Blind sand burrower, Itjaritjari (Southern marsupial mole), kakarratul (Northern marsupial mole)
These animals should not be confused with moles of the family Talpidae. Marsupial moles form a separate family, consisting of two living species: the northern and the southern marsupial moles. Moreover, these animals form a separate, very ancient marsupial order, having branched off from their ancestries about 64 million years ago. Small population, remote range as well as unusual habits have made these endangered animals two of the most infrequent and rarely found species in Australia. About two decades ago, they were nominated by Humane Society International for protection under federal law. The typical lifespans of both marsupial moles are uncertain due to lack of data. However, Southern marsupials are thought to live 1.5 years in the wild.
Both species inhabit deserts of Western Australia. Northern marsupial moles occur only in Great Sandy, Little Sandy and Gibson Deserts in north-central Western Australia, where these animals usually occupy dune fields, sand plains, interdunal flats and similar habitats. Their southern counterparts live in central regions of Australia, including the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia. They typically inhabit river flats and temperate deserts, especially favoring sandy dunes with enough vegetation.
Currently, there is insufficient information on the social habits and behavior of marsupial moles. However, they are likely to be solitary. They do not have any large or permanent burrows, where two or more animals could reside and socialize. Meanwhile, when above the ground, they do not appear to display any social behavior and interact with conspecifics. According to Aboriginal sources, these animals typically come to the surface during cooler days and after rain, though they are known do so at any time. When moving above ground, they are very sluggish and clumsy, usually walking with shuffling gait and being an easy target for local predators. They burrow temporary tunnels. During the digging process, the sand gives way and backfills behind the animal, so that the entrance of the tunnel looks from the outside like a small, oval-shaped site of loose sand. During the active hours of the day, these moles usually remain in their burrows, 20-100 cm below the surface.
Marsupial moles are mainly carnivores (insectivores). The diet of southern marsupial moles mainly consists of insects, supplemented with termites, ants, ant eggs, seeds as well as tiny reptiles. Northern marsupial moles typically consume small lizards and salamanders, seeds, eggs, beetles and centipedes.
There is little data on the reproductive behavior and habits of these animals. Northern marsupial moles mate in November. The mating season of their southern counterparts is unknown, although are likely to breed during the same period. Aboriginal people say that they know nothing about the reproduction of these animals and they have never seen the offspring of marsupial moles. Although there is no information on gestation, weaning and age of maturity, females are thought to yield 1 - 2 babies at a time, which are born undeveloped. At birth, the young climb into the pouch of their mother, where they feed upon maternal milk.
There's insufficient information on threats to populations of marsupial moles. The animals used to be hunted by Aboriginal people of the area. Nowadays, they are thought to suffer from predation by feral cats and foxes. The letters are known to catch marsupial moles on or near the surface. Marsupial moles are potentially threatened by changes in climate and fire regimes. They also face change in their natural habitat due to trampling of cattle and camels.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Northern marsupial mole is estimated to be between 10,000 and 50,000 mature individuals. However, the overall number of the Southern marsupial mole is between 10,000 and 100,000 mature individuals. Currently, both Marsupial mole species are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List with stable population trend.
On one hand, these animals play significant ecological role in the local ecosystem due to burrowing and thus aerating the soil and increasing water penetration. On the other hand, feeding upon insects, they greatly control numbers of various insect populations.