Sandhill dunnart. 1 credit
Last name: Sandhill dunnart (Sminthopsis psammophila)
Cut: Length 10-16cm, weight 30-40g
Diet: Mainly insectivorous, including beetles, spiders, centipedes, termites and grasshoppers.
Habitat: Southern arid and semi-arid zones in sandy areas with spinifex and mallee.
Conservation state: Endangered
Superpower: Sandhill dunnarts will enter periods of torpor under severe conditions to conserve water and energy.
Dunnard’s dunnarts have a crest of short, stiff black hairs that run along the underside of their tail, making them easy to distinguish from other dunnart species. They are found in arid and semi-arid southern areas in sandy areas covered with spinifex and mallee. Their scientific species name means “sand-loving”, indicating that they prefer the sandy habitat of mallee. They usually roost during the day in their burrows under spiky spinifex hummocks where they are protected from predators. They emerge at night to snoop around leaf litter and feed on invertebrates.
Their distribution has considerably diminished since European colonization. Sandhill dunnarts are threatened by feral cats and foxes, land clearing, buffalo grass and inappropriate fire regimes. Like many arid mammals, it is a burgeoning and declining species: good winter and spring rains result in high capture rates, while the species disappears to near undetectable levels during drought.
Sandhill dunnarts are one of Australia’s lesser known Dasyurids and their preference for spinifex habitat likely saved them from extinction. Most spinifex habitat has not been cleared by Europeans due to poor soils and low rainfall, making it unsuitable for agriculture.
Research on captive dunnarts has revealed that they can stand on their hind legs and make a high-frequency call, which is thought to be a means of communicating with their fellow creatures.
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Katherine Moseby is the lead scientist at the Arid Recovery Reserve, a fenced, predator-proof reserve that manages populations of endangered species and conducts research to restore animals to the wild.
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