Kowari: a deceptively vicious little predator

Name(s): Kowari (Dasyuroides byrnei), derived from the traditional name kariri given by the Diyari people of far north South Australia. Defunct names include the Brush‐tailed Marsupial Rat, Bushy‐tailed Marsupial Rat, Brushy‐tailed Marsupial Rat, and Byrne’s Crest‐tailed Rat.

Size: Head-body length 13-18 cm, tail length 11-16 cm; weight 55-180 g

Diet: Carnivorous, eating a range of invertebrates, small mammals, reptiles, birds, and eggs

Habitat: Found on the gibber plains of north-eastern South Australia and south-western Queensland

Conservation status: Vulnerable

Superpower: Oddly enough, the kowari carries a distinctive smell, which has been likened to that of a mop!

A kowari running
A kowari running. Credit: Ariana Ananda

Kowaris are the greatest Australian animal you’ve never heard of!

Small, solitary, and vicious, the kowari thrives where few brave souls dare to venture. Deep in the heart of the Australian arid zone, kowaris burrow into the sand mounds found scattered across the gibber plains of the stony desert bioregion. While their current range is restricted to north-eastern South Australia and south-western Queensland, their historical range extended north into the Northern Territory and further south towards Lake Eyre.

Voting for Australian Mammal of the Year 2023 is now open!

Visit our voting page here to learn more about the categories and to vote for your picks for Australian Mammal of the Year.

Kowaris are fascinating creatures. Prancing across the landscape in the darkness of night with its distinctive bushed tail raised high, the kowari is a highly efficient predator and will attempt to feast on anything smaller than itself… and potentially a few things larger as well!

Membership of the family Dasyuridae places the kowari alongside more well-known predators such as the Tasmanian devil, quoll species, and the extinct thylacine. Like their larger counterparts, kowaris consume a wide variety of prey including invertebrates, reptiles, small mammals, birds, and eggs, and do not need to drink water as they obtain sufficient moisture through their diet. They will even eat smaller dasyurid species – sorry, no friends in the food game!

Nb kowari zoom
Credit: Nathan Beerkens

Kowaris have even been observed to ward off attacks from predatory birds by standing their ground and launching themselves at their would-be predators. By disrupting the initial capture attempt, they can buy time to locate a nearby burrow and escape to safety.

Worryingly, the kowari’s remaining fragmented populations are under threat from pastoral activity and invasive predators, and these dasyurids have thus far demonstrated a poor ability to disperse back into suitable habitats that they once called home. To find out more about ongoing kowari research and to help protect this unique Australian species, visit the Team Kowari website.

Please login to favourite this article.