Bramble Cay melomys, or mosaic-tailed rat. Image Credit: Dept EHP, Queensland

Bramble Cay melomys

  • June 06, 2014

Australia's most remote mammal, the mosaic-tailed rat is fighting for survial

Contributor
Carolyn Barry

Carolyn is a science journalist and former Online Editor at Australian Geographic. Her background in science and love of nature has coalesced into this blog. Follow her on Twitter: @carolyn_barry.

IUCN status
Critically endangered

AUSTRALIAN CONSERVATION STATUS (EPBC Act)
Endangered

RANGE
Only on Bramble Cay, a small coral island in the Torres Strait

HABITAT
Coral, sand and marine island

CLASSIFICATION
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Order Rodentia
Family Muridae
Genus Melomys
Species: Rubicola


THE BRAMBLE CAY melomys, or mosaic-tailed rat, is quite the most isolated of Australia's mammals. It lives only on a small coral cay just 340m long and 150m wide that's closer to PNG than the Australian mainland.

The cay is under the traditional ownership of the Erub islanders who call it 'Maizab Kaur' and is the most northerly island in the Great Barrier Reef. 

It's thought the endemic rodent, first described in 1924, could extend into other islands in the Torres Islands or even Papua New Guinea, but none have been recorded anywhere but on Bramble Cay.

Brambe Cay is also used by green turtles and sea birds for nesting. (Credit: Queensland Government)

Bramble Cay melomys extinct? 

THe melomys is larger than the three other Australian species in the genus, with its body measuring 15-16.5cm long and tail 14.5-18.5cm long.

Because of its isolation and low population, little is known about its behaviour. Scientists have noted it eating vegetation at night.

In the late 1970s, visitors to the cay noted there were hundreds of the rats, but a 2004 survey estimate only 93 were left. A survey from 2004 found it likely that fewer than 50 individuals remained. Unfortunately, the most recent survey in 2012 found no evidence of the rodents, so it's possible the Bramble Cay melomys has been wiped out. 

Threats to the Bramble Cay melomys

Since the melomys lives on an isolated island, it's one of the few species not directly affected by humans, though sea-level rise from climate change is a future issue. Erosion of the island and storm surges are other threats, and introduced species could potentially quickly wipe out the rodent.

But the biggest threat is the population size itself. With just a single population of fewer than 50 individuals, genetic inbreeding is likely and could lead (or has already led) to extinction. 

More information

Queensland Dept EHP
Atlas of Living Australia
IUCN Red List
Environment.gov