Elusive northern hopping mouse caught on camera

By James O'Hanlon 27 March 2015
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The elusive northern hopping mouse is on the brink of extinction but a new camera trap has captured video of the species for the first time.

THE ELUSIVE NORTHERN hopping mouse (Notomys aquilo), a tiny native species on the brink of extinction, has been captured on video for the first time.

Found only around Groote Eylandt, a large island 50km off the coast of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, this tiny animal, with a body length of just 10cm, is near impossible to find, making conservation difficult.

“We need proper surveys to gather basic data about their populations, their distribution, and how many are left before we can go any further” says Rebecca Deite conservation biologist from the University of Queensland.

On a recent survey, Rebecca and colleagues were fortunate to capture not one, but three hopping mice coming out of a burrow – a feat that hasn’t been done before because the species is so shy.

Hopping mouse a shy species

The northern hopping mouse is a true rodent but like its kangaroo cousins, it hops on two legs. They spend the day inside hidden burrows, only coming out at night to feed. Like many small animals they are ‘trap shy’, meaning that conventional baited traps don’t work.

The only means of finding hopping mice was to look for small mounds of sand, the tell-tale signs of a mouse burrowing nearby. These signs of hopping mouse activity have been used to estimate their population numbers but new research shows that this could be a huge mistake.

“I was trying to camera trap hopping mice but wasn’t getting any. I found out that delicate mice were making burrows and the finished product looked very similar to the hopping mice burrows,” says Rebecca.

Delicate mice mistaken for hopping mice

The delicate mouse (Pseudomys delicatulus) is an unrelated species that is relatively common. If delicate mice burrows are inflating estimates of hopping mice numbers, then this endangered species may be in even more danger than previously thought. Whereas they were once thought to cover most of Groote Eylandt, hopping mice may be restricted to only two small sites on the island.

Rebecca is radio tracking hopping mice to measure their home ranges and try and understand what sort of habitats they use. By abandoning conventional baited traps in favour of night vision camera traps Rebecca is able to see hopping mice in action and get more reliable estimates of the numbers and distribution.

“I’m trying to get the baseline ecology of the animal, because we simply don’t know anything about where it lives, what its habitat is and how it survives,” says Rebecca.

The northern hopping mouse is one of five species of hopping mouse native to Australia. Credit: Rebecca Deite