I’ve wanted to blog about quolls for a long time, but it seems that every time a mammal day comes around I forget about them. I’ve always liked the name quoll, and it doubles as a useful scrabble word. Today I was trying to think of some weird mammal to write about, and the quoll finally came to mind.
Quolls are marsupials, and like most marsupials, are found mainly in Australia. There are six extant species species of quoll, four of which live in Australia and two that live in New Guinea. Quolls live in a variety of habits, from rain forests to arid regions. Different species of quoll prefer different habitats, with tiger and eastern quolls preferring moist areas, while western quolls have adapted to live in more arid regions. The northern quoll likes the wettest habitat, living in tropical rainforest climes.
Quolls range in in size from 25 to 75 cm, with tiger quolls being the largest species. Tiger quolls weigh between 4 to 7 kg, while the smallest species, the northern quoll, weighs between 300 to 900 g. They have black or brown coats, with a pointed nose and hairy tail. The coat is covered in white spots, and they have a bit of a rodenty appearance.
Unlike many of the most famous marsupials, quolls are carnivores. The smaller species eat insects, birds, small reptiles and amphibians, while larger species hunt rabbits, birds, echidnas and possums. Quolls hunt by stalking their prey, and will also dig for rodents and other burrowing animals. They are solitary animals outside of the breeding season, and are nocturnal. All of the quoll’s water needs can be met from prey consumption, so these animals have little trouble during times of drought or water scarcity.
Mating occurs in the winter months, and is a tricky time for both sexes of quoll. Females try and mate with as many males as possible over the course of a week, which makes her amorous partners quite frustrated. To try and prevent his love from leaving, the male grabs onto the female’s neck and drags her to his den. There the pair copulate for extended periods of time — sometimes up to 14 hours. To protect herself from injury, the female quoll develops a swelling on the back of her neck during the breeding season.
As marsupials, quolls have pouches to hold their young. The pouch is not present year round, but instead develops from folds on the mother’s abdomen during pregnancy. Gestation in quolls is very quick – only 21 days. This is because marsupials give birth to very undeveloped young, and further development takes place in the pouch. For quolls, this is taken to the extreme, as their pups are only the size of a grain of rice at birth. Quolls can have up to 18 pups per litter, but as only six teats are available in the pouch, only that many young can survive. They stay in the pouch for eight weeks, before moving to their mother’s back for another six weeks.
Unfortunately quolls are threatened by habitat destruction, and introduction of competing placental mammals, such as dingoes, foxes and cats. As well, cane toads are poisonous prey that are often consumed by northern quolls. As a result of these challenges, quoll populations have declined rapidly, and they have been extirpated from much of their original range. Conservation efforts are underway, however, so hopefully we can save these cute little animals before it’s too late.
Cover image By Michael J Fromholtz – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0