Dusky Antechinus Antechinus swainsonii

Introduction

This small, ground-dwelling marsupial superficially resembles many of the shrews of the Northern Hemisphere. It has deep brown to brownish-black upper fur, a sharp little face with alert, beady eyes, short ears and long curved claws, to assist in digging. Although common, it is rarely seen, apart from the occasional animal found dead on a bush track in winter. The average weight of an adult is about 50 g and the total average length is 220 mm.


Dusky Antechinus
Photographer / Source: Gary Lewis

Where does it occur?

Dusky Antechinus are found in Tasmania and along the east coast of mainland Australia. The densest populations are found in mountainous areas with an annual rainfall of 1000 mm, with alpine heath or tall forest and a dense fern or shrub understorey. Most live in areas of rich friable (easily crumbled) soil interspersed with grasses, rocks and logs.

What do they eat?

This tiny species is a voracious feeder, locating prey mainly by its sense of smell and digging in the soil at night and often during the day, for insects and their larvae. The paws assist in transferring food to the mouth. The Dusky Antechinus laps up some water with its tongue.

What is their breeding cycle?

In winter, females make nests in creek banks, often below the surface of the soil, where decayed logs and grass provide cover. The roughly spherical, grass-lined nest chamber has a single opening.  Mating is restricted to a short period in winter, and may last up to six hours. All males die within three weeks of the start of mating season. A month after mating, females give birth and six to ten young are carried in an open pouch for about eight weeks. The young are then left in the nest for about three months until they are able to fend for themselves.

What is their conservation status?

The Dusky Antechinus is not threatened, but local populations are subject to the pressures of land clearing, which removes their food and nest sources.

Further Reading

Menkhorst, P. and Knight, F. (2001) A field guide to the mammals of Australia. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Menkhorst, P. (Ed.) (1995). Mammals of Victoria. Oxford University Press. Melbourne

Strahan, R. (Ed.) (1995). The Mammals of Australia. Reed. Chatswood. N.S.W.

Comments (45)

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Rena Geroe 13 July, 2009 13:17
I saw a small brown animal about the size of a small rabbit hopping along the snow under the Ruined Castle chairlift at Falls Creek. No obvious tail, but it was hard to see properly. Would this be the most likely animal? It was near a hollow with running water.
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Jocelyn Chey 15 July, 2009 15:37
we were staying at green cape lighthouse last week and one evening we had barbecued chops so the smell filled the whole house. after dinner i opened the front door and there was an antechinus sitting on the door mat. later we saw it near the barbecue area at the back of the cottage. i also saw a scat on the grass and photographed it so i could identify the animal (tracks scats and other traces) it seems surprising to see one so close to the sea in open heathland.
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Lorraine Playford 27 July, 2009 00:42
Today whilst leaving the Canning Vale markets, my son and I saw a small grey animal on the road which had been killed. At first we thought it was a rabbit, but as we approached, it had the tail of a rat only shorter. We moved it off the road so that it wouldn't be run over again and noticed that it had very enlarged testicles. It was obviously a sexually active male and our first encounter with one of these special creatures, existing in bushland near a very busy market with numerous trucks and other vehicles. We feel a little better knowing that the males all die after the mating season so this one met his fate with a vehicle instead.
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Discovery Centre 30 July, 2009 15:14

Rena, there's a good chance that the creature you saw was indeed one of these ones, although it's hard to confirm without a photograph. Thanks everyone for these great stories!

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maddy 1 March, 2010 18:15
were is there habitat
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Discovery Centre 2 March, 2010 13:22

Hi Maddy, the Dusky Antechinus can be found along the east coast of Australia and normally in areas with a dense shrub or fern understorey, although, you can read from the above notes, they can be found lots of other places too!

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Zlatko 18 March, 2010 01:43
Hello, I was wondering what the small mouse like (though slightly biger) mammal was that I observed in front of the state library Melbourne. There were actually many of them, they appeared after dark below a tree there, in the shrubs, and climbed up the tree with great agility - all where difficult to spot. Don't think a mouse or a rat could have had that speed and agility climbing trees and hopping around branches. Any thoughts? Thanks..
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Discovery Centre 18 March, 2010 13:58

Hi Zlatko, thanks for the enquiry.  From the information provided and the location, middle of the city, it sounds like the mammals were Black Rats.  Size slightly bigger than a mouse, tree climbing ability, suggested tolerance of human presence all add up to this common animal.  They would be there for several reasons, food scraps left from lunches, security in the low shrubs and proximity to buildings where they can shelter and tree climbing ability is well known amongst these introduced rodents.

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lan 13 July, 2010 21:37
It is mid July, location is foothills of the Dandenongs. This morning I found on the front path a small dead animal that had a much nicer and pointier face than a Black Rat. (which is like a big mouse face with the bulging cheeks). He (huge testes) has been waiting all day to be identified and he matches Dusky Antechinus perfectly. 210mm long, sparsely haired tail, tail just less than 50% total length, dark dusky brown on top with grey fur underneath, roundish short, crinkled ears, really pointy face. I am glad they are still around, the number of cats is dramatically increasing in this area and so are the clumps of parrot feathers on the ground. which reminds me the Parrots will be sitting on eggs soon so better start the bird feeder up.
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miles 27 September, 2010 21:37
I've got at least one of these living in the walls of my house. How can I get rid of it/them without killing them?
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Discovery Centre 28 September, 2010 15:41
Hi Miles - You'll probably want to try and get a good look at it, perhaps a photo, to confirm the identification and make sure it's not a rat. Otherwise, we'd suggest that you contact your local DSE office for advice. As with many of these things, if you remove one inhabitant, another is likely to replace it!
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Doug Carey 28 January, 2011 23:03
I have lost around 26 finches in the last week I have put the blame on a bush rat but after looking up different sites on my computer I have come up with this thing not being a rat but a Antechinus I have had rat bait put out and it has not been touched so tonight I have set a wire trap with a piece of fresh meat hoping to catch this thing that is killing my birds ,when we lived near Cooroy in Queensland I had a similiar type of thing happen and in one night I lost 70 adult birds and a lot of young still in the nest, I got the culprit fount him in one of the nest boxes I have areal good photo of him if you like I shall send it on he had a vary pointed nose and teeth that looked a dog and vary large testies ,may be I will catch him tonight wish me luck
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Discovery Centre 1 February, 2011 12:56

Hi Doug - please do send us in the image via Contact Us at the bottom of the page; we think it's unlikely that an Antechinus would cause the problems you describe, as they generally feed on insects and other invertebrates. If we can see your photo, we can confirm the identification.

As an amateur finch breeder myself, I can sympathise with the disasters that can happen when a rat enters the aviary - I've experienced this myself and it is very upsetting.

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Elizabeth 28 February, 2011 22:32
Hello, we have just moved to Malvern and enjoying the wildlife in the area including a resident gecko, a pile of interesting and diverse spiders and a mystery mouse type creature. I suspect it may be an Antechinus but not sure as it is so fast I haven't been able to get a really good look at it. It is larger than a mouse but definitely not a rat. I have spotted it a few times running between undergrowth cover. I have found a pile of snail shells and not sure if this is it's left-over pile. We don't seem to have many cats in the area. Any thoughts?
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Discovery Centre 2 March, 2011 14:00

Elizabeth - without seeing the animal itself we aren't really able to comment except to suggest not being too quick to rule out the possibility of the creature being a rat (perhaps an immature rat), we have been receiving a number of enquiries to identify animals from photographs sent to us via email; many turn out to be Rattus rattus juveniles. Antechinus do eat invertebrates, but this would mostly be in the form of  beetles, spiders, amphipods and cockroaches - I'm not sure that they would make a meal of snails

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Jennifer 18 July, 2013 12:04
Antechinus indeed love a meal of snails. We had thousands of snails on our property in Krowera, South Gippsland when we moved in. Once we stopped mowing the grasses the Dusky Antechinus moved in and all the snails disappeared within about 12 months. I have seen them eating grasses too. They feed at around 11.00 am, 2.00 pm and 5.00 pm each day. If you put a piece of bread out near their burrow entrance around those times and stand quietly without moving a small distance away you will see the Antechinus come out to retrieve the food. Our range from brown to grey to almost black. We have to protect the base of our Hakea trees with old stockings as they ringbark the trees, probably when they are teething.
Catherine 3 April, 2011 11:53
We live in Inverloch and nearly every night several little animals come across the road via the telephone wire and into our garden. They usually leave around dawn. My boyfriend says they've been visiting for the last 30 years (although less frequently in the last few years as his "enlightened" neighbours remove more and more of their trees and replace them with concrete). We haven't managed to take any photos of them but I get up and watch them whenever I can. They are small brownish ratty-looking animals with very straight tails, no white tip on the end (so probably not a ring-tailed possum). Their tummies don't seem to be lighter than their backs. They jump around the gum trees and don't seem to go on the ground. In autumn they are more active, chasing eachother and making a racket. They make a cute chirruping noise when alarmed. They don't move like Rattus rattus - they're sort of fatter looking and nice. We always thought they were some kind of possum until we found a video on YouTube of an agile antechinus and it looked a lot like "our" little visitors. Is it possible to identify them by looking at their scats? Does the Museum of Victoria do that for people?! I have a nice collection of poo from the road, underneath the trees where they spend half the night, which I could bring in.
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Catherine 3 April, 2011 12:08
Forgot to say how big those little visitors are - their body length is maybe 8-10cm while their tails are a bit shorter, very straight and seem to be hairless. The scats I picked up from the road are quite thin and long compared to "normal" possum poo which I also found in the same area. They're brown, about 10-20mm long and 3-4 mm in diameter. They definitely don't look like the scats of Rattus rattus.
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Discovery Centre 8 April, 2011 15:59

Hello Catherine - from your description it sounds more like Antechinus than any sort of rodent, however without us seeing one ourselves it's impossible to be certain. Your location and description (particularly the seasonal noisy activity) suggests more Antechinus-like behaviour. In terms of identifying the creatures by their poo - you may find it easier to do this yourself with the assitance of a book like "Scats, Tracks and Other Traces" by Barb Triggs; this useful book should be readily available from your library.

In the meantime, if you are able to  catch one of the mystery animals in a photo, feel free to send it to us via the "Contact Us" link at the bottom of the this page and we will do our best.

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heather jones 14 July, 2011 22:15
Would anyone have an audio file of antichinus? Many thanks, HJ
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Linda Smith 23 August, 2011 19:32
I think I have a Dusky Antichinus in our backyard I would like to know what to do because we need to clear our undergrowth. Can anyone tell me if these are common around the Mornington Peninsula.
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Discovery Centre 26 August, 2011 16:52

Hi Linda - both the Dusky and the Brown Antechinus are known from the Mornington Peninsula, and both species inhabit dense native undergrowth and litter and nest amongst fallen logs, etc.

In general terms, the removal of this habitat will mean the disappearance of this species from the area.

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Sheryl 11 September, 2011 18:25
I found a little critter on the road this morning it was moving very lethargicly so i stopped to check it out, i thought it had been hit by a car as it looked like its bowels were protruding but when i got closer it was a heap (7) little pinky babies attached to her belly. She hardly moved and was really cold, it had been raining all night, and the babies felt like ice, ive brought her home and warmed her and now shes quite active ive placed water, worms and millipedes in the box with her. Will she be OK if i release her and bubs into scrubland nearby, ( the babies come of the teats and then find them again occasionally). I live in the south western part of the Otway Ranges
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Discovery Centre 23 September, 2011 11:26

Hi Sheryl,

The animal sounds very much like an antechinus, particularly in that part of the world. If it's still in your care, your suggestion that it be released into bushland sounds like the best option.

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Jill Butterfield 23 October, 2011 10:33
I live right on the coast near Walkerville South in Victoria, and I have just been watching a little creature that I believe to be an Antichinus at around 1030 am. It looked to be similiar to the photos of Dusky Antichinus however it was eating and tugging at some of the grass. There has been no mention of them eating grass so I guess I am left wondering.
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Roz 20 December, 2011 03:53
Hi, after weeks of disagreement between my partner and I, I got some video footage of what I believe to be one of these fella's the Antechinus was wondering if you were interested in confirmimng this for me. I live in central/rural VIC
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Discovery Centre 20 December, 2011 10:50

Hi Roz,

The Discovery Centre can certainly assist you settle the disagreement with your partner! We have sent you an email in regards to our identification process.

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Lenore Meldrum 18 January, 2012 18:43
My home has been invaded by what I believe are a family of antechinus. My husband is currently undergoing chemotherapy post cancer surgery therefore has a lowered immune system. How can I rid my home of these pesky, smelly creatures - who may be carrying goodness knows what diseases? They have evaded all measures to trap or remove them.
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Discovery Centre 24 January, 2012 17:29
Hi Lenore - sorry to say, but without seeing a clear image of the animals in question there's not much we can suggest except to say that the behaviour you describe doesn't sound like Antechinus habits, and is more consistent with rodent activity. If you have any photographs of the animals, please send them through via 'Contact Us' at the bottom of this page. If they are Antechinus, then they don't pose anywhere near the potential health concerns of an introduced rat or mouse, which are far more likely to live in close proximity to humans
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Anika 21 February, 2012 22:45
We live in the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria, and discovered an antechinus nesting inside an old stereo speaker on the top of the buffet in the dining room. We named her Andy and she was great at non-toxic pest control, even getting in behind paintings hanging on the (exposed brick) walls to eat spiders etc. Unfortunately, she had about 7 babies who have all grown and are carving out their own territory INSIDE the house. We hear them fighting day and night, and running across the keyboard of the piano, trying to get into the rubbish bin, and frightening the wits out of unsuspecting guests. We are about to embark on a catch and release program - how far do we need to remove them from the house to ensure they don't return?
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Discovery Centre 12 March, 2012 15:05

Hi Anika,

We forwarded your question to Museum Victoria's Live Exhibits team, our animal keepers, and they responded with the following information:

Antechinuses can be useful in keeping out mice, but it is true that too many can outstay their welcome. Antechinuses wean at 100 days and it would be harmful to remove them from their mother before that time, but if they are active it seems they have already been weaned. Adults have both a foraging range (in which they seek food) and a larger social range (in which they interact with other Antechinuses), and our best guess would be that the young need to be taken at least 200m away from the house. Keep in mind that cats will quickly capture young Antechinuses, so try to let them go in areas that are cat-free.

Most enquiries to Melbourne Museum regarding Antechinuses turn out to be mice, but your description suggests these are the genuine article. There are a number of ways you can check or you can send us a photo, and we will be happy to identify them.

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Margaret Stockdale 25 March, 2012 15:06
A male Antechinus ate our Gouldian finches. We are very familiar with the Antechinus where we live, so it is not a case of mistaken identity. My husband caught the male Antechinus in the act! We were terribly upset. Thought you might like to know that they DO eat finches!
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Hanna 8 April, 2012 21:14
Hi. Fairly sure we had an Antechinus in our cupboard tonight, we live in Wedderburn, Vic. It looked very much like the picture on this page (knew it wasnt a rat when I saw its hairy/furry tale). We live on a 20 arce bush block, surronded by bush. They havent eaten anything inside but can be very noisy (and run when they realise we are there). I was just wondering if there was any way to deter them from coming in?
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Peta 9 April, 2012 09:19
Hi. a few months ago we erradicated a few pesky rats from downstairs shed, where we dont frequent much. Today Ive found poo, on the back deck, it does not look like rat poo. And I would have thought possum poo would be larger. Oval light to mid-brown scattered, less than 1cm in legth 1/2 cm wide. The deck is elevated. We used to get possums but havent seen any for awhile. Thanks
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marian 16 January, 2014 12:57
Sounds like it could be Ringtail Possum pellets or if they are completely round could be rabbit poo
Geoff 14 April, 2012 15:54
Hi. We have lots in the Black Spur, Narbethong. Found 8 in a empty rubbish bin. One had its ears eaten off, released all 8 and kept the one without ears. It died later that day. Two weeks later, again empty rubbish bin, found four, and two carcases, only fur, tail and upper jaw from one left. The rubbish bin was emptied the day before. How they got in a mystery! These lovely little fury creatures are Canibals!! And yes they are definately ANTECHINUS.
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DiscoveryCentre 28 April, 2012 11:17
Hi Hanna - This is an interesting question, but I'm afraid we're not in a position to answer it. We have had a few enquiries recently along these lines of people having suspected Antechinus houseguests, and in many cases the animals turn out to be rodents, although going by your description you may have bona fide Antechinus. Their activity tends to be seasonal in accordance with their breeding cycle, so it is possible that they move out of their own accord in time; beyond that I'm afraid we can't make any other suggestions, as Museum Victoria's doesn't have expertise on animal control.
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Discovery Centre 28 April, 2012 11:29

Hi Peta - there's no real way of identifying the scats you describe without an image, and even then scat can be difficult to identify. You may wish to track down this book, which should be available in most libraries (including ours here at the Melbourne Museum Discovery Centre), and you could try to identify the scat yourself. Otherwise, if you have clear images you can send them to us via the "Ask the Experts" page and we will try our best, although please be aware scat identifications can be very difficult.

Good luck!

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paisley 11 May, 2012 22:17
I live in suburban Frankston Vic and just found an antechinus in my backyard. It is all dopey and wobbly so probably a male on his way out. I called Wildlife Help on Mornington Peninsula cos I thought it was a bushrat and thought my to small dogs may have injured it, but after describing it, she suggested Antechinus. After much researh, I believe it is a Dusky Antechinus. I'm amazed to have it in my backyard and just remembered that around this time last year, we found another Antechinus in the yard which was also dying. The person we spoke to last year thought it was a bush rat, but I'm so glad I called WHOMP this time cos I know to just leave it alone and not let the dogs out unsupervised at night. I hope the antechinus' are breeding up a storm in my little patch of nature :)
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Paul 28 October, 2012 12:29
We live next to a bushland reserve and every year we get Antechinus visiting around this time of year. Year we we used a no kill trap to capture them and released them in the local national park - after the park rangers confirmed they were antechinus. Following year we realised they might be breeding females and that catch and release would probably mean a slow death for the young ones so these days we simply remove the temptation - dont leave food out in the kitchen and search for points of entry and blcok them off.
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Caroline 19 March, 2013 07:39
Just wondering if there'd been any recent research into deterring (verylovely) antechinus from coming into the house. We live in NE Victoria and have resident antechinus (plural!), which we love, but we're a bit sick of scats on our bench tops and in our kitchen drawers and having to remove fruit bowls etc. every night. They're definitely antechinus - I can sit at my desk and watch them scampering up and down the window frame only an arm's length away! Any smells they might not like? I know antechinus are meant to keep mice away, which is great, but I'd rather them not wee on my cutlery!
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Anika 20 June, 2013 20:24
I'm hearing you Caroline. After our success last year with catching and releasing our family of 8 antechinus, we were feeling smug until the mice moved in. This year the antechinus are back, lots of them, and they have gone crazy. They have eaten 1kg of brown sugar, a few packets of spicy burrito mix, and can't get enough of Lindt chilli chocolate. We bought a live mouse trap but they managed to eat the meat then vacate. Blocking access points is almost impossible in our exposed brick home, as these guys can squeeze into a hole the size of my thumb. We are sick of the wee and scats as well, and my mother-in-law is coming to stay! Can't someone help us??
Julie 25 March, 2013 22:28
Hello. Recently on a Camping trip to Lower Glenelg National Park, I saw and took a photo of something I can't identify. Antechinus, potoroo, bush rat bandicoot? I was hoping it was one of the rarer species, but I think its ears are too big. Can you help identify it?
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Narelle 1 April, 2013 19:07
Hi. I found a rat sized animal in a backyard in Forrest in the Otways. Reddish brown fur, pointy ears, tail about the same length and pointy snout quite like an antechinus. However, from my photos, I do not think it is one of them. Unfortunatly I found it dead in the backyard. It looked like it had just been born as it was covered in a sticky like substance. Took some photos, would love to know what it is. Thank you.
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Steve 11 December, 2013 18:16
Brown ( I think) Antechinus routinely enter my aviary which has very small 10ml mesh. I search for gaps in between panels etc but unsuccessfully. I live in a bush land setting - have been here30 years. Only discovered the antechinus in the last few years- they kill and remove diamond firetail finches and young feathered turquoise neophema's that I breed to release in local area( northern tablelands). I've found 'nests' a couple of times with finch equivalents( dismembered - no feathers) of Hannable Lector- with a very carniverous smell. How can I attract my 'friends' to a marsupial trap so as to relocate them? Steve
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