Brush Tailed Bettong (Woylie)Scientific Name Bettongia penicillata 

Conservation Status Critically Endangered

Appearance

The dense, long fur covering the body of a brush tailed bettong is grey brown on its back. On the underside, their fur is lighter. Their hind feet are longer than the length of their head. The muzzle and tail lack hair.

Their body measures between 28 and 45cm (11 and 18in) long from head to the base of the tail. Their weight ranges from 1.1 to 1.6kg (2.43 to 3.53lb).

Adding another 29 to 36cm (11.4 to 14.2in) to their length is the brush tailed bettongs namesake tail. It is tipped with a black crest of fur. This tail is prehensile allowing them to carry things with it.

Lifespan

In the wild brush tailed bettongs live for between 6 and 8 years. When in human care this may extend out in to their mid-teens.

Diet

Brush tailed bettongs are omnivores. Their diet consists of roots, legume pods, tubers, bulbs, seeds, insects and carrion. Fungi is an important part of their diet. They have an important relationship with the fungi spreading its spores throughout the forest.   Their digestive system is specially developed to digest fungi. They have strong front claws to make digging up the fungi easier.

Most of their water needs are derived from their diet limiting the need to drink water.

Habitat

Australia is the native home of the brush tailed bettong. Here their range has been significantly reduced. Formerly they covered over half the continent ranging across South Australia, Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and the Northern Territory.

Now their range has been significantly reduced to just a handful of sites across Western and South Australia.

Their habitat is the sclerophyll forests, arid scrub, desert grasslands and Mallee eucalyptus woodlands.

Reproduction

Breeding takes place year-round. They will only come together for mating.

Gestation is 21 days at which point the young, which is smaller than a jellybean, blind and furless will climb from the birth canal in to the pouch. On a rare occasion twins, may be born.

Following the birth of the juvenile the mother will mate straight away. Implantation is delayed meaning that the egg does not begin to develop until four months later when the previous joey vacates the pouch.

The joey will spend 90 to 98 days in the pouch developing. After this they leave the pouch and join the mother in a dome shaped nest which she builds from sticks, bark and grass at the base of a bush. They will remain with the mother in the nest till evicted by the next joey.

Sexual maturity occurs between 170 and 180 days at which point a female will begin to produce 3 babies a year on average.

Behaviour

Brush tailed bettongs will communicate through scent using urine, faeces and rubbing a scent gland. Their sense of smell is well developed so they can determine the location of the fungi which they eat.

They are nocturnal. The day is spent sleeping in their nest with most of their foraging takes place at dusk and dawn.

The nest site is protected against other brush tailed bettongs. They will maintain a home range for feeding in and this may overlap with others.

Red foxes have posed a major threat to the brush tailed bettong since being introduced to Australia due to their ability to kill these animals in large numbers. Feral cats have also played a role in their numbers reducing. Today around 5,000 are believed to remain.

When moving around they hop on their back legs holding the forearms close to the body.

Quick Facts

Brush tailed bettongs are also known as woylies and brush tailed rat kangaroos.

Photo Credit

By arthur_chapman [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons