Quolls

Last updated: Friday 27 May, 2016

Don’t let their pink nose and thick soft fur fool you: Australia’s ‘native cats’ aren’t much like cats at all. Quolls are actually tree-climbing, den-dwelling marsupials.

A Northern Quoll. Photo Jiri Lochman/Lochman Transparencies.
A Northern Quoll. Photo Jiri Lochman/Lochman Transparencies.
We have four species of quoll in Australia:

  1. Spotted-tailed Quoll (Dasyurus maculatus)
  2. Western Quoll (Dasyurus geoffroii)
  3. Eastern Quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus)
  4. Northern Quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus)

Growing up to 125cm (including a long tail) and 5kg, the Spotted-tail Quoll is now the largest native carnivore left on the mainland (excluding dingos). The Northern Quoll is the smallest of the quolls, with males weighing around 1kg (females are appreciably smaller) – the size of a small kitten.

Quolls have black to fawn fur, white spots, long tails and sharp teeth. Their Latin genus name, Dasyurus, means ‘hairy-tail’.

Where do Quolls live?

A Spotted-tail Quoll. Photo Rowena Hamer.
A Spotted-tail Quoll. Photo Rowena Hamer.
The quolls’ story is one of dramatic decline. Quolls were once relatively abundant across most of Australia. Before European settlement at least one species of quoll inhabited most parts of the country.

The Western Quoll, for instance, was once found across 70% of Australia. It’s now only found in the far south-west of Western Australia. The Eastern Quoll, once widespread in south-east Australia, has been extinct on the mainland since the 1960s.

For these reasons, the Eastern, Spotted-tail and Northern Quoll are all listed nationally as Endangered, and the Western Quoll is listed as Vulnerable.

Where they remain, quolls use a wide range of habitats. They live in coastal heathlands, sub-alpine woodlands, temperate woodlands and forests, riparian forests and wet sclerophyll forests.

Behaviour/ ecology

An Eastern Quoll caught and collared for research in the Tasmanian Midlands. Photo Rowena Hamer.
An Eastern Quoll caught and collared for research in the Tasmanian Midlands. Photo Rowena Hamer.
Quolls generally breed during winter. Being marsupials, quoll young (pups) spend the first part of their lives in a pouch. Females have between five and eight pups per litter.

Western Quoll pups outgrow the pouch after nine weeks, after which the young are left in a den while the female searches for food. Young reach independence at around 5 months when they disperse from the natal den.

Females, which are smaller than males, have smaller home ranges than males, which may move up to several kilometres a night in search of food.

Quolls often create dens in tree hollows, rock crevices, underground burrows, fallen logs and, in the case of the Northern Quoll, even termite mounds. Quolls generally shelter in these dens during the day and hunt alone at night. They’re generalist, opportunistic carnivores – in other words, they eat a wide variety of foods, as long as it’s meat!.

A Spotted-tail Quoll is released in the Tasmanian Midlands. Photo Rowena Hamer.
A Spotted-tail Quoll is released in the Tasmanian Midlands. Photo Rowena Hamer.
The Spotted-tailed Quoll can eat medium-sized birds and mammals, such as possums and rabbits. Smaller quoll species eat insects, reptiles, frogs, birds’ eggs, small birds and mammals.

Some Quolls can climb high into trees to capture prey, including tree-roosting sleeping birds. Northern Quolls are the smallest, most aggressive and most arboreal (tree-based) of all quoll species, Eastern Quolls are the least. Quolls eat carrion (dead animals), and are sometimes seen scavenging around campsites, rubbish bins and roadsides. Unfortunately this increases their risk of being hit by cars.

Most quolls have short life-spans, generally living only 2 to 4 years in the wild (longer in captivity). Like many dasyurids (dunnarts, quolls, planigales, antechinus and the like), quolls have an extraordinary mating system, in which most reproduction occurs in the first year of life. After an exhaustive effort, most male Northern Quolls die after their first mating season, with females only faring marginally better. Few live beyond their second breeding season.

Threats

PhD student Rowena Hamer with a Spotted-tail Quoll. Photo David Hamilton.
PhD student Rowena Hamer with a Spotted-tail Quoll. Photo David Hamilton.
The primary threats to quolls are habitat loss and fragmentation. Through harvesting timber and clearing native vegetation, humans have reduced the availability of suitable habitat and the abundance of quolls’ prey, and limited the number of hollow logs suitable for dens.

Foxes, cats and wild dogs prey on quolls and directly compete with them for food. Other human-induced impacts include illegal shooting, car accidents and the ingestion of poison baits set for dingoes and wild dogs. Cane toads have also decimated the Northern Quoll population, though some suggest they’re beginning to learn to avoid the poisonous toads.

What's Bush Heritage doing?

We’re proud to have two species of quoll on our reserves and partnerships. Spotted-tail Quolls are present on our Tasmanian reserves, and the Northern Quoll is commonly recorded in the Uunguu IPA (our Wunambal Gaambera partnership), and has been caught on camera at Carnarvon Station Reserve.

Quolls are highly elusive and not easily seen by humans or trapped in traditional wildlife traps. For this reason, we’ve employed the expertise of two ‘quoll sniffer dogs’ to help confirm their presence and distribution on Carnarvon Station Reserve. These specially trained border collies have provided positive signs that Northern Quolls may persist on Carnarvon.

We protect quoll habitat, by maintaining native vegetation and conserving hollow logs. Our fire management helps preserve quoll habitat and important habitat features, while our feral predator management, aimed at fox and cat control, also reduces competition and the pressure of predation.

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