Kiwirrkurra women play an important role in the species survival. Image Credit: Australian Wildlife Conservancy

The Myth of the Mulgara

  • BY Angela Heathcote |
  • July 21, 2017

This little guy has quite the reputation.

THE BRUSH-TAILED MULGARA, a ‘fist-sized’ carnivorous marsupial that lives in the deserts of inland Australia, has a bad reputation, according to Rachel Paltridge, a wildlife ecologist from Desert Wildlife Services.

This small, seemingly cute mouse-like animal is notorious for sucking out the brains of its prey, enjoying the squishy remains of mammals, reptiles and occasionally birds. However 50 per cent of the mulgaras diet is also made up of invertebrates including beetles, spiders, centipedes and cockroaches.

Rachel told Australian Geographic, “I would say this is one of the biggest misconceptions about the mulgara — that a little mouse is actually a very fierce predator capable of killing and eating animals as large as the spinifex hopping mouse.”

The brush-tailed mulgara isn’t to be confused with its close relative, the crest-tailed mulgara, which Rachel said is distinguished by the arrangement of black hairs along the back half of the tail which form more of a dorsal crest along the tail of the Crest-tailed Mulgara.

Both species of mulgara also prefer different habitats.

“Whereas the Crest-tailed mulgara lives in burrows on sand dunes, the Brush-tailed mulgara typically builds its burrows down on the sandplains, usually in spinifex vegetation,” explained Rachel.

Rachel added that the brush-tailed mulgara enjoys the desert scapes of the Tanami Desert, northern Simpson Desert, Great Sandy Desert and the Pilbara, in addition to other desert sandscapes.

“It previously occurred in South Australia but is now believed to be extinct in this state.”

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Nolia Yukultji Ward, a Kiwirrkurra woman holds a mulgara. (Image Credit: Vanessa Westcott)

The biggest threats to the mulgara are predation by cats and foxes, which will often prey upon the mulgara during the dry season, after the rodent boom — bolstered by exceptional rainfall — is well and truly over Rachel explained.

This — coupled with increased wildfire brought on by the dry season that eradicates the mulgaras habitats results in high mortality rates for this native Australian animal.

“The best way to ensure survival of mulgara populations is to conduct strategic fire management to ensure large-scale hot summer wildfires cannot occur,” Rachel said.

“This involves burning a network of patches of spinifex every year, and particularly ramping up cool season burning after major rainfall events where germination of soft grasses allows fires to carry across even relatively recently burnt areas of spinifex.”  

Rachel explained to Australian Geographic the important role played by traditional owners of the land in prolonging the survival of the mulgara species.

“The brush-tailed mulgara is also surviving well on the Kiwirrkurra Indigenous Protected Area where Traditional Owners have maintained a very fine-scale fire mosaic within a 20km radius of Kiwirrkurra community. Pintupi Traditional Owners also regularly hunt feral cats for meat in this area.”

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Nolia Yukultji Ward plays an important role in the species survival. (Image Credit: Vanessa Westcott)

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