If you live in one of our more rural areas, especially if you have chooks, you may have come across one of the very special native animals that are increasingly disappearing from our landscape, the Spotted Tail Quoll (also known as the Tiger Quoll although they do not have stripes!!)
The Spotted Tail Quoll is one of four species of quolls that live in Australia and is the second largest carnivorous marsupial left in Australia, second only to the Tasmanian Devil.
As the name suggests the Spotted Tail Quoll has a pattern of white spots that continues to the tail on a coat that is otherwise tan brown or black. They have a long snout, pink nose, hairy tail, big ears, sharp claws and carnivore teeth. They grow to around 76 centimetres in body length with tail lengths of 50 centimetres. Males tend to be larger than females, and as marsupials, females have large abdominal pouches. The average weight of an adult female is around 2 kilograms and an adult male about 3.5 kilograms.
Their preferred habitats are forests, woodlands and coastal heathlands, so much of the Manning Valley was once prime Quoll country. Although they still need heavily vegetated areas, since European settlement they have adapted to cross open farmlands in search of prey such as rabbits and, yes, sometimes our chooks.
Spotted Tail Quolls are usually solitary animals with large territories. Females typically have home ranges of between 200 to 500 hectares whilst males have even larger territories of between 500 to 4000 hectares. They are highly mobile covering several kilometres in one night but prefer to traverse their home ranges along densely vegetated creek-lines. They need hollow logs and rock crevices in rocky outcrops to den in. Females will sometimes share their dens with other Quolls both male and female, presumably their young or a current mate, but males typically do not.
Spotted Tail Quolls do however appear to use communal ‘latrine sites’ often on flat rocks perhaps for territorial marking and communication. It is at these communal latrines for example, that females will advertise that they are in oestrous, or ready to mate.
As nocturnal animals they do their hunting at night but will sometimes sunbake outside their dens during the day. Their natural prey animals include insects, birds, mice, rats, lizards, frogs, echidnas and possums. As stated they will also take rabbits and, if the opportunity presents, domestic fowl. Larger prey is typically killed by biting the back of the skull or neck. They will also scavenge on carrion.
Quolls are relatively short lived, only about three to four years, although in captivity they have lived to over 6 years. Females have only one litter per year, with mating occurring between April and July.
Courting involves the male following the female around and the pairs exchanging a loud series of vocalisations. Mating can last from several hours to a full day. Afterwards the couple part company and the male has no further involvement in parenting or care for the young.
Gestation is around 21 days, after which an average of 5 young are born live. Like other marsupials at birth the young are significantly under-developed, only 7 mm long, hairless and blind. They do however have a strong sense of smell and rudimentary forearms they use to crawl into their mother’s pouch.
The young will stay in their mother’s pouch for another 12 weeks growing bigger and stronger. With such a full pouch females will sometimes lift her hind legs whilst walking to ease the pressure.
About four weeks after birth the mother will start to prepare a nursery den that she will line with grasses and other soft materials. After about 12 weeks the young will move out of the pouch and be left in the den whilst their mother hunts. At around 18 weeks they are weaned and begin to eat only meat brought back to the den by their mother. Between 18 to 21 weeks they will become independent and by 12 months they have reached sexual maturity.
As well as scent marking, Spotted Tail Quolls have a range of vocalisations with mothers and young in particular having a range of clucks and cooing sounds. When threatened they growl and make high pitched screeching sounds.
As stated earlier, Spotted Tail Quolls are increasingly disappearing with an estimated decline in population of between 50 and 90%. Loss of habitat and fragmentation of remaining habitat may mean that surviving animals are too isolated to find mates or suitable territories. They also fall victim to foxes and feral cats.
In the past they have been killed because of their tendency to raid chicken coops. As a listed vulnerable species it is illegal to kill or trap Quolls.
Chicken keepers can do much to Quoll-proof their hen houses. Using aviary mesh with a roof and gaps 20 mm or less, ensuring that the mesh is dug into ground at least 400 mm and/or has a wide skirt and providing a secure night roost (Quolls like cats can climb!) will all work to protect your chooks not only from quolls but goannas, pythons, feral cats and foxes as well.
Quolls have very different tracks to dogs or foxes, being more elongated, with two pads at the back, three in the middle and then four claw prints. If you do see or suspect you may have a quoll on your property please contact National Parks and Wildlife and Council offices.