I feel privileged to have two native animal species (one critically endangered) call my garden home.
Australia is well known for its marsupials – mammals with pouches for their offspring. But I did not expect to be sharing my garden, my shed, and my fresh produce, with two species of marsupial.
Seven years ago, I made a sea change and moved to Albany on the south coast of Western Australia. It’s a town which calls itself a city and a place where I had lived before and love. The climate in Albany is milder and cooler than that of Perth, the capital of Western Australia, and growing conditions are better. I started a vegetable plot in my yard and was excited to see the rich soil and the abundance of earthworms. To begin, I planted tomatoes. They grew luxuriantly and produced many kilos of tomatoes. However, the fruit took a long time to ripen, due to the mild climate.
I waited not so patiently as the tomatoes blushed with colour and eventually turned red. It was at this point that I realized I had competition for my crop. I would pick a juicy, ripe tomato from the vine to find that the underside had been eaten. The top of the fruit was unblemished, but something was eating my long-awaited crop.
Late one afternoon, sitting out in the garden, I spotted a small hopping creature. A bandicoot.
Southern Brown Bandicoots AKA Quendas
There are eight species of bandicoots in Australia. The variety which is endemic to southern Western Australia is also known as a Quenda or Southern Brown Bandicoot.
Quendas are cute little animals averaging 300 mm or 12 inches in length (excluding the tail) with small ears, tails about 90mm in length, and a snout, although they are sometimes mistaken for rats. They dig holes with their forelegs and use their snout as a probe to locate food. “Snout pokes” in the garden are a sign that these little creatures have been hunting for food.
They are solitary - except during breeding season - and largely nocturnal, sleeping during the day in nests made of leaf litter hidden amongst the undergrowth. They are omnivorous and eat earthworms, beetles, and beetle larvae as well as fungi and vegetables. In the local area they are known to enjoy tomatoes as well as strawberries.
Along with the rest of the marsupial family, Quendas have a pouch. As Quendas are digging animals their pouch, like that of the Wombat is backwards to avoid it being filled with soil when they are digging.
Marsupial species typically have short gestation periods and give birth to small and immature live offspring. Their offspring then make their way to the mother’s pouch where they can suckle and continue to grow and develop. Quendas have a gestation period of only 12 to 15 days with the young weaned after 60 to 70 days. Females have eight teats and usually have litters of between two and four young.
I often see Quendas around my yard, usually at dusk or after nightfall and see ‘snout pokes’ in my produce garden and grassed areas.
Australia has 27 species of possum, ranging from tiny (and very cute) pygmy possums which weigh as little as 7 grams, to species which can weigh as much as 4.5 kg. The Western Ringtail Possum is found only in south of Western Australia and is classified as critically endangered.
Western Pygmy Possum.
Western Ringtail Possum
Western Ringtail Possums are arboreal (tree dwelling), and their preferred habitat is Peppermint trees (Agonis Flexuosa). Due to the destruction of vast tracts of their natural habitat for use by humans, and predation by cats and feral foxes, the population has declined. There are three strong remaining populations of Western Ringtail Possums in Western Australia, one of which is in and around Albany.
The possums which visit in my garden have migrated from the tract of bushland at the top of the hill and established their territory which extends over several gardens. Western Ringtail Possums are small, 30-40 cm in length with a white tipped prehensile tail roughly the same length as their body. They range in colour from grey to dark brown, with lighter fur on their underside. Adults weigh between 700 and 1300 grams.
Western Ringtail Possums sleep during the day, usually above the ground, either in naturally formed shelters, or ones they have constructed with leaves and twigs. They sometimes make their way into roof spaces where they thump and gallop around noisily.
Their gestational period is between two and four weeks and joeys emerge from the pouch at around 3 months of age and are weaned by the time they are 8 months old. Litter size varies from one, which is most common, to as many as three joeys.
I have seen both larger and smaller possums on the roof of my shed, so it seems they are happily settled, and reproducing. Although possums eat the leaves of native trees in the wild, they will also eat apples and roses – both of which they can find in my garden. Occasionally I see a possum late in the afternoon – and one was visiting my roof space regularly for a time – with accompanying thumps and the skittering of paws.
I'm happy to share my garden and fresh produce with these two species of native marsupial. For me, it's part of the charm of living in a semi-rural location. I also view it as an endorsement of the ecological friendliness of my garden - these little creatures must feel at home at my place, and that makes me feel good.
Do you share your garden with any wild animals?