It’s not every day …

… that you get a chance to spend some time with a family of Tuans Phascogale tapoatafa.

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to observe a family of these remarkable animals, also known as Brush-tailed Phascogales, near Green Gully Creek – a small tributary of the Loddon River to the west of Newstead.

Tuans are Dasyurids, a unique family of marsupial carnivores that includes species such as the Tasmanian Devil, Spot-tailed Quoll and a local favourite, the Yellow-footed Antechinus. Tuans are ‘rat-sized’ with a pointy snout, sharp teeth and a distinctive ‘bottle-brush’ tail which is almost the same length as the rest of the body. They are widespread throughout the box-ironbark country, but rarely seen  – this is only the second time I’ve ever been able to photograph one outside a nest box. Tuans are classified as vulnerable in Victoria.

On this occasion we observed at least three individuals – I suspect an adult female and two immature individuals – emerging from a den at the base of a large eucalypt. A well-placed nest box higher in the tree is also being used by the animals. For more than an hour we watched on in awe as they foraged actively around the den – on the trunk and branches of the gum and also on a nearby Blackwood Wattle.

The extraordinary breeding cycle of the Tuan will be well-known to many folks … the adults mate in late autumn and early winter, then all the males die! The gestation period lasts about a month, with litters of 6-8 youngsters rapidly replenishing the population until the cycle repeats itself again the following year. Some females apparently survive for up to 3 years. Tuans are voracious hunters – they feed mainly on insects but will also eat bird eggs, nestlings and nectar. Backyard poultry can also fall victim to a hungry Tuan!

BTP6

Tuan (Brush-tailed Phascogale), Green Gully Creek Newstead, 22nd November 2021

BTP4

II

BTP8

III

BTF2

IV

BTP9

V

BTF1

VI

BTP7

VII

BTP5

VIII

BTP3

IX

14 responses to “It’s not every day …

  1. So enjoyed seeing these creatures in your wonderful photographs, Geoff. I wonder what the advantage of a bushy tail is for them?

    • Hi Venetia – to add to Karen’s response (which is spot on), the brushy tail also has a possibly stabilising function, acting as a brace on tree trunks and branches. In image V the Tuan was actually lunging at a passing moth and the tail seemed to be helping with maintaining balance. Cheers, Geoff

  2. Fabulous photos Geoff..this one looks like a young one exploring the outside world.
    Venetia .. the tail is often tapped on the ground and hairs extended when agitated. One theory is they do it to let the predator know that it knows its there and cant be ambushed. The other theory is that the predator goes for the tail instead of body..a decoy. I have seen ones with the tail bitten off.

  3. What a treat to see and photograph these little beauties! Well done.

  4. Thank you very much for that interesting explanation, Karen.

  5. Wow Geoff you are a clever man. It’s a rare achievement to capture such beautiful images of these secretive little creatures.

  6. Annmaree Smerdon

    Thanks Geoff for these wonderful photos. Wow.
    Love having learned more about these wonderful and elusive little creatures. Add to the tail uses…makes the owner look soo much bigger and therefore less likely predator target when hairs extended.
    I used to enjoy evening sightings of ?one out and about on an old wood poled water tank stand and occasionally in the nearby large English oak tree when I lived at Faraday.

  7. Geraldine Harris

    Wonderful photos! What a beautiful little animal. Thank you.

  8. Thanks for the engaging and informative article. I also had a recent adventure with a Tuan coming in to a lounge room via the roof cavity and some significant manoeuvring to release it to the outside Ironbark (pics taken but conditions made them a little grainy).

  9. Amazing! I am loving all of your photos and the information you give with them. Thank you so much.

  10. Rob and Lou Tehan

    Glorious ..great photos

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  11. Great photos. Thanks for sharing them. I have only ever seen a dead one.

  12. Congratulations Geoff. Absolutely marvellous.

  13. Thanks Geoff, your perspective of ‘not every day’ you see a phascogale prompted me to share how we see them every day! They inhabit our ceiling in our house, moving out at dusk to forage. We are located on a 10 acre bush block at McKenzie Hill, Castlemaine. We have nest boxes but they obviously prefer the spaciousness of our home. They are great companions but not when there are territory wars when claiming home space. Hissing and tail tapping in the early morning. But your post reminds me of their vulnerability amidst our everyday experience of them in our home 🙂

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