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.
Classified as Endangered (EN A1c+2c) on the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Marsupial moles are prized for their luxurious golden fur, and numbers are thought to have declined rapidly between 1900 and 1920, when several thousand marsupial mole pelts are thought to have been traded by Aboriginal people to Europeans and Afghan cameleers. The main threats to the species today 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.
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 to 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.
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.