How well do you know your natives?

Whether you have lived here your whole life or have just arrived, it is likely that many Australian native animals will be unfamiliar to you. Sure, you can identify a kangaroo, kookaburra or koala; but do you know your bush rat from your black rat? Or your bandicoots from your potoroos? Take a look through some of these photos and see how well you do.

These photos have been sourced from my Masters research with the University of Melbourne Fire Ecology and Biodiversity Group. We used motion-sensitive cameras to capture these critters, lured by a mixture of rolled oats, peanut butter, golden syrup and pistachio essence. This bait mix is effective for small mammals, but we have also managed to capture some incidental photos of other native species. You can click on the photos to enlarge them.

The Good.

Let’s start off with some iconic species.

 Eastern Grey Kangaroo (Macropus giganteus)

 Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) 

Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)           

Easy, right? Well here are some testers.

Bush Rat (Rattus fuscipes)

The Bush Rat is widespread along the coast of Victoria and prefers forest with a dense understory. The main identifying feature of the bush rat is the length of the tail: it should be approximately the same length as the body.

Swamp Rat (Rattus lutreolus)

Another native rat, the Swamp Rat, is also found along the coast of Victoria. This rat prefers dense, wet vegetation. You can distinguish the Swamp Rat from a Bush Rat by the length of the tail. Swamp Rat tails are considerably shorter than those of Bush Rats- only about 70% of the body length. Swamp Rats also tend to be darker in colour.

Southern Brown Bandicoot (Isodon obesulus)

The Southern Brown Bandicoot is about the size of a football and can be found along coastal Victoria. They prefer heathy vegetation and coastal scrub. Southern Brown Bandicoots can be identified by their long noses and the narrow base of their tails. They are listed as Endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC 1999)

 Long-nosed Potoroo (Potorous tridactylus)

The Long-nosed Potoroo is also about the size of a football and is a macropod (like the kangaroo). In Victoria, Long-nosed Potoroos are mostly found in heathy woodland along the coast. Long-nosed Potoroos have a broader tail base and their noses are a lot shorter than bandicoots. They are also identifiable by the way they stand: upright, like a kangaroo. Long-nosed Potoroos are listed as Vulnerable under EPBC (1999).

The Bad.

Unfortunately we do get some non-native pest species, and more common than we would like for our native forests.

The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) is one of them.

As are feral cats (Felis catus).

Cats and foxes are one of the drivers of mammal decline in Australia. You can help protect our native wildlife by keeping your cat indoors at night.

…and the Ugly.

Black Rat (Rattus rattus)

This angry creature is a Black Rat. This introduced species is common around human settlements and wetter disturbed environments. You can distinguish the Black Rat from most native rats by the length of the tail. The tail of a Black Rat is considerably longer than the length of the body (whereas the tails of most native rats are no longer than the body length). When comparing to Bush Rats, Black Rat ears are also much taller.

Improve your ID skills and contribute to science.

Interested in native wildlife or want to learn more? You can discover all about thousands of native species using the Atlas of Living Australia. You can also get involved in citizen science projects across Australia, and use your ID skills to contribute to distribution mapping of species. The greater the contribution to mapping, the greater the understanding and protection of our species- so get involved today.


8 Responses to “How well do you know your natives?”

  1. Ellen Rochelmeyer says:

    Thanks Heather! Putting in colour photos is great advice… I spent all my time looking at night photos I almost forgot day photos existed! In terms of the Thylacine, cameras could hypothetically be used, but you would have to know where the Thylacine is likely to be, what sort of bait it would be attracted to, and be prepared to go through tens of thousands of likely false triggers. I’ll admit, it would probably take a more dedicated person than me 😛

  2. Heather Smillie says:

    Great blog Ellen! I love how this felt like a bit of a game as well as an interesting blog.

    The only thing I can recommend would be to maybe put some clear colour photos next to the night-time motion-sensitive photos, just to help people more clearly see the animals.

    Also, could you please use your awesome camera trapping skills to go find the Thylacine in Tassie??? I really want to believe they still exist! 😛

  3. Ellen Rochelmeyer says:

    Yes we were lucky to get some photos of koalas, but it didn’t happen too often. The bait mix we used isn’t that attractive to koalas- we mostly just catch them strolling past not interested at all.

  4. Ellen Rochelmeyer says:

    Yes, some of the animals can be quite difficult to distinguish- often they have to pose just in the right way to be positively identified. We set the cameras to take five photos each time the animal moves, so it is more likely that we can get good photos for identification (some animals hang around for hundreds of photos!).

  5. Ellen Rochelmeyer says:

    Thanks Hockey! Great question. There is actually a landscape-scale fox baiting program currently being implemented in the Otways. It is hoped that this will reduce predation on small mammals. They will be monitoring the impacts of baiting on fox populations, as well as how cats and small mammals respond. You can read the abstracts of some of the research they are doing here.

  6. chiahsingh says:

    Motion-sensitive camera is so useful in wildlife management especially during the night I think. Identification skill is also important for wildlife conservation and invasive species management. I still find it a little bit difficult for me to distinguish bush rat and swamp rat, if some bush rat individuals happen to have shorter tails or lighter body color. XD
    Thank you for these fantastic photos! It’s my first time to see a koala on the ground!

  7. Alasdair Browning says:

    Fascinating to see some of our country’s most recognisable animals (and some not so) in the wild. It certainly looks difficult, at least to me, to distinguish between some of the animals, especially the bush rat and Potoroo. Also amazed to find out about the mixtures of foods used to lure!

  8. Hockey says:

    Cool research that you are doing Ellen!
    What can you do to minimise the influence of introduced species on our natural wildlife? I assume it is not ethical to physically eliminate fauna. However, if these species are intruding and transforming the ecosystem to the detriment of local species, surely action is warranted?