Woylie/Brush-tailed Bettong (Bettongia penicillata)

Endagered Species Classification

Extinct in the Wild
Critically Endangered
Conservation Dependent

Woylies once lived right across southern Australia – from the western slopes of the mountains in NSW and Victoria, across South Australia and into Western Australia. When foxes and cats were introduced to Australia they found the Woylie to be just the right size for a snack. By the 1970s, its distribution had been reduced to three locations in Western Australia: Perup forest, Tutanning Nature Reserve and Dryandra Woodland.

Since the 1970’s intervention by Government and private organisations has seen the Woylie reintroduced to a feral-free sanctuaries in Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. Sadly, the survival of the Woylie is still not guaranteed, as the Western Australian population has suffered a serious decline in recent years and the species has once again been listed as endangered.  No one yet knows what has caused this recent decline, although an increase the feral cats is suspected to be the main cause.  FAME is supporting the re-establishment of the Woylie at Wadderin Sanctuary in the wheat belt region of Western Australia.

Appearance: The Woylie is a tiny member of the kangaroo family.  It has the shape of a kangaroo, but is only about the size of a guinea pig.  As the name suggests, it has a long, flexible, brush-like tail, which is used it to carry nesting material from one place to another.  When asleep in the nest the Woylie will often wrap its tail around its neck for warmth.

Behaviour: Woylies are bold and aggressive members of the Kangaroo family and, like their bigger cousins, demand their rights if they meet another adult while searching for food.  Big Kangaroos challenge one another by rearing back on their hind legs and kicking or grappling.  Woylies lie on their side and kick at each other with much guttural arguing.

Diet: During the night Woylies will cover many kilometres exploring, looking for food and mates.  They eat a mixture of roots, tubers, seeds, fungi and insects.  They have an excellent sense of smell and use this for locating their food and finding their way around.

If there are more seeds than the Woylie can eat, or if the seeds are too hard or large, they are collected in the mouth and carried away in the cheek pouches to be buried.  A shallow hole is dug with the forepaws and the seeds spat into the hole.  Then, with a backward hop the hind legs push dirt over the seeds. It is believed that this behaviour may be important in the life cycle of many Australian native plants.  When food is in short supply the buried seeds, which by this time have sprouted, are uncovered and eaten – but seeds not found will germinate and grow into new plants.

Woylies also help to control the insects that attack plants like Eucalypts and Acacias.  In late spring and early summer many insects (moths and beetles) emerge from cocoons and holes in both living and dead timber.  Woylies love to eat these insects, jumping up to catch them in their forearms and munching them with relish.

Click here to download a factsheet about the Woylie/Brush-tailed Bettong (Bettongia penicillata)

Last updated May 2015