Jones and Rose, 2001)
Dasyurus species have good eyesight but rely on auditory and olfactory communication. When individuals are in close proximity to one another, they may hiss, chirp, scream, and cough. They may also alter pitch when dealing with adults, pups, or other species, but further analysis of their vocalizations do not exist in the literature. They also have a strong sense of smell and avoid contact by marking territories at community latrines. (Aitkin, et al., 1994; Jones, et al., 2001)
Members of Dasyurus are opportunistic and primarily carnivorous predators. They tend to eat mostly small and medium-sized mammals, including possums, pademelons, wallabies, as well as smaller mammals and carrion. Invasive European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) can also make up a large portion of their diet, and are very popular among Dasyurus maculatus in particular. Smaller and more arboreal species such as Dasyurus halucatus and Dasyurus albopunctatus also eat many invertebrates, birds, small reptiles and occasionally fruits. In Dasyurus halucatus, invasive cane toad (Rhinella marina) consumption is highly problematic as the toads are poisonous and an easy prey item that leads to death. However, some populations appear to have developed toad-avoidance behaviors that have passed through numerous generations. (Glen and Dickman, 2006a; Glen and Dickman, 2008; Kelly and Phillips, 2017; Linley, et al., 2020; Woolley, et al., 2016b)
Quolls are small enough that they remain a target for predators. Their mammalian predators include the Tasmanian devil, dingoes, previously thylacines, and more recently red foxes, dogs (Canis lupus familiaris), and feral cats. Owls and wedge-tailed eagles (Aquila audax) routinely consume quolls, and some snakes act as an infrequent predator. The spots quolls have may act as cryptic coloration to prevent predation. They also remain in protected or hidden dens during the day and are able to run and climb quickly to evade predators. (Glen and Dickman, 2006a; Glen and Dickman, 2008; Jones, 1998; Oakwood, 2000)
All quolls are predators and prey in their respective ecosystems, and Dasyurus maculatus is considered to be an apex predator. The most important impact each species has on its ecosystem is in population control of prey species, which is especially important where historical predator populations are reduced, including native humans and now-extinct thylacines (Thylacinus cynocephalus). They also partially contribute to biodegradation through scavenging. The intensity of the male die-off may allow quolls to serve as a reliable annual resource for nearby scavengers, but more research is needed to confirm this. (Belcher and Darrant, 2006; Glen and Dickman, 2006a; Glen and Dickman, 2006b; Glen and Dickman, 2008; Oakwood, 2000)
Dasyurus species are important for keeping prey populations managed. Invasive rabbits are hugely destructive across farmland in Australia, and quolls efficiently hunt them wherever their ranges coincide. They tend not to generate tourist appeal on their own, although they can contribute to it. In captivity, efforts to promote the conservation of quoll species through an expanded pet market may allow quolls and their care to serve as a valuable business enterprise in the future. Their decreasing numbers mean that economic benefits outside of captivity will likely continue to decline. Some conservation efforts may benefit from using Dasyurus species as models for education. (Glen and Dickman, 2006b; Linley, et al., 2020; Oakwood and Hopwood, 1999)
Members of Dasyurus are opportunists, and as such are prone to taking poultry from rural farmers. They can tear through nets protecting poultry or ripe produce. Quolls also regularly carry various pathogens, although there is not sufficient evidence that these are ever transferred to domesticates or humans. There are no other known adverse effects of quolls on humans. (Glen and Dickman, 2006b; Linley, et al., 2020; Oakwood and Hopwood, 1999; Portas, et al., 2020)
Dasyurus species all have some conservation concern. Dasyurus maculatus, Dasyurus geoffroii, Dasyurus albopunctatus, and Dasyurus spartacus are all near threatened. Dasyurus viverrinus and Dasyurus hallucatus are listed as endangered. None of the species are experiencing serious fragmentation of their habitats, however, populations are continuing to decline in all species due primarily to a combination of severe fires, urban and agricultural expansion, and invasive predators. The invasive threats are predominantly cats and foxes, although cane toads are toxic when consumed, which occurs frequently. Some efforts to reduce invasive rabbit species using poison have also affected quolls. Competition predation from native species including Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) and dingoes may also be contributing to their decline. The harvesting of palm oil poses a threat to Dasyurus albopunctatus and Dasyurus spartacus. More intensive fire management, invasive species reduction, and habitat protection are currently being employed to various degrees. Additionally, there are multiple breeding programs and some reintroduction, in combination with better public outreach and education about quolls. There is some debate on the idea of promoting quoll species as pets as part of the conservation effort, however, this is not presently a significant factor in conserving any species in the genus. (Burbidge and Woinarsky, 2016; Burnett and Dickman, 2018; Glen and Dickman, 2008; Kelly and Phillips, 2017; Oakwood, et al., 2016; Woinarsky and Burbidge, 2019; Woolley, et al., 2016a; Woolley, et al., 2016b)
Jonah Dineen (author), Colorado State University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.
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.
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.
helps break down and decompose dead plants and/or animals
an animal that mainly eats meat
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.
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.
parental care is carried out by females
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
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.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
active during the night
the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.
Referring to a mating system in which a female mates with several males during one breeding season (compare polygynous).
the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.
rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.
an animal that mainly eats dead animals
communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them
scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.
breeding is confined to a particular season
remains in the same area
offspring are all produced in a single group (litter, clutch, etc.), after which the parent usually dies. Semelparous organisms often only live through a single season/year (or other periodic change in conditions) but may live for many seasons. In both cases reproduction occurs as a single investment of energy in offspring, with no future chance for investment in reproduction.
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
Living on the ground.
defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement
A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.
A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.
A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.
uses sight to communicate
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
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