Image of live Sminthopsis longicaudata
Dorsal view of Sminthopsis longicaudata
Sminthopsis longicaudata skull
Image of footpad of Sminthopsis longicaudata showing distinguishing features

Long-tailed Dunnart

Sminthopsis longicaudata

A small carnivorous marsupial, about the size of a mouse with an extremely long tail terminating in a tuft.

Morphology

The long-tailed dunnart is unique among dunnarts in that its tail is twice the length of the head and body. They are grey with a very pale underbelly, white legs and feet. The head is flattened and it has a long snout and large black eyes. Adults weigh 15-20 g. Footpads are clearly striated, an adaptation to gripping to the rocky surfaces where this species occurs.

Evolution

The long-tailed dunnart belongs to the Family Dasyuridae, the carnivorous marsupials. This group is part of the Australian radiation of marsupials and they occur in Australia and Papua New Guinea. Dasyuridae is further divided into the sub-family Sminthopsinae, which includes the dunnarts, planigales, ningauis and the monotypic kultarr. Sminthopsini and Planigalini clades are thought to have diverged around 20 mya, during the Miocene, and genetic lineages within the Sminthopsis (dunnarts) diverged around 15-10 mya such that the species occurring today had all diverged by the early Pliocene. Dunnarts are endemic to Australia, with one species also occurring in New Guinea. The dunnart genus, Sminthopsis, is large and contains 18 currently recognised species with some representing polyphyletic groups containing unresolved taxonomy. The long-tailed dunnart was only known from a few specimens prior to the 1970s when more individuals and populations were discovered. It is known from remote and disparate locations throughout the arid zone and in association with rocky habitats. While records of this species are few and far between, it has been found to be reasonably abundant when a known population is sampled. Due to the highly patchy nature of long-tailed dunnart records and the distance between populations the dispersal ability of this species is potentially very poor. Consequently, it is likely that this species contains a high degree of genetic structuring throughout its range, with little gene flow occurring between populations.

Behaviour

Its long tail is muscular at the base and is highly mobile. This dunnart moves with agility in its rocky habitats utilising the long tail and striated foot-pads to assist with climbing. They feed on a variety of invertebrates.

Method of reproduction

Breeding occurs in October and November and the female can bear up to six young. Young disperse in March-April (Murchison area).

Habitat

Terrestrial

Exposed rock and stony soils with hummock grasses and shrubs. Flat-topped hills, lateritic plateaus, sandstone ranges and breakaways. Sparse mulga over spinifex.

Distribution

Gibson Desert, southern Carnarvon Basin, Rangelands and Pilbara in WA. McDonnell Ra. NT. Sub-fossil material from Cape Ra. WA.
Not endemic to Western Australia.

Taxonomy

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Dasyuromorphia
Family: Dasyuridae
Subfamily: Sminthopsinae
Tribe: Sminthopsini
Genus: Sminthopsis
Species: longicaudata
Rank: species
Commercial Impact: 

None

Conservation Assessment: Near Threatened
State Conservation Status: Priority Four: Rare, Near Threatened and other species in need of monitoring

Net Conservation Benefits Fund

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Western Australian Museum Collections http://museum.wa.gov.au/online-collections/names/sminthopsis-longicaudata
Accessed 18 Dec 2017

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