In January this year, my husband was most unimpressed to find that something, presumably a rodent, was nesting inside his lovingly self-restored 1965 classic car. The animal had made a dreadful mess behind the rear seats and inside the roof lining. Despite the use of two different catch and release traps and a diverse range of bait, we were unsuccessful in our capture attempts. Finally after a month we had some success, yet on closer inspection the creature was clearly not a rodent.
I was able to tentatively identify it as an antechinus, a small native carnivorous marsupial. However, I was unable to tell if it was a Brown or Yellow-footed Antechinus, the two species found in the greater Brisbane area. With the help of my Land for Wildlife Officer and the Queensland Museum the animal was actually (yet tentatively) identified as a Buff-footed Antechinus.
Previously thought to be just a variation of the Yellow-footed Antechinus, the Buff-footed Antechinus was last year found to be a separate genetic species. At the time of writing, there is little information on them in the public domain. Affiliates of the Queensland Museum are in the process of conducting further research and of formally developing the classification information of these cute yet cheeky little critters. What an exciting find!
Generally our local antechinus are the size of a small rat, with males being larger than females. Their diet primarily consists of insects however they can also eat other small animals such as lizards, birds and mice. Some have been known to eat owers and fruit. Their preferred habitat includes moist and dry forest, lantana and other thickets and around creeks. They are not usually present in the inner suburbs.
Antechinus are considered to be robust and adaptable and can sometimes be found causing havoc inside homes; nesting inside televisions and couches and raiding kitchens. However, they are not particularly abundant due to predation by cats and their distinctive mating and reproductive habits. Unlike mice that reproduce often, antechinus all mate at the same time and only once a year, producing a litter of up to 12 young.
Interestingly, all male antechinus live for only 11 months. Males engage in such frenzied mating behaviour that their immune systems break down causing death within a couple of weeks. Furthermore females usually have only one litter which is another reason antechinus numbers often cannot rebound easily if depleted from an area.
My husband has once again heard scratching noises coming from inside his shed and is unhappily anticipating the return of the antechinus. He was none too pleased when I admitted to releasing the animal mere metres from his shed. Personally I am pleased to have such an amusing and cute little marsupial in close proximity and am thankful for only ever using humane traps for rodent control.
Emily Corbett Land for Wildlife member Pullenvale, Brisbane