Australian marsupial moles are poorly-known species from the northern and western Australian deserts. There are two recognised species of marsupial moles in Australia: Notoryctes caurinus and Notoryctes typhlops, which branched off from the marsupial family tree 64 million years ago. These small animals, weighing between 40 and 60 grammes, have the peculiar habit of ‘swimming’ through sand. Unlike most burrowing animals, marsupial moles tunnel and backfill as they go, pushing the loosened sand behind themselves with their webbed feet. They are very elusive due to their burrowing habits, and only recorded 5 to 10 times per decade.
Both species are currently assessed as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List. However, recent monitoring surveys based on the presence of sand-filled tunnels have revealed that both species are extremely abundant and wide-ranging. In central dunefields, 20 to 60 km of tunnels per hectare have been recorded, indicating that millions of marsupial moles may inhabit Australian deserts. High densities of tunnels have also been recorded alongside mining activities, suggesting that marsupial moles are tolerant to anthropogenic activities. Both species will be re-assessed as Least Concern in the future iteration of the Red List (J. Benshemesh, pers. comm.).
Photo credits: Uluru-KataTjuta National Park and Arkive.