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June 08, 2022

The Long-nosed Potoroo – A Vulnerable Native Species Is Losing Its Home

Sometimes called a Rat-Kangaroo, the Long-nosed Potoroo is an Australian marsupial mammal and the smallest member of the Kangaroo family. When frightened, they abandon their usual four-legged crawl for a two-legged hop.  

Weighing around 1.6kg at maturity and growing to 62cm from the tip of their nose to the end of their sparsely furred tail, they have red-brown or grey-brown fur on the top of their body and pale grey fur underneath. Aptly named, the Long-nosed Potoroo has a long snout with a distinctive bald patch of skin on its nose.

Males can be significantly larger than females with respect to head length, foot length and bodyweight. But in general, they are all nocturnal, solitary foragers that are not territorial in nature. During the summer, the Long-nosed Potoroo may forage during daylight.

Ground Dwellers

Populations of Long-nosed Potoroos are fragmented along the East Coast of Australia. But they are found in pockets of southern Queensland, New South Wales, western Victoria and in Tasmania; living in coastal heaths or dry and wet sclerophyll forests i.e, rainforests with vegetation like eucalyptus, wattle, banksia and other Australian flora that flourish in areas with low soil fertility.

Of special importance to these animals is a thick understory that can feature grass-trees, sedges, ferns or heath, or low shrubs of tea-trees or melaleucas. An abundance of vegetation on the forest floor, like grasses and shrubs, provides the Long-nosed Potoroo with the vegetation it needs to build nests and to hide from its natural predators: Tiger Quolls, Owls, Raptors and Dingoes.    

Its favourite food to eat is the fruit of hypogeous (underground-fruiting) fungi, which is found where eucalyptus trees grow. But this omnivore also consumes bulbs, tubers, roots and insects; its long nose gives it an acute sense of smell that helps it find sporocarps (truffles) and mushrooms.

Reproductive cycle

With a life span of about 7 years, males and females reach sexual maturity at 12 months of age. They mate promiscuously and breed all year long, but breeding peaks typically occur in late winter to early summer.  

With a gestation period of 38 days, these mammals give birth to one tiny joey per pregnancy and may have 3 or 4 pregnancies per year. The underdeveloped joey lives in its mother's pouch for about four months.

When independent, young males appear to disperse and young females generally remain in or very close to their mother’s home range.

Habitat and Ecology

These animals may be small, but they play a big role in keeping Australia's native forests healthy and abundant. They help to reduce bushfire incidence by grazing on vegetation and turning over leaf litter on the forest floor.  

Their penchant for fungi also helps the surrounding forest by supporting eucalyptus trees to absorb nutrients and water. If the Long-nosed Potoroo were to disappear, the fungi that they eat cannot disperse spores and reproduce, which would have detrimental consequences for Australia's iconic Eucalypt forests.    

A Vulnerable Species

Once abundant and widespread across the east coast of Australia, the Long-nosed Potoroo is now listed as a vulnerable species. They have faced many local extinctions and a general decline in numbers since the introduction of foxes, dogs and cats.

At the same time, the extinction or reduction in populations of species higher up on the food chain is also putting the Long-nosed Potoroo at risk. The disappearance of dingoes and other apex predators, like the Tasmanian Devil, can mean they have increased competition from other animals such as wallabies for food and shelter. It also means heightened exposure to pests like foxes and feral cats.

Land clearing and logging are probably the most significant threat to the remaining populations of Long-nosed Potoroos; these activities reduce their food sources, destroy their habitat and expose them to pests and natural predators.  

Help us keep the Long-nosed Potoroo Safe

Even though the situation is dire, it's not too late to save the Long-nosed Potoroo. Of singular importance is the need to keep their habitat intact. Yet, plans to log our forests and burn them for electricity are now in place and putting these already vulnerable creatures at heightened risk.

The previous federal government allocated millions of dollars of tax-payer funds for “preparing forest industries for the future.” This research is happening now. If this industry takes off, the future is bleak: it is the destruction of habitat for already vulnerable native animals like the Long-nosed Potoroo.

We won't sit back while the Long-nosed Potoroo's habitat is destroyed. Support our campaign to save our forests and our native wildlife. Share this article, join our community or support our current campaign to prevent burning Australia’s forests for power.  

By Zoe Martin

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