Kultarr: the “kul-est” mammal

Name: Kultarr (cool-tar) (Antechinomys laniger), also known as the wuhl-wuhl and the pitchi-pitchi.

Size: Length: around 20cm long, more than half is tail! Weight: 10-15g

Diet: Insectivore

Habitat/range: Most of Australia’s arid and semi-arid regions

Conservation status: Least concern, endangered in NSW.

Superpower: By day: they “kul” their body down to just 11oC.

A wild kultarr stands on cracking red soil
Kultarr, SA. Credit: Kristian Bell/Getty Images

Kultarr are Australia’s kulest animal, which is impressive considering they live in the desert! You probably haven’t heard of them. That’s because they are nocturnal, live out in the middle of nowhere, and are super shy – even scientists have trouble finding them! They live across the outback, from Cobar all the way to the west coast, making them one of Australia’s most widespread marsupials.

Kultarr are in the marsupial family Dasyuridae alongside quolls and Tassie devils, and are most closely related to dunnarts. They have super long, skinny legs, a long tail and huge ears – perfect for running around in the desert slaloming between the spinifex. They are often mistaken for hopping mice, and although they look similar, Kultarr don’t hop at all, they gallop on all four legs at up to 13.8km/h. The females carry 6-8 babies around the desert in their pouch at a time.

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Kultarr are nocturnal and love snacking on any insects they can find. They may be small, but they can be ferocious when they’re hungry! When there isn’t much food around, Kultarr enter torpor, a state where they curl up in a burrow and slow their heart rate down to reduce energy and water loss. This can last up to 16 hours a day and reduces their body temperature to just 11oC – they really are the kulest mammal!

Although Kultarr are very widespread, many populations have been badly affected by land clearing and industrial agriculture. Populations have decreased in many farming regions like central New South Wales and the Western Australia wheatbelt. Populations in Victoria, southern NSW and northern Queensland are sadly already extinct.

A kultarr sits on red desert soil
Kultarr, Alice Springs Desert Park, NT. Credit: Mark Marathon (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Because they are so elusive, not very much is known about them and we aren’t even sure how many species of Kultarr there are. Research on their skull shape suggests there might actually be two species of Kultarr: Antechinomys laniger which lives in the semi-arid east, and Antechinomys spenceri which lives in the central and western deserts – but this is highly controversial. Not only that, but some recent genetic studies have suggested there may even be a third group out there. Whether these groups represent new species or new subspecies remains to be seen – next year you might even have the agony of having to choose which Kultarr species is your favourite!

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