CUTE AS A BUTTON and with soft little ears to die for, the spectacled hare-wallaby might not look that tough, but it’s figured out how to survive in one of the most unforgiving terrains in the world.
Named Lagorchestes conspicillatus, which means ‘dancing hare’, the spectacled hare-wallaby has been split up into two subspecies based on where it’s ended up in the world. While the mainland spectacled hare-wallaby (Lagorchestes conspicillatus leichardti) is becoming increasingly scattered across northern Australia, with tiny, isolated populations in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, they remain widespread in Queensland from Cape York to Rolleston.
Since 1997, this subspecies is also known to inhabit the rolling savannahs of New Guinea’s southern coast. And then there’s the spectacled hare-wallaby subspecies, L. c. conspicillatus, with a population of about 10,000 individuals restricted to a tiny 202km2 landmass called Barrow Island, which sits just off the coast of Pilbara in Western Australia.
Spectacled hare-wallaby a hot marsupial
Close relatives of kangaroos, wallabies, tree kangaroos and pademelons, spectacled hare-wallabies are at home in open forests, woodlands, and arid grasslands. Here water can be extremely scarce and the temperature can soar well over 40°C during the day – at this point the fur on a spectacled hare-wallaby’s back can reach 60 degrees! – which has molded them into lean, mean cooling machines.
First off, spectacled hare-wallabies don’t drink. Why would you when there’s barely any water around anyway? They get all the water they need from the vegetation they eat, and produce super-concentrated urine so they don’t get dehydrated.
They’ve ended up with one of the lowest water turnovers in the world for mammals of their size. They’re also entirely nocturnal, and hide from the heat of the day in towering, metre-high homes made of spinifex or porcupine grass.
And while their striking golden eye masks offer little assistance in the relentless pursuit of survival, they would provide an excellent icebreaker in the event that a spectacled hare-wallaby runs into a red-eyed crocodile skink at an awkward work function.