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 AntechinusPhotographer / Source: Gary Lewis
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.
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.
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.
The Dusky Antechinus is not threatened, but local populations are subject to the pressures of land clearing, which removes their food and nest sources.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We love receiving comments, but can’t always respond.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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!
Hi Vanessa,We are expecting the exhibition to continue until the 9th October 2016.
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We are expecting the exhibition to continue until the 9th October 2016.