Spotted-tailed quoll: life at the top of the (native) food chain

Name: Spotted-tailed quoll (Dasyurus maculatus)

Size: Length up to 1.3m (males), 75-90cm (females – half of which is tail). Weight: 4-6kg (males), 1.8-4kg (females)

Diet: Hypercarnivore eating mostly flesh, some invertebrates

Habitat/range: Tasmania, south-eastern Australia and tropical far North Queensland

Conservation status: Endangered

Superpower: A superb predator, and beautifully spotted, this Australian marsupial has presence.

Spotted-tailed quoll
Spotted-tailed quoll. Credit: Menna Jones

A supreme predator with loads of presence. Svelte and lithe. Sporting a gorgeously spotted fur coat – are we speaking of a Gucci model or a double agent? Meet the spotted-tailed quoll, one of the largest marsupial carnivores on Earth and an animal that Australians should know better, but for the fact they’ve been ousted from much of their range.

Roughly the size of a cat, spotted-tailed quolls are sleek and agile predators with outstanding climbing abilities. Where a cat climbs down a tree backwards, these quolls can scale the vertical trunks of large eucalypt trees and climb back down head-first with possum-in-mouth. They are known to scruff gliders in their daytime sleeping hollows high in the forest canopy. Lethal killers with a shrill cry sounding like a bench saw, spotted-tailed quolls dine on pademelons twice their size but also prey on small critters such as insects, small mammals and birds. Hence, they are “the terror” of the bush.

Spotted-tailed quoll
Spotted-tailed quoll. Credit: Auscape/Getty Images

Spotted-tailed quolls are found in eastern Australia from Tasmania to far north Queensland. Though they used to live right out into the semi-arid zone, land-clearing and foxes depleting their prey have seen the contraction in their mainland Australian range mostly to wetter forests at higher altitudes. Tasmania is now their stronghold where, in the absence of foxes, they are found even in agricultural areas, hunting and sleeping in woodland remnants but capable of crossing large expanses of open land. Out in the open they move fast, stepping between dense patches of vegetation and hugging cover along fence-lines, even using the long-to-short grass edge under electric fencing set for strip grazing of dairy cows to cross open paddocks.

This quoll is a do-gooder for conservation. They eat the problem: rabbits, rodents, even feral cats – although they mostly compete with cats for prey! With a little planning, people can live with quolls, thwarting quolls’ desire to book in for dinner with our chooks. Quoll-proof chook-shed designs provide rails for free-range chooks to fly up to a high window to enter the shed, beyond the leaping distance of quolls – and they work!

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Spotted-tailed quolls are ambassadors, connecting people with nature. These quolls are bold and have loads of presence. Wild quolls come into campgrounds, to huts and picnic spots for food, but are perhaps driven also by curiosity. These visiting quolls will usually be male and will be seen regularly at the same spots for about five years, their entire life. Bushwalkers in Tasmania have woken up with a quoll in their tent, nestled snugly into the warm of their back. Releasing wild quolls, most individuals will stop and look back, giving the researcher a long and penetrating gaze. At night, quolls will climb a tree behind the researcher where their vantage point allows them to watch the researcher packing up; a quoll has even followed me back to the vehicle, coming to my feet and looking up at me.

The spotted-tailed quoll tops the pile of the most beautiful and charismatic Australian mammals. It needs our help to recover its populations and once again be present in our daily lives.

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Spotted-tailed quoll. Credit: Menna Jones

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