“What was that?”
DC and I were wandering around the darkened Melaleuca campsite, looking for a good spot to set up the camera for some star-trails when we heard a loud rustling. It was close, and whatever was making it didn’t mind if we heard it.
We flicked on our head torches and there he was. A rather fine looking, gingery-brown spotted-tail quoll, covered with his species characteristic white spots from head to tail. He was so big, he had to be a boy. He seemed completely unconcerned by the attention, and I got the distinct feeling that we may have not been the first humans he’d snuck up on at night.
Spotted-tail quolls (Dasyurus maculatus maculatus) are a medium-sized, forest-dependent, marsupial carnivore, considered rare within Tasmania. They come in a range of colours, from ginger through to a dark chocolate brown, accented with a smattering of white spots. The boys are much bigger than the girls – females usually top out around 2.2kg, with the males getting up to around 4.6kg (although one particular thumper weighed in at 7kg). Within Tasmania, the quolls of South West Cape in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area are considered a stronghold population for conservation.
They are renowned for being ferocious and bitey – quolls will eat anything from insects to wallabies, and will attack creatures larger than themselves. An ecologist friend of mine once saw a spotted-tail quoll chase a juvenile Tasmanian devil up a tree, where they engaged in rather bloody, bitey, paw-to-paw combat – as I remember it, the devil ended up falling out of the tree, and racing off into the darkness.
Spotted-tail quolls really do get around – they maintain extensive home ranges of several hundred to several thousand hectares. Males tend to have especially large territories, which contain within them the more modest territories of a number of lady quolls. Quolls are drifters, not staying anywhere for long. They move house every one to four days as they traverse their expansive territories, making their dens in everything from piles of rocks, to trees, to under-utilized rabbit and wombat burrows (woe betide the quoll that accidentally occupies a wombat burrow whilst its actual owner is in residence!).
The Melaleuca campsite quoll seemed an exception to this rule, and was observed lurking about the place over a period of a couple of weeks. I encountered him a couple of times on my way to the toilets at night.
He was also rather cheeky. One bushwalker reported that he had stood very still whilst watching the quoll, and that the impudent marsupial had wandered up to him and given his boot an exploratory chew. You don’t read about that in the authorised biography!
The picture in this article was pinched from the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service – read more about spotted-tail quoll biology there.