In the absence of better descriptive terms, early naturalists often named Australian animals after the superficially similar European animals they were familiar with – and many of these have stuck, to this day. Take, for instance, the carnivorous marsupials now known as thylacine, quoll, phascogale, antechinus and dunnart – these used to be called ‘Tasmanian Tiger/Wolf’, ‘native cat’, ‘marsupial-rat’ and ‘marsupial mouse’.
To add to the confusion, Australia has native rodents that were and are still called rats, mice and even ‘pseudo-mice’, ‘pseudo-rats’, ‘hopping mice’ and ‘tree rats’. But that’s another story.
The native ‘marsupial mice’ are all in the Family Dasyuridae – not even closely related to Old World mice. Many Strathbogie Ranges residents will be familiar with the local Brown Antechinus (Antechinus agilis), or the Yellow-footed Antechinus (A. flavipes) of the foothills and plains, perhaps even with the spectacular Tuan (Phascogale tapoatafa), aka the Brush-tailed Marsupial Rat (until the 1960s). But one marsupial mouse that few regional Victorians are familiar with is the Common Dunnart (Sminthopsis murina), once also known as the Mouse-Sminthopsis – not at all common in Victoria and certainly not a mouse.
Though similar in appearance to both an Antechinus and a House Mouse (Mus musculus), when closely examined it is quite different to both. It’s smaller size, pale ventral fur, lack of yellow fur and eye-ring and it’s white feet distinguish it from the Yellow-footed Antechinus. The crinkled ears, pointy snout and lack of ‘mousey smell’, help to distinguish it from a House Mouse.
This little insect-eating marsupial is found mainly in Central and Western Victoria, though its distribution is very patchy and much more poorly understood than it’s Antechinus cousins. [click an image to enlarge]
The Common Dunnart has been recorded from regions to the west and south of the Strathbogie Ranges. It may once have occurred in the dry forests and woodlands around the ranges and in the foothills, though there are no confirmed records. But, being so small and easily confused with more common species, it may have been overlooked.
If you live in the bush and have mouse-like critters visiting your house and surrounds, consider using non-lethal mouse traps – you may be surprised what you find. Thanks Lou and Les for bringing this particular marsupial mouse to our attention!
Click a map to enlarge.