The fawn-footed melomys is as cute as a button


Bec Crew


Bec Crew

Bec Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.
By Bec Crew 4 November 2019
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At first glance, it might look like a regular old house mouse, but this sweet little guy is the elusive fawn-footed melomys, a tree-dwelling rodent found only in Australia.

NATIVE TO THE forests on the country’s east coast, ranging from tropical Northern Queensland down to central NSW, about 50 km north of Sydney, the fawn-footed melomys (Melomys cervinipes) is a little-known species with a very peculiar tail.

While the tails of most mice and rats are covered in overlapping scales, the fawn-footed melomys’ tail is made up of tiny, interlinking scales that are arranged like mosaics. This unique trait earned the species its other, more wordy, common name, the fawn-footed mosaic-tailed rat.

You can see its tail up close in the video below, at 1:49. But if you skip forward, you’re going to miss some adorable footage of this nocturnal species trying very hard to not freak out in the torchlight:

There are just four known species of melomys in Australia, and a handful more found in Papua New Guinea.

Of our native species, the grassland melomys (M. burtoni), found along the northern coast of Australia, from Kimberley to NSW, is the most similar to the fawn-footed melomys.

Then there’s the Cape York melomys (M. capensis), found only in the Cape York Peninsula, and the ill-fated Bramble Cay melomys (M. rubicola), which was declared extinct just a few months ago, having not been seen since 2007.

As we reported back in February, the extinction of the Bramble Cay melomys is significant, as it’s thought to be the first extinction directly linked to human-induced climate change. Its habitat was irreparably damaged by sea-level rise and intense tropical storms.

The good news is the fawn-footed melomys population is not currently of concern to conservationists, although it is threatened by cats and land-clearing.

Fawn-footed melomys are scansorial, which means they’ve adapted to climbing trees in order to get a better view of potential food sources.

While we don’t know a whole lot about the species’ diet, they likely live on leaves, seeds, fruits, and flowers. They’ll also happily chow down on the mixture of peanut butter, honey, vanilla essence, and rolled oats that researchers bait their (harmless) traps with (who wouldn’t?).

Here’s another picture of this adorable species, which definitely gives rodents a good name: