Northern Marsupial Mole, Northwestern Marsupial Mole
(Notoryctes caurinus)
Marsupial moles have silky golden brown fur and are well adapted to a fossorial (underground) lifestyle. They have powerful streamlined bodies, strong forelimbs and reduced eyes, like true moles. Despite these superficial similarities the two groups are completely unrelated. Marsupial moles are more closely related to other Australian marsupials, from which they diverged as long as 64 million years ago. The northern marsupial mole is slightly smaller than its southern relative, although the two species are often confused in the field. Both species are thought to be declining as a result of predation and habitat degradation.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Surveys to determine status and distribution, further research into behaviour and ecology and the impact of potential threats.
Western Australia.
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Notoryctemorphia
Family: Notoryctidae
Although they share many characteristics with other marsupials, marsupial moles are not closely related to any of the living marsupials. They comprise their own marsupial order, the Notoryctemorphia, which may have branched off from other lineages as long as 64 million years ago. The marsupial moles are the only Australian mammals that have become specialised for a fossorial (burrowing) lifestyle. They strongly resemble the golden moles of Africa (family Chrysochloridae), despite having evolved completely independently. The two lineages have been separated since the Mesozoic Era, yet the two groups are strikingly similar in appearance (both have golden fur and fused eyelids, whereas the tiny eyes of the true moles are still functional). The superficial similarities between these species and true moles (family Talpidae) have arisen as a result of all three groups evolving similar adaptations to their underground environments – an example of convergent evolution. There are thought to be two species of marsupial mole: the northern marsupial mole (Notoryctes caurinus) and the southern marsupial mole (Notoryctes typhlops). Recent evidence suggests that there are northern and southern forms of the northern marsupial mole, although the taxonomic status of these two forms has yet to be clarified.
Head and body length: 90-180 mm
Tail length: 12-26 mm
Weight: approx. 40-66 g
Marsupial moles are similar to placental moles in size and appearance. They spend the majority of their time underground, and have powerful streamlined bodies that are well suited to moving through the sandy soil they inhabit. They have strong forelimbs with large flat claws on the third and forth digits for digging, a protective horny shield over the snout, and fused vertebrae in the head and neck region to provide rigidity. Living underground, they have little need for vision, and the eyes are reduced and non-functional. They lack external ears and have slit-like nostrils to prevent sand from entering. The female’s pouch opens to the rear so that it does not fill with earth when burrowing. The fur is short and silky and varies in colour from cream or gold to pinkish or golden brown (a result of iron-staining from the sand). The northern and southern marsupial mole are very similar in appearance and often confused in the field. The northern marsupial mole is slightly smaller than the southern species.
The marsupial moles are the most fossorial of all the marsupials, only occasionally venturing to the surface. They spend the majority of the time tunneling just below the surface of the ground. Distinctive track marks are often seen on the sand just after heavy rains, although it is not clear whether the animals emerge more often at these times, or whether the tracks are simply visible. Marsupial moles push through the sandy soil with their horny noses, scooping up the sand with their foreclaws and throwing up the sand with their hind feet. The tunnels collapse behind the moles as they travel. They appear to be active both during the day and at night, feeding on a variety of prey species including ant pupae, sawfly larvae, beetles, scarabaeids, longicorn beetle larvae and cossid moth larvae. The moles are thought to breed in November, producing one or two young which move into the backwards-facing pouch after birth.
The species inhabits sand dunes, interdunal flats and sandy soils along river flats.
The species is known only from the Gibson and the Great Sandy Deserts in Western Australia.
Population Estimate
Population Trend
According to the 2006 IUCN Red List, no declines have been recorded for this species. However, the lack of records over recent years gives cause for concern. It is an Arid Zone Critical Weight Species and around 90% of such taxa have either become extinct or suffered serious declines.
Classified as Endangered (EN A1c+2c) on the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The main threats to the species are unknown, but it is thought that predation by introduced foxes, feral cats and dingoes is having an adverse affect on populations. Other possible threats include changed fire regimes as well as trampling and habitat changes caused by introduced cattle and wild camels.
Conservation Underway
Scientists are working with Aboriginal people and international volunteers to develop and apply rapid and reliable survey and monitoring techniques so as to understand more about the distribution, ecology and threats facing the species. Work has also focused on raising awareness of the species amongst landowners, ecotourism operators and the general public, with emphasis on the importance of reporting sightings. Genetic work on the different forms of marsupial mole is currently underway at the South Australian Museum in order to resolve taxonomic issues. Management of fire regimes and feral predator baiting throughout the sandy deserts might have benefits for the conservation of the species.
Conservation Proposed
The Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Environment for the Northern Territory launched a Recovery Plan for the species in 2004 which aims to obtain more information on the status of marsupial moles. Specific objectives include determining the status and distribution of the species, obtaining information on behaviour and ecology, resolving taxonomic issues and addressing the threats facing marsupial moles. The recovery process will be managed through a recovery team.
Australian Government: Department of the Environment and Heritage. Species Profile and Threats Database. Notoryctes caurinus Karkarratul, Northern Marsupial Mole

Australasian Marsupial & Monotreme Specialist Group. 1996. Notoryctes caurinus. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 19 July 2006.

Benshemesh, J. 2004. National Recovery Plan for the Marsupial Moles Notoryctes typhlops and N. caurinus, 2005-2010. Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Environment, Northern Territory, Australia.

Nowak, R. M. 1999. Walker’s Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

Distribution map based on data provided by the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment.

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