Eastern quoll: the two-flavoured treat

Name(s): Eastern quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus)

Size: Length 450 – 650 mm; weight 1.1 – 2 kg (males), 0.7 – 1.1 kg (females)

Diet: Opportunistic omnivore; mostly arthropods, small vertebrates and carrion

Habitat/range: Formerly widespread across south-eastern Australia, today wild populations are restricted to Tasmania

Conservation status: Endangered

Superpower: Eastern quolls come in two different flavours*, caramel and dark chocolate, both of which can occur within the same litter!

* This is an analogy. Do not eat under any circumstances!

A chocolate coloured eastern quoll being removed from a hessian sack
Credit: David Hamilton.

Quolls exude a natural charisma, and sport handsome patterns of spots and an often bold attitude towards human interactions. Even so, outside of Australia and New Guinea they remain one of the lesser-known marsupials. Ask most global citizens about a koala, a kangaroo or even a Tasmanian devil, and you’re likely to be met with nods of recognition. But mention a quoll, and most people will probably just think you’re trying to cheat at Scrabble.

Amongst an already charismatic group, the eastern quoll is the pick of the bunch – their bright pink nose and ears, combined with spots that really pop, are enough to make many of those encountering this marsupial for the first time gasp with delight.

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The latter part of their Latin name, viverrinus, translates to ferret-like – with their overall shape it’s easy to see where this comparison came from, but it fails to do them justice. Eastern quolls come in two colour morphs which co-occur across their range – a caramel hue with white underparts, or a rich dark chocolatey colour all over. Both colour morphs display the ubiquitous white spots, which cover the body but do not extend onto the tail.

The two colour morphs are so distinctive that people often mistake them for separate species: however, the marsupial’s fur colour is much the same as hair or eye colour in humans, with individual female quolls often raising litters made up of both caramel- and chocolate-furred joeys. Female eastern quolls can raise up to six joeys at a time, with multiple parentage also possible within litters – a litter of six joeys can have as many as six different fathers! After a couple of months in the pouch, the joeys will attempt to hitch a ride on mum’s back for as long as possible before being left in a den while she goes out foraging.

A small brown eastern quoll wrapped in a blanket being handled by a human with gloves
Credit: David Hamilton.

Eastern quolls used to occur quite extensively on mainland south-eastern Australia, but thanks to a combination of persecution, pressure from feral species and disease, they’re now restricted to the island state of Tasmania. Re-introduction efforts continue to be explored on the mainland, with hopes that the quolls can be a common sight once again in their former range.

In the meantime, the species has a bit of a “love ’em or hate ’em” profile within Tasmania: some locals love nothing more than the sight of an eastern quoll bouncing around their backyard, but others are concerned that their chicken coop needs to resemble Fort Knox to keep these spotty critters out. This existential threat to chickens can be slightly over-egged at times – the species has a very diverse diet consisting mostly of smaller prey. So having an eastern quoll around can be a fantastic thing if you have a mouse or locust problem.

In conclusion, eastern quolls are the sassy, spotty, sprightly contender that we need as Australian Mammal of the Year – be sure to vote quoll in this poll!

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