When a mouse is not a mouse.
Early November 2004 we had some interesting
little creatures come in to care. The mother was found dead under
a rat bait station with four tiny babies, alive and clinging to
The caller was most distraught, as he had
intended ridding his premises of rats and mice, not suspecting that
native wildlife may also fall prey to the baits. He was uncertain
as to what these little critters were, but knew that they were definitely
not mice or rats and turned out to be the native Dusky Antechinus.
These cute little creatures look similar
to the feral mouse, but there are differences. For one, the Antechinus
lacks the pungent odours associated with mice, they also lack the
enlarged incisor teeth (front) like the mouse has, and instead they
have teeth similar to canines. They do not gnaw on cables etc like
mice, and they are unlikely to eat stored food, being carnivores
they prefer insects and small lizards.
We have 3 species of Antechinus in Northern
NSW; being the Brown Antechinus, Dusky Antechinus and Yellow- footed
Antechinus. All 3 species have a similar breeding pattern, mating
in September, when the males become very aggressive searching for
females. They mate for up to 6 hours at a time over a period of
2 weeks with a number of females, after which not a single male
is left alive, death results from stress due to aggressive behavior
and the excessive mating ritual.
A quiz question often asked: “What
is the most sexed animal in the world?” The answer is: the
About a month after mating the female gives
birth to approx 7-10 tiny babies. They are carried in a kind of
open pouch clinging to the nipples of the mother, as she goes about
her business, being dragged over the ground for 5-8 weeks depending
on species. One wonders how they manage to survive this early part
of their life. After 6-8 weeks they become too large to travel with
the mother, they are now left in the nest made of dry plant material,
hidden in a hollow log or similar protected place. They are weaned
at 3 months of age, and now travel with mum through the summer months.
As winter approaches, they all become solitary and go their separate
ways, sexually maturing at 11 months of age.
The Dusky Antechinus is found only on the
east cost of Australia and Tasmania, living in mainly mountainous
areas with dense understorey of ferns and scrubs. Here it uses its
long claws and powerful limbs to dig for invertebrates; it also
eats fruits such as blackberry on occasion. At this stage the Dusky
Antechinus is not considered threatened, however, some local populations
throughout the region have been reduced due to burning, which destroys
complex under storey habitat.
Of the 4 juvenile Antechinus we had come
in to care, 3 died due to the rat poison, 1 survived and was successfully
released, I am guessing that the survivor did not have a drink from
mum after she ate the bait.
Please be careful when dealing with mice
in your home, you could be accidentally killing protected native
Wildlife, who help maintain the fragile balance of biodiversity
in our local forests.
Reference: The Australian Museum Complete
book of Australian Mammals
like all native birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles are all proteced
under the Wildlife Act 1975, they may not be captured or harmed in
any way without an authority issued under the Wildlife Act.