Phascogales, aka Tuans, are notoriously shy and difficult to observe in the wild. Not only are they almost always on the move, they have quite large home ranges (from 20-30 ha up to 100 ha), so they are thin on the ground anyway. And traditional spotlighting with a white light can scare them off pretty quickly – when they decide to hide they just disappear. In the last three years I’ve conducted dozens of nocturnal surveys in their floodplain woodland habitat around Euroa, Violet Town and Benalla, mostly along roadsides, but also in some small public reserves. While the surveys have detected Squirrel Gliders at many sites, it’s been most rewarding to also see a few (three, to be exact!) Tuans.
At a community day at Locksley in October 2019 we spied this little fellow in a young Grey Box (Eucalyptus microcarpa). Once spotted, this Tuan froze and remained motionless for some minutes. It’s by far the best up-close view I’ve ever had of these rare and delightful creatures.
Just out of interest, what would early naturalists have call this pouched, carnivorous mammal with a brush-tail, that climbs trees and is the size of a weasel? A Pouched Weasel? A Black-tailed Marsupial-Rat?
Modern Latin, from Greek: phaskōlos = purse, or pouch and galē = weasel
And according to Ellis Troughton (Furred animals of Australia, 8th Edition 1965 p. 31), Tapoa-tafa derives from an aboriginal language, though more detailed information is lacking.
The surveys currently being conducted employ infra-red detection (via a thermal camera: Pulsar Helion XP28) which allows the observer to watch these nocturnal mammals with minimal disturbance. A white light is only used to confirm an animal’s identity. The project has also installed numerous nest-boxes for Tuans and gliders on private property, but that’s another story.
Here are a couple of infra-red videos filmed recently at Moglonemby Bushland Reserve, a small reserve of 14 ha on the Branch Creek, north of Euroa. Watching these little acrobats forage, so surefooted in the trees, is just fabulous!
And just to show that Tuans are as happy on the ground as in the trees, these two videos were taken just down the road, at the Miepoll South Bushland Reserve.
The lead image for this post was knitted by artist Sharon Monk as part of an upcoming threatened species exhibition in South Gippsland. The skill and talent to create such an adorable and anatomically accurate artwork is amazing. Here’s another view of the piece.
More about Tuans on Nature View:
This Trust for Nature project is supported by the generous assistance of the Urquhart Charitable Fund.