Recognisable by their distinctive tails – rust coloured at the top with a black and bushy end.
The Red-tailed Phascogale is a carnivorous marsupial that lives off insects, spiders and small birds.
When the sun goes down at our Kojonup Reserve in south-west Western Australia, these tiny creatures spring into action, performing giant leaps between branches and trees.
Measuring 10cm in the body and weighing just 60g (about the weight of a chicken egg), they move at blink-and-you-miss-it speeds, leaping up to two metres in a single bound!
Where do Red-tailed Phascogales live?
Once widespread through the southern half of Australia, surviving populations of Red-tailed Phascogales are mostly restricted to remnants of native vegetation throughout the wheatbelt region of WA.
Their preferred habitat is dense, mature forests of Wandoo (Eucalyptus wandoo) and Sheoak (Allocasuarina huegeliana), which provide them with tree hollows.
In 2010 and 2011 populations were translocated from National Parks to our Kojonup Reserve, which provides fantastic Wandoo habitat sprawled across the 389-hectare property. Wandoo trees provide excellent nesting sites in the form of hollow logs and limbs, which the phascogales line with grass and feathers.
To support the translocation, more than 60 nesting boxes were set up at Kojonup and the animals transported directly into them, to give them a home-base to return to if faced with predators in unfamiliar surrounds.
The area is actively monitored with camera traps and regularly surveyed. During surveys we’ve often found many phascogales huddled in groups in their nests and we think they do this to keep warm.
We provide Alpaca wool in the artificial nest boxes, which is highly prized as boxes are raided for wool, which is often supplemented by feathers, bark, leaves and sticks.
Red-tailed Phascogale behaviour
Red-tailed Phascogales are nocturnal and arboreal – living and darting about in the tree canopy. They can be more active in the day time if seeking food and will often move to the ground to feed on a wide range of small insects, spiders and small birds.
They’re territorial and the females will come back to the same nesting sites year after year, with three or four sites that they’ll use. Males move, on average, three to four times as far as females, with the greatest disparity during the July mating season. Home ranges vary from 1.5 ha to 8 ha.
As with some other small dasyurids (such as Brush-tailed Phascogales and Antechinus), each year all males die within a month of mating.
Research suggests the stress of breeding season and the physiological changes males undergo results in fatal gastrointestinal ulcers (Bradley 1990).
While males can live up to 11 months, females can survive up to 36, reproducing two or three times.
The gestation period is 28 to 30 days, and while up to 13 young may be born, the maximum litter size that can be reared is eight (adult females have 8 nipples). From August to October they’ll remain dependent on their mothers, but they’ll have weaned and dispersed to set up their own home ranges by the end of summer.
Our Kojonup Reserve was a great candidate – it was part of their former range, it had Wandoo, it had Sheoak, plus we’d been controlling foxes for many years and no cats had been recorded on the reserve.
The idea was simple – moving a small proportion of a phascogale population from elsewhere in the wheatbelt and establishing a new, self-sustaining population on Kojonup.
Between 2010 and 2011 around 30 phascogales were released onto Kojonup Reserve just before their mating season. Trees were fitted with wool-lined boxes to allow safe nesting and to increase their chances of survival.
The results have been astounding. Recent surveys suggest they’ve started to spread out of Kojonup Reserve and into neighbouring bushland.
“We’ve been seeing more individuals every year since 2011,” said Angela. “Since these critters are short-lived, all of these would have been born at Kojonup, which indicates the phascogales are breeding – a wonderful sign."
"It’s really great habitat and it probably hasn’t had phascogales on here for 50 or 60 years, so it’s really good to put them back."
Climb up the tree. Open the nest box. And look inside...
The secret life of phascogales
Donate today to help us continue this and other vital conservation work.
Twelve years ago, long-serving Ecologist, Angela Sanders and her team arrived on Kojonup reserve with 30 Red-tailed Phascogales. Now, after more than a decade of careful management and detailed monitoring, we have the results of a long-awaited genetic diversity test.
We put out seven cameras on our Chereninup Reserve in the Fitz-Stirling region of south-west Western Australia in the hope of catching a Tammar Wallaby or two. Instead we found a Red-Tailed Phascogale running across the ground in front of the camera.
Our Kojonup Reserve has once again come up with the goods. Red-tailed Phascogales have been found in abundance. The recent survey found 23 individuals and I was amazed to pull five animals out of one of the nest boxes!
In partnership with the Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife, we moved 30 red-tailed phascogales to Kojonup Reserve over the course of two years beginning in 2010. Around 30 nest boxes were also erected to keep them safe and we've added more. This is our fourth year monitoring the translocated population and they’re doing well.