Southern Marsupial Mole, Notoryctes typhlops

The southern marsupial mole (Notoryctes typhlops) is a species of marsupial that can be found in southwest Australia. It has been recorded in desert habitats with soft sand and spinifex grasses, but the habitat preferences of this species is currently unknown. Its range is thought to include northern areas of South Australia and the Northern Territory, as well as the Gibson and Great Victoria deserts. Although this species is a marsupial, it has been classified within its own order, known as Notoryctemorphia. Aborigines most likely knew this species for thousands of years, but scientists first discovered it in 1888.

The southern marsupial mole reaches an average body length between 4.7 and 6.2 inches, with a weight between 1.4 and 2.4 ounces. Its fur is short and thick and can from white to pale cream in color, with a reddish brown coloration occurring along the body, which is caused by iron oxides within the soil that this species burrows through. The neck is not visible and it has short, strong legs. The upper surface of the rostrum and the backside of the tail are hairless. Although this species does not show visible signs of eyes, there is a layer of pigment where the eyes should be found, which is thought to be the remnant of a retina. The ears and nose are considered the most important tools for this species to use to move around. It has no adaptations to living in a desert environment, most likely due to its burrowing habits.

There is little known about the behavior of wild marsupial moles, but limited information has been recorded from captive individuals. This species burrows underground for the majority of its life, although evidence has shown that one more individuals may surface for an unknown amount of time in certain areas after rains. The southern marsupial mole cannot make permanent tunnels because the sand is too soft to support them, so its movements have been compared to swimming.

It is thought that the majority of this species’ food can be found at a depth of 1.6 feet, although little is known about the contents of its diet. Studies have shown that it most likely prefers to consume insect larvae and eggs, especially those of the Scarabaeidae family. It does not forage for small amounts of food, preferring to consume whole nests, but it will also feed on adult insects and even lizards when necessary. This species is thought to be solitary and there is nothing known about its reproductive habits.

The southern marsupial mole was common between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as historical records have shown, and despite large amounts of hunting between 1900 and 1920, the population remained stable. The exact range and distribution of this species is unknown, but it is now thought to be declining in number. The main threats to this species are thought to be environmental changes, including changes in food sources, and some predations by foxes and feral cats. This species is not thought be threatened or endangered, but there is not enough information about it to be properly assessed, so it appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Data Deficient.”

Image Caption: The southern marsupial mole (Notoryctes typhlops). Credit: Bartus.malec/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)