Dasyurus hallucatusnorthern quoll

Geographic Range

Northern quolls (Dasyurus hallucatus) are native to a 150 kilometer band, across the northern Australian coast, from Pilbara in western Australia, to the northeast coast of Queensland. Since European settlement, the species has declined drastically over much of its range and has even become locally extinct on some Australian Islands. It is currently found in six isolated populations: in the Hamersley Range, northern and western Top End, North Cape York tip, Atherton Tableland and the Carnarvon Range. (Braithwaite and Begg, 1995; Braithwaite and Griffiths, 1994; Nelson and Gemmel, 2003; Oakwood, 2002; Woinarski, et al., 1999)

Habitat

Northern quolls are the most arboreal of the Australian quolls although they inhabit a variety of terrestrial habitats. They are most often found in rocky escarpments and open eucalyptus forests of lowland savannahs. This species has experienced an overall decline in population throughout its range; however, the savannah habitats have experienced the most drastic population decline. Northern quolls have been known to den in tree hollows, rock crevices, logs, termite mounds and goanna burrows. (Begg, 1981; Oakwood, 2000a; Oakwood, 2002)

Physical Description

Northern quolls are medium sized Dasyurids and the smallest of the Australian quolls. They are sexually dimorphic, with males larger than females. Males may weigh as much as 1,200 g, although they usually range between 400 to 900 g (an average of 760 g). Females range between 300 to 500 g (an average of 760 g). Their total length is similar, although males are slightly longer, ranging from 12.3 to 31 cm; whereas females range from 12.5 to 30 cm. Their tail is long relative to their body, the average tail length for males is 12.7 to 30.8 cm; whereas female tail lengths range 20 to 30 cm. (Braithwaite and Begg, 1995; Oakwood, 2002; Schmitt, et al., 1981)

In general, northern quolls are somewhat mouse-like in appearance. They have short coarse fur, with thin underfur. They are dusky grey-brown, with large white spots dorsally and cream to white fur ventrally. This species has well-defined serrated pads on their palms and soles and an unspotted tails. They have a hallux, with a total of five toes on their hind feet. Females have five to eight exposed teats, arranged in anterioposterior rows, surrounded by a marginal fold of skin (marsupium). (Begg, 1981; Braithwaite and Begg, 1995; Jones, et al., 2001)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    300 to 900 g
    10.57 to 31.72 oz
  • Range length
    123 to 310 mm
    4.84 to 12.20 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    1.501 W
    AnAge

Reproduction

Males and females are promiscuous. The mating season corresponds with the Australian dry season, occurring in May and June. Females are intra-sexually territorial, with no observed overlap in territory, most likely maintained by mutual avoidance. Feces markers are more commonly observed during the mating season, advertising female presence both to other females and males. Females are visited by multiple males during the mating season, with short encounters occurring at night in the female's den. It is rare for a female not to breed in any given year. Males are non-territorial and attempt to breed with as many females as possible during the breeding season, often traveling long distances from one female to another, monitoring the onset of estrus. The mating process has yet to be observed, although it appears to be quite aggressive, with females often showing distinct scars from males biting the back of their neck and clasping their sides during copulation. Males are the largest mammal and the only Dasyurid known to experience complete semelparity, usually dying within two weeks of mating. (Oakwood, 2000b; Oakwood, 2002)

After a 21 to 25 day gestation period, birth is completed synchronously among a single population within a four week period, with little annual variation. This period varies geographically, beginning as early as late May and ending as late as August. Evidence suggests that a combination of photoperiod and latitude affect the timing of this event for a given population. (Aitkin, et al., 1996; Nelson and Gemmel, 2003; Oakwood, 2000b)

When they are ready to give birth, females groom the area around their urogenital sinus, pouch and tail. Just before emergence of the young, a female will lift her posterior region and lick a cloudy mucus-like fluid, which is released from the urogenital sinus. During birth, females place their heads to the ground, keeping their urogenital sinus higher than the pouch region, with the base of their tail held away. The young are excreted in a gelatinous material and either drop to the ground or successfully climb their way along the mother to the pouch, aided by their senses and gravity. (Nelson and Gemmel, 2004)

Females may give birth to as many as 17 altricial offspring in one litter, although the average litter size is 5 to 8 and they have a maximum of 8 teats available for nursing young. The average weight of a newborn is 18 mg; with an average length of 5 mm. Offspring unsuccessful in latching to a teat soon perish. During birth, marginal ridges of skin develop around the teats and cover the young. Young are first released from this rudimentary pouch at two months of age for short periods of time. They are fully weaned at 4 months of age. Males and females become sexually mature at 11 months of age, although males reach their maximum weight at 7 months. (Nelson and Gemmel, 2003; Nelson and Gemmel, 2004; Nelson, 1992; Oakwood, 2000b)

  • Breeding interval
    Northern quolls breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Northern quolls have a mating season that lasts from late May to August.
  • Range number of offspring
    5 to 8
  • Average number of offspring
    6.8
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    21 to 25 days
  • Average weaning age
    4 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    11 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    315 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    11 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    315 days
    AnAge

Both sexes put forth most of their reproductive energy in their first breeding season, which is when they are at their highest fitness level. Females care for the young on their own because there is no paternal care. Little is known about parental care in this species, but studies indicate that the female will move from the rockier areas of her home range to the woodland areas near creeks when the young are around 2 months old. This is the time at which the young will first detach from their mother. The female will leave the young in a succession of nursery dens for periods of time, while foraging at night. When the young are weaned, the female will move them back to the rockier areas. Dispersal of young is not yet fully understood. (Oakwood, 2000b)

Lifespan/Longevity

Female northern quolls may live up to 3 years, although 1 to 2 years is more common. Males only live up to 1 year. Mating is extremely energetically costly for males, ultimately resulting in death within 2 weeks after mating. During the mating period, they experience weight loss, elevated androgens, loss of fur, and proliferation of parasites, increasing their risk of predation and vehicle collisions. (Cordoso, et al., 2009; Oakwood, 2000b; Oakwood, et al., 2001)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    3 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 to 3 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    5.9 years
    AnAge

Behavior

Both male and female northern quolls are solitary and asocial. Males only contact females during short mating encounters. There is no evidence of a male dominance hierarchy and individuals appear to practice mutual avoidance in overlapping home ranges. Females are intra-sexually territorial to varying degrees. The size of an average female's territory is 35 ha. In low densities there is no overlap between female home ranges; however, in higher densities, foraging areas may overlap, with denning sites remaining mutually exclusive. A surviving young female of the last breeding season may inherit her mother’s territory when her mother dies, otherwise, young disperse into vacant areas and immediately take over rocky areas that become vacant when a neighbor dies. (Oakwood, 2002)

Males and females are nocturnal. Evidence of torpor and early morning lethargy has been observed in an individual male. This is not unexpected because torpor is common among marsupials inhabiting arid and tropical environments with variable resource availability. (Cooper and Withers, 2010; Oakwood, 2002)

  • Average territory size
    0.35 km^2

Home Range

Males have a much larger home range than females, especially during the mating season. Males have an average home range area of 99 ha, whereas females average 35 ha.

Communication and Perception

Young northern quolls vocalize as early as 35-days-old by making stereotypic isolation calls. Hearing doesn’t develop until approximately 65 days, which promotes call development to a more adult-like vocalization. Call duration in young last 100 to 200 ms; while adult calls last 1 to 2 s. Young communicate vocally with their mother, providing information regarding location and stress level. Adult communication is in the form of a “hiss”, acknowledging an encounter. (Aitkin, et al., 1996)

Scent marking has been commonly observed in D. hallucatus to mark territories and advertise their presence to mates. Both females and males rub their ventral surfaces on objects in their environment, to disperse their scent. They also urinate on the feces of other individuals and deposit scat in prominent places. When feces by another individual is found, it is picked up, sniffed and examined. (Oakwood, 2002)

Food Habits

Dasyurus hallucatus is considered a carnivorous marsupial, although it primarily feeds on insects. Their diet also consists of other small mammals, birds, frogs, reptiles and sometimes fleshy fruits. Cane toads (Rhinella marina), an invasive species to Australia, are a food item of particular interest because their toxins appear to be a major cause of decline in northern quolls' populations, even in areas where they are managed. (O'Donnell, et al., 2010; Oakwood, 2002; Woinarski, et al., 2011)

  • Animal Foods
  • mammals
  • insects

Predation

Predators of D. hallucatus include dingos (Canis lupis dingo), feral cats (Felis catus) and snakes, such as olive pythons (Liasis olivaceus), king brown snakes (Pseudechis australis) and possibly avian predators, such as owls (Strigiformes). Physiological decline after mating is speculated to cause male northern quolls to become susceptible to lice infestations. (Oakwood, 2000a)

Ecosystem Roles

Northern quolls are predators of small mammals, which aides in the control of small mammal populations. They are also an ideal alternative host in the life cycle of many parasites. Although no particular parasitic species are known to favor northern quolls exclusively, males are commonly infested with lice (Boopia ucinata) before death. Other parasites that have been found on D. hallucatus include Bandicoot ticks (Haemaphysalis humerosa), trombiculid mites (Guntheria coorongensis) and fleas (Xenopsylla vexabilis). Sarcocystis species have been observed histologically in northern quolls. (Oakwood, 2000a)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

A survey answered by scientists and wildlife handlers suggests that northern quolls, along with other quolls, have many characteristics that are ideal of a quality house pet. In addition, northern quolls may benefit agriculture by removing insect pests. (Nowak, 1991)

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Quolls can be an agricultural annoyance and have been known to destroy poultry. (Nowak, 1991)

Conservation Status

Northern quolls are considered ‘endangered’ under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) list of threatened species. They have no special status in the appendices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). (Oakwood, et al., 2008)

Other Comments

Dasyurus hallucatus was originally identified by Gould in 1942, under the genus Satenellus. Some still suggest that D. hallucatus be placed in a separate genus due to its basal characteristics. (Braithwaite and Begg, 1995; Jones, et al., 2001)

Northern quolls are also known as the “little northern native cat”, “north Australian native cat”, and “njanmak”, a Mayali aboriginal word. (Braithwaite and Begg, 1995)

Contributors

Jenna Black (author), University of Manitoba, Jane Waterman (editor), University of Manitoba, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

Glossary

Australian

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

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

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.

arboreal

Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

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.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

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.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

forest

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

insectivore

An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

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

polygynandrous

the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

semelparous

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.

sexual

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

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

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

tropical

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

tropical savanna and grassland

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.

savanna

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.

temperate grassland

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.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

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

References

Aitkin, L., J. Nelson, R. Shepherd. 1996. Development of hearing and vocalization in a marsupial, the northern quoll, Dasyurus hallucatus. Journal of Experimental Biology, 276: 394-402.

Begg, R. 1981. Small mammals of Little Nourlangi Rock, N.T. III. Ecology of Dasyurus hallucatus, the northern quoll. Australian Wildlife Research, 8: 73-85.

Braithwaite, R., A. Griffiths. 1994. Demographic variation and range contraction in the northern quoll, Dasyurus hallucatus (Marsupialia : >>Dasyuridae>>). Wildlife Research, 21: 203-217.

Braithwaite, R., R. Begg. 1995. Mammals of Australia: the northern quoll Dasyurus hallucatus Gould, 1842. Chatswood, New South Whales, Australia: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Cooper, M., P. Withers. 2010. Comparative physiology of Australian quolls (Dasyurus: Marsupialia). Journal of Comparative Biology, 180: 857-868.

Cordoso, M., M. Eldridge, M. Oakwood, B. Rankmore. 2009. Effects of founder events on genetic variation of translocated island populations: implications for conservation management of the northern quoll. Conservation Genetics, 10: 1719-1733.

Jones, M., R. Rose, S. Burnett. 2001. Dasyurus maculatus. Mammalian Species, 676: 1-9.

Nelson, J. 1992. Developmental Staging in a marsupial, Dasyurus hallucatus. Anatomoy of Embryology, 185: 335-354.

Nelson, J., R. Gemmel. 2004. Implications of marsupial births for an understanding of behvioural development. International Journal of Comparative Psychology, 17: 53-70.

Nelson, J., R. Gemmel. 2003. Birth in the northern quoll, Dasyururs hallucatus (Marsupialia : Dasyuridae). Australian Journal of Zoology, 51: 187-198.

Nowak, R. 1991. Walker's mammals of the world, 5th edition. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.

O'Donnell, S., J. Webb, R. Shine. 2010. Conditioned taste aversion enhances the survival of an endangered predator inperiled by a toxic invader. Journal of Applied Biology, 47: 558-565.

Oakwood, M. 2000. Parasites of the northern quoll, Dasyurus hallucatus (Marsupialia : Dasyuridae) in tropical savannah, Northern Territory. Australian Journal of Zoology, 48: 79-90.

Oakwood, M. 2000. Reproduction and demography of the northern quoll, Dasyurus hallucatus in the lowland savannah of northern Australia. Australian Journal of Zoology, 48: 519-539.

Oakwood, M., A. Bradley, A. Cockburn. 2001. Semelparity in a large marsupial. Proceedings: Biological Sciences, 428: 407-411.

Oakwood, M., J. Woinarski, S. Burnett. 2008. "Dasyururs hallucatus" (On-line). ICUN Redlist of Threatened Species. Accessed November 01, 2012 at www.iucnredlist.org.

Oakwood, M. 2002. Spatial and social organization of a carnivorous marsupial Dasyurus hallucatus (Marsupialia : Dasyuridae). Journal of Zoology, London, 257: 237-248.

Schmitt, L., A. Bradley, C. Kemper, C. Kitchener, W. Humphreys, R. How. 1981. Ecology and physiology of the northern quoll, Dasyurus hallucatus (Marsupialia:Dasyuridae), at Mitchell Plateau, Kimberley, Western Australia. Journal of Zoology, 217: 539-558.

Woinarski, J., C. Palmer, A. Fisher, R. Southgate, P. Masters, K. Brennan. 1999. Distributional patterning of mammals on Wessel and English company Islands, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia. Australian Journal of zoology, 47: 87-111.

Woinarski, J., S. Legge, J. Fitzsimons, B. Traill, A. Burbidge, A. Fisher, R. Firth, I. Gordon, A. Griffiths, C. Johnson, N. McKenzie, C. Palmer, I. Radford, B. Rankmore, E. Ritchie, S. Ward, M. Ziembicki. 2011. The disappearing mammal fauna of northern Australia: context, cause, and response. Conservation Letters, 4: 192-201.