Tuan, Common wambenger, Black-tailed phascogale, Black-tailed mousesack
The brush-tailed phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa ), also known by its Australian native name tuan, the common wambenger, the black-tailed mousesack or the black-tailed phascogale, is a rat-sized arboreal carnivorous marsupial of the family Dasyuridae, characterized by a tuft of black silky hairs on the terminal portion of its tail. Males of this species do not live past the age of one, as they die after reproducing.
The magnificent Brush-tailed phascogale has an unusual ‘bottle brush’ tail, which is covered with long, silky, black colored hairs that can be erected on occasion. The head and body of this marsupial are grizzled grey, while the under parts are pale cream. Females of this species have a 'fake' pouch: they simply have a pouch area, exhibiting noticeably coarser, brown colored hairs with light tips. Males of this species show die-off shortly after mating, without even reaching 1 year old. Life expectancy of females is up to 3 years.
Brush-tailed phascogales are only found in Australia. The range of Northern subspecies includes the northernmost part of Western Australia, the northern coastline of the Northern Territory and the northern tip of Queensland. Other subspecies are distributed from Rockhampton (Queensland) southwards to the Mount Lofty Ranges in South Australia to southern Western Australia. They live in humid and arid habitats in dense to open forests, meanwhile preferring to nest and forage in eucalyptus forests. However, these marsupials are most frequently found in open, dry schlerophyll forests with sparse vegetation on the ground.
The Brush-tailed phascogales demonstrate activity during the nighttime hours, between dusk and dawn. These solitary animals forage only in the tree canopy. Home ranges of male individuals usually overlap with these of conspecifics, enlarging during the breeding season. Home ranges of female phascogales vary from 20 to 70 ha in size, without overlapping with these of unrelated females. Brush-tailed phascogales are generally arboreal, living in trees and rarely descending to the ground. When moving between trees, these excellent climbers can take long leaps of up to 2 meters. Their nests and shelters are located in tree hollows, typically lined with leaves, shredded bark as well as faeces. When disturbed, phascogales will give out an alarm call by producing a low, hissing sound. When encountering an opponent or rival, they are known to give out various chit-chit sounds.
These marsupials are carnivores, they mainly consume cockroaches, centipedes, spiders, ants and moths and beetles. They complement their usual diet with nectar from plants as well as small birds and mammals.
Brush-tailed phascogales have a polygynous mating system. They breed only 3 weeks, from mid-May to July, during which males move from one female to another every 2 - 3 days. After a gestation period of 30 days, the female produces a litter of 3 - 8 joeys. Females develop a fleshy rim on their pouchy area, which encloses the young. The newborn joeys climb into this 'pouch', where they continue to grow. By 7 weeks old, the babies move to a nest, where they remain until 5 months of age. Sexual maturity is reached by 10 months old.
During the last 30 years, the range of this species has reduced to 50%. This sharp decline is likely to be caused by clearance of favorable habitat. In addition, logging and mining leads to alteration of their habitat, due to which the animals lose a huge number of trees with suitable hollows, which they use as nesting sites. On the other hand, this phascogale is hunted by cats, foxes and other introduced predators, while feral cats and cane toads are a source of disease for this species.
The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of the Brush-tailed phascogale total population. However, their numbers are decreasing today, and the species is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List.
Being insectivorous, these animals affect insect populations in their range.