Mammals of Australian Outback - juvenile Bilby
Juvenile Bilby

Mammals of Australian Outback

Last year life brought me to the Australian outback in semi-arid western NSW, and I stayed there for over a year. Most of this time I spent at Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s (AWC) Scotia Sanctuary, first as a volunteer and then as an intern. I always wanted to spend some time in the desert to learn about the life of its uniquely adapted inhabitants.

Mammals of Australian Outback

Semi-arid western NSW is as close as you can get to a proper Australian desert without having to withstand summer temperatures of over 50 degrees Centigrade. It has it all: the iconic rich orange sand, endless blue sky and patchy splashes of green bushes.

Burrowing mammals

The suite of species found there is representative of the typical mammals of Australian Outback. A number of burrowing mammals: Bilby, Boodie or Burrowing bettong and Numbats, though these only survive inside Australia’s largest feral-proof fence surrounding 8000 acres of mallee country at Scotia. A handy guide for identifying mammals is Field Guide to Mammals of Australia.

Mammals of Australian Outback - Numbat
Numbat at the burrow
Mammals of Australian Outback - Burrowing bettong (Boodie)
Burrowing bettong (Boodie)
Mammals of Australian Outback - Bilby
House mouse trying to steal Bilby’s lunch

 

Burrowing bettong (Boodie)
Burrowing bettong (Boodie)

Some ‘diggers’ however survive quite well outside the fence. Among them are the Short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) – one of Australia’s two species of monotremes, Sand goanna and a number of smaller lizards. There are even burrowing frogs – Sudell’s frog, that spends most of the year underground and comes out to the surface only after heavy rainfall.

The summers in these environments get pretty hot and night temperatures in winter often plunge below 0 degrees. But in the underground burrows, the temperature stays fairly constant, supposedly around 13 degrees. Burrows also provide a refuge for avoiding predation and a safe place to raise the kids.

Mammals of Australian Outback - Short-beaked echidna
Short-beaked echidna

Small mammals

Smaller mammals of Australian Outback also like the safety of the burrows. Common dunnart (Sminthopsis murina), Southern or Mallee ningaui (Ningaui yvonneae) and the threatened Bolam’s mouse (Pseudomys bolami) all establish underground real estate. 

Related  Wildlife watching in Khao Sam Roi Yot
Mammals of Australian Outback - Common Dunnart
Common dunnart
Mammals of Australian Outback - Mallee ningaui
Mallee (or Southern) ningaui
Mammals of Australian Outback - Bollam's mouse
Bollam’s mouse

Bettongs and Wallabies

But while underground apartments are very popular, not all species have adapted to a digging lifestyle. Brush-tailed bettongs or Woylie construct tunnel-shaped nests out of tussock grass, while Bridled Nailtail wallabies simply sit under a bush during the day.

There is also a small captive population of Rufus hare wallabies  at the sanctuary. These species do not dig burrows and are happy to hide out in dense undergrowth during the heat of the day.

Mammals of Australian Outback - Bridled nailtail wallaby
Bridled nailtail wallaby
Mammals of Australian Outback - Brush-tailed bettong (Woylie)
Brush-tailed bettong (Woylie)
Mammals of Australian Outback - Rufus hare wallaby (Mala)
Rufus hare wallaby (Mala)
Mammals of Australian Outback - Rufus hare wallaby (Mala)
Mala

Of the bigger players in the Western NSW, there are the magnificent Red kangaroo,  Western grey kangaroo and an occasional Euro .

Mammals of Australian Outback - Western grey kangaroo
Western grey kangaroo

Bats

The less-obvious mammals of Australian Outback are the bats. At Scotia on one trapping night in a single location, we trapped three species: Lesser long-eared bat (Nyctophilus geoffroyi), Little pied bat (Chalinolobus picatus) and an Inland freetail bat (Mormopterus species 3).

Mammals of Australian Outback - Lesser long-eared bat
Lesser long-eared bat
Mammals of Australian Outback - Little pied bat
Little pied bat
Mammals of Australian Outback - Inland freetail bat
Inland freetail bat

Feral mammals

There are of course some undesirable mammals in the region as well – the ferals. As usual, people decided to play God and messed everything up in the process. Now there are wild Foxes, Cats, Rabbits and Goats, to name a few, all over NSW and much of the rest of the country.

These species cause significant damage to Australian ecosystems. Predators are thought to have decimated endemic wildlife while herbivores put such pressure on native vegetation that the entire countryside has been changed.

Mammals of Australian Outback - feral fox
Feral fox

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