The musky rat-kangaroo is claimed to be the smallest kangaroo in the world. Its rat-like appearance and musky smell is the reason for its common name of "musky rat-kangaroo".
The musky rat-kangaroo is very different from other macropods and has remained relatively unchanged for over 20 million years and does not hop. While often claimed to be the smallest kangaroo, this is in fact incorrect. Only the four largest macropods are classified as kangaroos. The musky rat kangaroo is actually the smallest macropod.
The musky rat-kangaroo has a body length of 21-34cm with an additional 7-12cm of tail. It weighs between 330-680gms. It is dark brown in colour. Its head is greyish brown in colour with large ears and eyes, and a pointed snout.
The musky rat-kangaroo's tail is thin and rat-like, with scaly skin (no fur). This tail is prehensile too, like a potoroos and bettongs and capable of grasping. Its feet have five digits on all four limbs and the toes on its hind feet are well articulated and none are fused. It has opposing thumbs on its hind feet which are usually found on animals that climb trees, but the musky rat-kangaroo does not climb trees. Unlike other macropod which are usually active at night time, the Musky rat-kangaroo is active during the day. At night it sleeps in a nest made of dry leaves. Other differences include an unspecialised teeth, a simple digestive tract and its tendency of birthing twins or triplets. Males and females are similar in appearance and colour, but males are slightly larger.
The musky rat-kangaroo has remained relatively unchanged for over 20 million years and is believed to be the most primitive type of macropod. It is thought that macropods evolved from tree dwelling possum-like ancestors about 50 million years ago. Although ground-dwelling its hind feet still feature 'thumb-like' toes, and it has a prehensile tail similar to that of tree-dwelling possums.
Even though Musky rat-kangaroo has large hind legs like other macropods, it doesn't hop at all. Instead, it bounds along on all four legs more like a rabbit, rather than hop on two legs like a kangaroo.
The Musky rat-kangaroo’s usual mode of locomotion is a slow gait in which the forepaws are placed on the ground and the hind feet brought forward in unison beneath its body and placed behind the font limbs. Then the front legs are lifted, the body extended, and the front paws placed a distance ahead of the rear one, and the process repeated. Unlike a kangaroo that uses its tail as a support at slow speeds, the Musky rat-kangaroo holds is tail above the ground and stretched out behind it. The tail does not act as a support. Fast locomotion is a version of the slow gait but with its hind legs places forward outside its fore legs.
Whilst the Musky rat-kangaroo has a thumb-like toe on each of its hind legs and a prehensile tail, both of which are characteristic of a tree-climbing animal, it does not climb trees.
©Brolga Healing Journeys
While the musky rat-kangaroo no longer uses its prehensile tail to grasp tree branches, it has found a handy use for this dexterous tail. It uses it carry things.
The musky rat-kangaroo picks up nesting material with its mouth, transfers the material to its forepaws, then places this on the ground in front of the hind feet. It then curves its tail down and forward, lifts its body up with its weight transferred onto its forelimbs and kicks the material with its airborne hind legs into its curled tail. It then tightens its tail around the material to grasp it firmly and moves off carrying its small bundle behind it. (Note: The photograph is of a brush-tailed bettong which also carries bundles).
The musky rat-kangaroo lives in the tropical forests of north-eastern Queensland, Australia. Some populations are also found in New Guinea). In Australia it ranges from Mount Amos in the north to Mount Lee in the south at elevations from sea-level to 1200m.
It prefers dense rainforests near water courses rich with fruiting trees and vines.
Musky rat-kangaroos are primarily frugivores, their favoured diet is fruits. They forage on the forest floor for fruits, seeds, invertebrates and fungi. They prefer large fleshy fruits and seeds with a soft to moderate seed coat. They also supplements their diets with invertebrates and fungi.
Musky Rat-kangaroos hold hard shelled insects and seeds in its forepaws and turns its head to one side so that the sectorial premolars can shear through though exoskeletons and seed covers. With the head then directed forward, the incisor teeth are used to pull the innards out and chewed before swallowing.
Forest plants often produce fruit for only a short period of time. So musky rat-kangaroos, in a trait similar to squirrels in North America, bury fruits and seeds in various locations for retrieval later. Many of these hidden stashes are never retrieved which has a beneficial effect on a number of plant seeds that only germinate if buried in this way. Like another rainforest animal, the Cassowary, the musky rat- kangaroo plays a vital part in forest vegetation propagation and regeneration.
Musky rat-kangaroos eat the lowest-fibre diet of all macropods. This is reflected in their simpler, less specialised digestive tract.
The musky rat-kangaroos have no significant predators (Luckily dingoes, feral foxes and cats do not like living in tropical rain forests), and are not considered to be endangered.
TrishansOz © Copyright Senani Ponnamperuma.
All Rights Reserved.