Quolls

Don’t let their pink noses 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.

Spotted-tailed Quolls are now the largest carnivores on the mainland. Photo Rowena Hamer.
Spotted-tailed Quolls are now the largest carnivores on the mainland. Photo Rowena Hamer.
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 (or Tiger Quoll, as it was once known) is now the largest native carnivore left on the mainland (excluding dingoes). 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?

Northern Quoll. Photo Steve Parish.
Northern Quoll. Photo Steve Parish.
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, and Northern Quoll are listed as Endangered, while the Spotted-tail Quoll and Western Quoll are Near Threatened according to by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

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.

A Spotted-tail Quoll. Photo Bruce Thomson.
A Spotted-tail Quoll. Photo Bruce Thomson.
Quoll behaviour

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 are smaller than males and have smaller home ranges. Male quolls can move up to several kilometres a night in search of food.

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 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!

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.

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.
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 to quolls

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 and cats 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 all four species of quolls on land we help protect. Spotted-tail Quolls and Eastern Quolls are present on our Tasmanian reserves and partnership properties. The Northern Quoll is commonly recorded in the Uunguu IPA (our Wunambal Gaambera partnership), and has been caught on camera at Carnarvon Station Reserve and a Western Quoll has been recorded on a monitoring camera in the Fitz-Stirling region of south-west, WA.

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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