Dasyure: from Greek dasus and oura.

Dasyurus is what biologists named the small, long-tailed marsupials, reminiscent of cats, that they found in those intriguing faunas of Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania. The genus is what gave name to the entire Dasyuridae family, which includes the Tasmanian devil, tiger, native cats and several marsupial "mice". Dasyure can refer to either of these, but in this writeup, I will concentrate on the genus, the so-called true Dasyures.

Mostly Quolls

Dasyures have often been compared to cats. They are about the same size, nocturnal, look slightly similar, and prey on many of the same creatures - except, of course, that dasyures tend to be more omnivorous than our feline friends. They have therefore been called both native cats and tiger cats, but are more properly referred to as quolls. Farmers have seen the quolls as a nuisance because they have raided their yards of poultry, but at the same time they have worked as a useful form of "native cats" by hunting mice and insect pests.

Unfortunately for the native animals, imported cats and dogs have become their competitors by hunting the same prey. The fox, introduced to Australia to hunt rabbits, has reduced their number from the other end of the food chain, by turning against the smaller dasyures which previously had no natural enemies. A great epidemic in the beginning of the twentieth century further reduced the population, and in many places it has never recovered since.

The animals that still live hide in holes among rocks or in hollow trees during the day. At night they hunt for birds and small mammals, mostly on ground, but also occasionally in the trees. Their impressive eight upper and six lower incisor teeth set them apart from cats and gets them their bacon. Their pattern is also special and very important to the genus: They all have prominent white spots or blothches on their sides and back. The females have 6 to 8 mammas, but often produce many more embryos than they can feed, or even develop up to birth. Gestation is short, between 15 and 25 days depending on species. The young reach maturity after about one year.

Spotted-tailed Quoll / Tiger cat / Tiger Quoll (Dasyurus maculatus)

With a body length ranging from 400 to 760 mm and weighing 2-3 kg, the spotted-tail dasyure is the largest dasyure, and second largest among the world's carnivorous marsupials. The whole body, including the tail, is covered in white spots, and the colour of the fur varies from reddish to dark chocolate brown. Males can weigh up to 4 kg, females are much smaller. Compared to the eastern quoll, eyes and ears are much smaller, while the snout is thicker. This quoll is most commonly found in cool temperate rainforests and coastal scrub. The spotted-tail hunts both on the ground and in trees. It eats all it can kill or find, sometimes competing with the Tasmanian Devil himself.

This quoll can be found on Tasmania and in smaller numbers on the east coast of Australia's mainland. Because of trapping, poisoning and destruction of the forest, the number of d. maculatus has declined and it is considered an endangered species.

Common dasyure / Eastern quoll / Native cat (Dasyurus viverrinus)

This species differs from all the others in that it lacks a first toe on the hind foot. The cat-sized or smaller dasyure is nearly or totally extinct in mainland Australia, but is still widespread in Tasmania, and can also be found on the King and Kangaroo Islands.

The eastern quoll is covered in thick, soft fur that can be brown, fawn or ginger, while some individuals appear in a so-called black phase with fur appropriately dark for the name. In addition to the white spots on the body, the bushy tail may also have a white tip. It is related to the spotted-tail quoll, but more slightly built and with a pointier muzzle. The so-called native cat can be found in several habitats, but prefers dry forests and open country. It wanders around looking for insects, mammals and things to scavenge. Sometimes it hunts at daytime, but mostly it spends the day sleeping under stones or fallen logs.

Bronze Quoll/Marsupial cat (Dasyurus spartacus)

The rare bronze quoll lives on the savannah of southwestern Papua New Guinea; its only certain distribution is in the Wasur National Park, and it was only first described in 1988. The colour is, predictably, bronze to tan brown, the tail is black and spotless.

Black-tailed dasyure (Dasyurus geoffroii)

This dasyure has a soft and thick fur, the face is paler and grayer than the upper parts of the bpdy, and the white spots extend to the head, while the terminal part of the tail is black. It lives in the savannah of New Guinea and can also be found in remote parts of Australia, where its numbers have declined severely with human development.

New Guinea Quoll/Marsupial Cat, locally Gumbem and Jen (Dasyurus albopunctatus)

This quoll is endemic to New Guinea and can be found on Irian Jaya and possibly also Yapen. The animal was described in 1880. It lives in the rainforest as high up as 3,500 metres. It has a coarse coat and and hunts on the ground.

North Australian dasyure / Northern Quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus)

Together with the New Guinea Quoll, this is the smallest species of dasyure, with a body length of about 240-350 mm. This coarse-coated dasyure scuttles through many parts of Northern Australia and a bit to the east and west as well. It prefers woodland and rocky areas, and takes refuge in hollow trees by day, or sometimes even in abandoned buildings.

More Roughtails

Other animals called dasyure outside of the dasyurus family are the short-furred dasyure (murexia longicaudata), the broad-striped dasyure (murexia rothschildi), the three-striped dasyure (myoictis melas), and the speckled dasyure (neophascogale lorentzi).

Das"y*ure (?), n. [Gr. thick, shaggy + tail: cf. F. dasyure.] Zool.

A carnivorous marsupial quadruped of Australia, belonging to the genus Dasyurus. There are several species.


© Webster 1913.

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