“Wambenger” is an Aboriginal word for a small Australian marsupial also known as a phascogale (pronounced fas-koh-gale). This name means “pouched weasel” and was used by early European settlers because of the animal’s similarity to the tenacious carnivore of the northern hemisphere.
There are two different species of wambenger: the brush-tailed and the red-tailed, both of which occur in WA. The brush-tailed variety, however, prefers forest and woodland, and is the only species to occur in jarrah forest, including the Perth Hills and southwest.
Males of this species do not live past the age of one, as they die after reproducing. Just here for a short time but a good time, must die with a smile on his face!
The Brush-tailed Phascogale was first described by Friedrich Meyer in 1793; George Shaw published a revised description in 1800. The species is closely related to the red-tailed phascogale. Its scientific name, tapoatafa, is a reference to an indigenous Australian name for the species. It has sometimes been known as Phascogale penicillata, referring to its brushed tail.
This Phascogale is black. Its tail is covered with long black hairs on the lower half that can erect, causing it to appear like a bottle brush. The body length is between 16 and 27 cm (6.3 and 10.6 in) with a 16 to 24 cm tail. Males, which can reach up to 310 grams (11 oz), are larger than females, normally weighing less than 210 g.
This species is a nocturnal and arboreal hunter. It eats smaller mammals, birds, lizards, and insects, particularly spiders. Plus it also drinks nectar from flowering trees. The species has been reported to attack domestic poultry.
The Brush-tailed phascogale is a host of the Acanthocephalan intestinal parasite Australiformis semoni.
Breeding occurs between June and August when the females come into estrus. All male brush-tailed phascogales die before reaching one year of age, generally from stress-related diseases brought about by the energy expended in a bout of frenzied mating. However, some captive males have lived to the age of three, though they were reproductively unviable after the first year. Females nest in hollow trees, bearing litters of 7 to 8 young which stay in the nest to the age of 5 months.
So when you are next walking through jarrah forest at night, scanning the canopy with your torch, a sharp eye might give you a glimpse of this rare native mammal. Sometimes seen around the accommodation at Yelverton Brook most likely attracted to bug/insects coming in for the lights while watching for other native nocturnal fauna.
If your lucky it’s a rare sight to see one as they live in low densities, with individual females having a home range of about 50ha (about 10 per cent of Perth’s CBD). Males require more than twice this. Emerging from the safety of their tree-hollow home well after dark, they spend most of the night in the canopy, climbing expertly through the branches and catching insects with their sharp teeth. Their cryptic behaviour, low numbers and the fact that many are eaten by cats, foxes, owls and goannas means wambengers are rare.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
While many Australians have probably never heard of a wambenger, they are an important part of what makes our landscape unique. They can also be a natural form of pest control, eating many of the spiders, ants and cockroaches we humans find annoying. The main thing these cute animals need to survive is habitat (that is, native vegetation with big, hollow-bearing trees), so you can help them by supporting the protection of bushland in your local area.
Fun Facts: At 250mm, a wambenger’s tail can be longer than its body.
They weigh about the same as an iPhone 4 (about 150-200g).
Their black “bottlebrush” tail has hairs as long as a matchbox (50mm).
While climbing, a wambenger can leap 2m between branches.
Like many carnivorous marsupials, all males die after breeding.
Wambengers eat mostly spiders, crickets, centipedes and even bull ants but will also feed on nectar and sometimes small birds.
In WA they are classified as “vulnerable”, which means they can be threatened with extinction if habitat continues to be lost.