A jet-black bushy brush tail almost as wide and long as the body was half the animal. The body was grey. With tail it appeared to measure roughly 40 cm. It ran ahead of my car briefly, feet wide spread, before heading off into shrubs at the side of the track. I saw this creature one dark night in my headlights.
Books suggested it was a Brush-tailed Phascogale, nocturnal and arboreal. The nocturnal description fitted but not the arboreal one. What was it doing on the ground?
I described my sighting to Catherine Madden, our Land for Wildlife Officer. Her excitement surprised me. She had seen dead specimens but not a live one. Phascogales require a home range of around 70 hectares for females and a 100 for males and so are sparsely spread. How do they ever find one another?
On her next visit Catherine brought a night vision camera in the hope of capturing definitive evidence of
a phascogale. She chose a smooth barked tree as it showed promising scratch marks. It was not far from where I had seen the creature. I made a lure of peanut butter, honey and oats and smeared it on the trunk. But, absolutely nothing happened. Day after day I visited the tree and the lure remained untouched.
So we chose a different tree only two metres away. This was an ironbark with a deeply furrowed trunk. We moved the camera and applied more lure. This time we had results better than we could have hoped for. Catherine emailed me pictures of a phascogale scampering up and down the tree trunk, as well as a possum and a melomys that were also caught on camera.
Phascogales are described as carnivorous with a diet of smaller mammals, birds, lizards and invertebrate such as centipedes and spiders. But like many animals it seems they cannot resist peanut butter. Or could it be the honey in the mixture that attracts them as they as they are observed drinking nectar from ironbarks and other trees?
I was thrilled that we filmed a phascogale relatively easily when it has such a large home range. Maybe someone else will also find “our” phascogale on their property or better still another one.
Joy Stacey Land for Wildlife member Upper Brookfield, Brisbane
Editorial note: Please note that a permit is required to “take, use, keep or interfere” with native animals according to the Nature Conservation Act 1992 (Qld). Using bait to attract wildlife to fauna monitoring cameras is considered “interfering” and thus a permit is required. You can apply for a Scientific Purposes Permit or an Educational Purposes Permit through the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection on 1300 130 372.