Quolls are medium-sized marsupials predominantly occupying parts of Australia and Papua New Guinea. There are six distinct species of quolls of which four inhabit the woodlands of Australia while the other two species inhabit the shrublands and tropical regions of New Guinea. The Bronze quoll and the New Guinean quoll are found in the tropical island of Papua New Guinea while the Northern quoll, the Western quoll, the Eastern quoll, and the Tiger quoll occupy the island of Australia. Genetic evidence reveals that quolls evolved over 15 million years ago in the Miocene. The early settlers of Oceania referred to quolls as polecats due to their physical appearance. The six species vary in weight and size ranging from 11oz to 15lb. Since the discovery of the quolls in 1770 by Captain Cook, they have drastically declined in number with some becoming extinct in their original habitats.
Quolls are omnivorous marsupials. The size and weight of the quolls vary among the six species. Tiger quolls are the largest species with the male adults weighing 15lbs while the northern quolls are the smallest with the average male adults weighing 32oz. They have a sharp pointed snout, long tails, and brown to black fur with distinctively white spots. They are active, striking animals, with cheerful eyes, and a moist pink nose. They have many sharp teeth for slicing off its mammalian prey and crushing invertebrates. The females have six teats for breastfeeding their pups who are dependent on their mother until they are six months old.
Habitat and Range
Quolls are native to the mainland of Australia, New Guinea, and Tasmania where they occupy the woodlands, shrubs, and grassy regions. Although the six species were at one point extensively distributed in the three regions, they are only restricted to a few areas following the destruction of their natural habitats and introduction of predators. Each species is distinct to a specific geographic location where the tiger and eastern quoll are entirely mesic zone species inhabiting moister habitats and the others inhabit arid and tropical regions of higher rainfall. Quolls burrow their dens in logs or caves and mainly live alone. Their habitat ranges can extend for several miles with the range of a male quolls overlapping those of several females for mating purposes.
Although quolls are classified as omnivores animals, they have a predominantly meat-based diet where they feed on birds, insects, and small reptiles like lizards. Larger species such as the tiger quoll feed on larger mammals such as rabbits, hares, and possums. They also tend to feed nuts, fruits, and grass when they are available. As nocturnal animals, quolls are solitary foragers and usually hunt at night by stalking their prey before pouncing on it. Quolls kill their prey by pouncing on larger prey, sinking in their sharp claws while enfolding their jaws around the neck. For the small prey, they pin it on the ground with their strong front paws while using their sharp teeth to tear the flesh. In the event of bushfires and drought, quolls forage on carrion and sometimes rummage around rubbish bins and campsites in search of food. They usually obtain water from their food making them quite adaptable in times of drought.
Quolls are nocturnal creatures meaning that they spend their night's hunting and daytime hours resting. Unlike many nocturnal mammals, quolls enjoy the sunlit days basking in the sun rather than hiding in hollowed-out logs or rocky crevices. Although quolls have been seen climbing trees, they tend to live life on the ground. One interesting behavior about quolls is the use of share toilet areas in open spaces such as rock ledges. There are usually 100 dropping in the latrines and are used to demarcate their territories as well as for social functions. Quolls are mainly solitary creatures, with limited interactions with other quolls, and only interact during mating or during social activities. Quolls communicate through cries, hisses, and screams with each conveying a distinct message.
Male and female quolls only interact during the mating season, which occurs mainly in winter. After fertilization, the folds on the female’s abdomen fold over to form a pouch that opens at the back. All the species have a gestation period of 21 days after which the mother retreats to her den and gives birth to about eighteen pups. Since they are born prematurely, only six pups are able to survive within the first two weeks and they are carried in the mother’s pouch for eight weeks where they will be breastfeeding on one of the mother's six teats. Only the tiger quoll is a true marsupial since it has a true pouch. In the other species, the folds of skin around the mother’s teats act as the pouch for carrying and protecting the young pups. As the pups grow, they hang from their mother’s belly and on the ninth week, she carries them on her back. Quolls reach sexual maturity at the age of one and have a lifespan of two to five years.
Quolls have been classified as highly endangered species where their numbers are drastically declining in their natural habitats. They face major threats from the cane toad, which was introduced in Australia in 1935. The Department of Sustainability Environment Water Population and Communities state that the poisonous toad is highly intrusive and has been reported to clear a large population of the quolls after feeding on them. Introduction of invasive species of cats and foxes increased the competition for food resources as well as posed a major threat since the foreign species also prey on the quolls. Population pressure in Oceania has led to the destruction of the natural habitats in favor of urbanization, real estate development, agriculture, and mining leading to the decline of quolls in the island. Conservation efforts in Oceania led by the Department of Environment and Conservation have eliminated major threats such as foxes in a bid to restoring the population of quolls and enable them thrive in the wild. The Territory Wildlife Park has captured and bred several species of the critically endangered eastern and bronze quolls.