Potoroo (genus Potorous)

I love the names of most Australian animals, especially the mammals. They just sound so happy and cheerful, don’t they? Kangaroo, wallaby, wombat – they all have such nice rings to them. Today’s animal, the potoroo, is another example of a lovely animal name.

Potoroos are marsupials, as many mammals in Australia are. They are actually quite closely related to kangaroos, which makes their name even better, because it makes me think of pot-sized kangaroos, which is freaking adorable. There are three species of potoroo, the long-footed potoroo, the long-nosed potoroo, and Gilbert’s potoroo. All species live in forests, confined to areas that have thick ground cover for shelter and enough rain to support the main component of their diet: fungi. That’s right, potoroos survive by eating mushrooms, so being reincarnated as a potoroo would pretty much be my worst nightmare (mushrooms are the devil’s food).

A long-footed potoroo (you can't really see its long feet though).  Source: http://museumvictoria.com.au/bioinformatics/mammals/images/longlive.jpg

A long-footed potoroo (you can’t really see its long feet though).
Source: http://museumvictoria.com.au/bioinformatics/mammals/images/longlive.jpg

Potoroos are about the size of a rabbit, with each species having distinct physical characteristics. The long-footed potoroo has elongated back feet, the long-nosed potoroo has a long nose, and Gilbert’s potoroo looks a lot like Gilbert (whoever he was). The species all have grey-brown to reddish fur, and powerful hind limbs for hopping.

Potoroos can mate throughout the year, and usually have two to three young a year, giving birth to one offspring per breeding. The young stays in the mother’s pouch for about four months, at which point it leaves the pouch and suckles for another month before being weaned. Shortly after birth, the mother goes into estrous, and often mates again, resulting in the conception of an embryo. At this time, however, the momma potoroo is not ready to have another child, so the embryo stays dormant until the current pup leaves the pouch or dies.

You can kind of see this one's long nose... Image credit: Greg Coulson

You can kind of see this one’s long nose…
Image credit: Graham Coulson

All three species of potoroo are nocturnal, and tend to stay hidden in bushes during the day to stay safe. Even at night when they’re foraging, potoroos don’t stray far from shelter, as they are very vulnerable to predation. As I mentioned, they primarily eat fungi, and so foraging consists of them digging for these revolting morsels. The benefit of this type of diet means that potoroos can survive brush fires that destroy all above-ground food, when other mammals cannot.

Unfortunately for potoroos, they are quite vulnerable to predation from introduced species such as foxes and cats, as well as habitat loss. This has made all three species threatened, with the long-footed potoroo being endangered and Gilbert’s potoroo being critically endangered. In fact, Gilbert’s potoroo was thought to have gone extinct until it was rediscovered in 1994. It is now Australia’s most endangered animal, with only 30-40 wild specimens left. Poor potoroos.

Cover image source: wikipedia

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