The Fat-tailed Dunnart (Sminthopsis
crassicaudata) is one of about a dozen species
of the genus Sminthopsis which belongs to
the family Dasyuridae. This family includes all of
the carnivorous marsupials, ranging in size from
the largest, the Tasmanian Devil, to the
medium-sized Quolls, Phascogale and Kowari, down
to the smallest, the Antechinus, Planigale and the
Fat-tailed Dunnart occurs on mainland Australia,
west of the Great Dividing Range and south of the
Tropic of Capricorn. Within this range they occur
in a variety of habitats including open woodlands,
shrublands and grass-lands from the southern coast
to the arid interior.
In the wild, this species is primarily
insectivorous but has been known to take small
lizards and juvenile rodents. As is suggested by
its common name, the Fat-tailed Dunnart has the
ability to store fat in it's tail. This adaptation
allows it to survive during the winter months when
food may be scarce.
Dunnarts like to seek shelter under rocks, in tree
stumps or hollow logs and even cracks in the
ground. During the winter months they have the
ability to enter a state of torpor (this is a
state similar to hibernation) that may last from a
few hours up to several days, to conserve their
The Fat-tailed Dunnart is relatively easy to
obtain and can be kept indoors. It weighs about 16
grams (range 12 - 22 grams) and has a head-body
length of about 90 mm and a tail length of about
60 mm. Consequently it is the ideal choice for
anyone wishing to keep a small native animal, be
they a first-time novice or an experienced keeper.
A suitable environment would be an empty aquarium
appropriately landscaped to accommodate a
ground-dwelling carnivorous marsupial. Dry
plasterers sand is a good base (as it is not too
abrasive on the animals feet), with rocks,
tussocks of grass, hollow logs and pieces of bark
for the animals to hide under and make their
Although cages should be as large as practicable,
a suitable cage size for a pair of dunnarts should
not be less than 900 mm long by 300 mm wide and
400 mm high. A well-fitting, yet well-ventilated
lid is essential as part of the cage design. A
nest box can also be provided which consists of
four walls and a simple, but removable lid.
Suggested dimensions could be 100 mm by 80 mm by
As dunnarts tend to have specific toileting areas,
these must be cleaned at regular intervals to
maintain a healthy cage environment. However, as
dunnarts scent-mark their environment they don’t
appreciate too much interference, therefore the
rest of the cage only needs a thorough cleaning
two or three times a year.
Captive diets should preferably consist of a
variety of natural live foods combined with
commercially available pet foods. A weekly feeding
schedule should include good quality tinned cat
food (meat varieties only, NOT fish), every other
day; Wombaroo Small Carnivore Food (see
www.healthy-bird.com) mixed with hard boiled egg or finely
ground minced beef once or twice a week; and a
small bowl of mealworms, crickets,
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and other types of live insects, also once or
twice a week. Clean, fresh water should be
provided with every new meal. A bowl of dried cat
biscuits should be available in the cage at all
times as these help keep the animals teeth and
gums in good condition. Allow approximately 10
grams of food per non-breeding animal per day and
40 grams for nursing mothers. As dunnarts are not
strictly nocturnal, they will sometimes come out
during the day to feed.
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the wild the Fat-tailed Dunnart has an extended (6
- 8 month) breeding season from June to February.
However, in captivity animals may breed at any
time of the year. The gestation period is about 13
days, and while females have 10 nipples, litters
usually only comprise 6 - 8 young which are weaned
at around 70 days of age.
Some amount of fighting is normal between the
breeding animals and this usually precedes mating.
Mating can last several hours and is usually quite
noisy and aggressive. The pouch on the female may
be examined every 14 days or approximately 14 days
after an observed mating.
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is best done by grasping the base of the tail
between the thumb and index finger with the animal
on her back in your hand. The fourth finger
is placed across the chest of the animal to
restrain her. Your other hand is now free to open
the pouch carefully.
If upon inspection of the pouch, fur is still
visible inside, the female is not carrying young.
The new-born young resemble tiny red masses,
smaller than a grain of rice. The adult male and
female should now be separated to prevent the
young from being eaten.
Animals become sexually mature at about 5-6 months
of age and under captive conditions can have a
life expectancy of about 30 months.