Winter 2002
Marsupial of the Season

 

The Kowari

Dasyuroides byrnei

 by

Peter Koch

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The scientific name Dasyuroides comes from a combination of three Greek words meaning hairy, tail, and resembling, resembling being the similarity of the skull and teeth to that of the Quoll.

 

"Byrnie" comes from the name of the discoverer in 1894, a Mr. Byrne of Charlotte Waters, Queensland, who passed specimens to Spencer, a member of the 1895 Horn Expedition.

  

Size

 

The Kowari would be about the size of a small rat and weighs in at around 110gms with a head and body length of around 160mm and a tail of some 115mm.

  

Appearance

 

Light grey/black over the head and body with whitish underpants.    The eyes are rather large in relation to the size of the body, something you would expect in creatures of nocturnal habits.     The tail has a brush of black hair encircling the terminal half.

 

Habitat

 

Their main habitat is the channel country of South Western Queensland and the gibber plains around the Queensland, Northern Territory, and South Australian Junctions.

 

Habits

 

Daytime:  Captive animals spend some time sunbathing but there is no evidence of this in the wild where they would normally go underground during daylight hours to avoid the possibility of heat stress.     During the cold weather they can slow their metabolic rate and go into a state of torpor.    If disturbed when in this state they may shiver visibly for some minutes whilst there body temperature is returning to normal working levels.

 

Night-time:  Being nocturnal, they become very active at night and are extremely alert to any noise or movement.    They are extremely agile and also very capable climbers if the need arises and can leap up to 700mm (28”) in a single bound.    In a captive situation they like to roll in loose sand and are extremely curious about any new material that is introduced into their enclosure.    Things like grass, bark, leaves and any other possible nesting materials are all investigated thoroughly.    Both sexes have scent glands which they use as for communication by marking certain objects within their territory.    They also use urine to mark out their territorial boundaries and burrow sites.

 

Food

 

In the wild they will kill and eat almost anything that is small enough to handle – insects, lizards, mice, some ground dwelling birds and eggs.    There has also been a case noted where one road killed animal had had it’s stomach contents analysed and was found to have been eating a long haired rat, which suggests that carrion is also part of their diet.

 

Husbandry

 

They are best kept in a stoutly constructed cage, but although they do not gnaw, unlike rodents, they are extremely strong for their size.     Cages must be well ventilated and cleaned regularly as like all carnivorous marsupials their odour can be somewhat overpowering.    They may live to about six years of age although four is more likely and the sexes should be kept apart outside of the normal breeding season otherwise they may not survive the first twelve months.    It is quite a problem to avoid them killing one another when in captivity.    Part of the answer may be in the size of the enclosure.   For example, if the enclosure is quite large with a number of refuges, then the animals have the opportunity to escape from one another.    I have been working on the theory of giving them as much live food as possible because I believe they may ‘enjoy’ the exercise of the hunt and finally the kill.    The basic diet I use for these animals is live mice, sparrows, cockroaches, pigeon poults, mealworms, insects, moths and raw egg with greens and fruit.

 

Breeding

 

This occurs between May and December but is dependent on seasonal changes.     Mating can last for up to three hours at a time for anything up to three days in a row and is quite a violent affair (but who are we to judge, probably just Kowari style).    The young are born at 30–35 days after mating and are 3mm (1/8”) in length.    The female has only six teats so if more than six young are born the first six to attach to a nipple are the only ones to survive.    The remainder would probably be eaten.    The pouch is not really a pouch at all but just a fold of skin and the young are dragged around with their mouths firmly clamped on to a nipple for about 56 days at which time the young are left in the nest or they may move around to their mother’s back.    At 75 days their eyes are open; at 100 days they will be fully weaned and at nine months of age they will be sexually mature – to start the whole cycle off again.

 
 
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