#ThreatenedSpecies of the Week: Bettongia penicillata ogilbyi – Woylie

Photo Credit: Australian Wildlife Conservancy

Bettongia penicillata ogilbyi (also known as the Woylie) is listed as Endangered under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and as Specially Protected Fauna under the Wildlife Conservation Act 1950.

The main identified threats to the Woylie are predation by foxes (Vulpes vulpes), predation by cats (Felis catus), habitat destruction and disease.

The Woylie is a small potoroid marsupial weighing 1-1.5 kg. It has a distinctive black brush at the end of its tail. It uses its tail to carry nesting material. It rests during the day in a well-concealed nest, built over a shallow depression. The nest is most commonly built using long strands, of grasses, but other material such as strips of bark are also used (in the forest) or dried seagrass and/or triodia (in arid coastal areas). When disturbed from the nest, it will move quickly with head low and tail extended, sometimes colliding with obstacles in its haste to flee.

The Woylie once occupied most of the Australian mainland south of the tropics, including the arid and semi arid zones of Western Australia, the Northern Territory, South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. Aboriginal oral history has confirmed that Woylies were even more broadly distributed in the central deserts — ranging over much of the Gibson Desert in central Western Australia and into the southern region of the Northern Territory.

By the 1970’s, the geographic distribution of the Woylie had been reduced to three locations in WA: Perup forest, Tutanning Nature Reserve and Dryandra Woodland. There are now only three natural populations in WA, however there are also numerous translocated populations (including Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary).

Woylies live to approximately 4-6 years in the wild and can breed in their first year although in captivity, a male lived for over 14 years and was still breeding. Generation length is 2-3 years. Woylies have the potential to breed continuously, producing a maximum of three young in a year. Females at a monitoring site are often, either carrying young or suckling a young at heel. It is possible for females to carry a blastocyst in the womb, young in the pouch and a young at foot.. The proportion of females caring for young tends to be lower in the drier months when conditions for survival are harsher. Woylies usually produce a single young at a time, but twins have occasionally been observed.

A wide range of food types has been recorded in the diet of the Woylie including leaf material, seasonal fruits/berries, roots, tubers, bark and invertebrates. During feeding activities at dawn, dusk or at night, woylies make a large number of small diggings that disturb the soil surface. Woylies are known to cache food such as the nuts from sandalwood trees (Santalum spicatum) and wheat seeds. The seeds are buried and presumably the Woylie returns at a later date to consume the seeds or germinating plants.

Information Source: Government of Australia, Department of Environment and Department of Parks and Wildlife Western Australia


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