These relatives of the Tasmanian devil resemble small rats, but are perhaps best known for their bizarre sexual habits. Would you be able to identify an Antechinus?
Common name: Antechinus
Scientific name(s): Antechinus (15 species, in the Family Dasyuridae)
Description: These small marsupials have bristly brownish-grey fur (the scientific name means ‘simulating a hedgehog’), and long, narrow, pointed snouts. The eyes are dark and protuberant, and the ears are large, thin, and in most species have a notch in the margin. Depending on species, they can be between 15-30 cm long; adults of the widespread yellow-footed Antechinus have a body 11 cm long, and lightly furred tail another 9 cm.
Antechinus are most active at night, and run with a distinctive staccato motion resembling rapid horizontal leaps.
They avoid humans if at all possible, and will bite fiercely if mishandled. Unlike rats and mice, which they superficially resemble, Antechinus have four rows of sharp incisors, instead of chisel-like incisors.
Antechinus scat may be cylindrical or pointed, and is frequently tarry, but crumble easily and usually contains many insect fragments.
Geographic distribution: Most Antechinus species live in the eastern states along the Great Dividing Range. The yellow-footed Antechinus, A. flavipes, is widespread there, but is also present in SW Australia.
Habitat: Antechinus live in most bush habitats, nesting communally in fallen timber and tree hollows. They tend to be more common in rural and semi-rural areas, where they can also nest in subfloors and sometimes inside homes (e.g. in furniture). They are more likely to find their way inside during winter for find a warmer place to nest in time for the spring breeding season.
During the breeding seasons the males enter such a frenzy of mate-searching and mating (for up to 12 hours at a time) that most will be dead within weeks from stomach ulcers and immune system collapse. Females live more than a single year, and will rear 6 to 13 young in her pouch.
When conditions are unfavourable, Antechinus will lower their metabolic rates and enter torpor, greatly reducing their need for food and water. This can either occur for long periods (weeks), known as periodic torpor, during the winter, or for as short as a few hours, known as daily torpor, which can occur in warm temperatures as well as cold.
They feed on insects, other invertebrates, frogs and reptiles, and mice.
Pest status: All Antechinus species are protected under federal law, and some species are listed as endangered.
Treatment: Traps and baits placed for rodents must be installed where they cannot threaten native marsupials. With their insectivorous diet, rodent baits are not an attractive food source for Antechinus, but traps laid for rodents are more of a concern.
As state law prevents the harming of naive wildlife (which includes trapping and relocating), if there is the need to trap and relocate an Antechinus, it is likely a state licence will be required to carry out this activity.
Don’t confuse with non-native rodent pests.
Daniel Heald, technician and entomologist