A northern bettong looking at the camera amongst leaves and grass © Stephanie Todd / JCU / WWF-Aus

A northern bettong looking at the camera amongst leaves and grass © Stephanie Todd / JCU / WWF-Aus

Northern bettong

The northern bettong is a fussy animal. Not just any accommodation or meal will do. No, the northern bettong carefully fashions a private nest of grass, leaves and bark where the tropical rainforest meets the grassy woodland of Queensland's Wet Tropics. And while roots and tubers and cockatoo grass will suffice in drier times, the bettong has a refined taste for truffles (the fruiting bodies of underground fungi).

This small macropod is a solitary customer, too. It spends all day sheltering in its nest, emerging at night to forage for its beloved truffles, moving about in a low, springy hop. Rounded diggings and spit-balls of undigested grass (called oorts) track its nocturnal forays.

With an average body length of just over 30 centimetres and weighing in at a little more than one kilogram, this delicate creature lives for only about six years. Although it was once widely distributed, the northern bettong seems to have disappeared from all but one small area near Cairns, in far north Queensland.


What WE'RE doing

See our projects on the northern bettong.

A northern bettong is held in a blanket by WWF's Jess Koleck © Stephanie Todd / JCU / WWF-Aus

Why it matters 

New research is showing that the northern bettong plays an essential role in maintaining the health of its complex forest community. A large part of the bettong's diet is made up of truffles (fungi that grow underground on the roots of trees), which make them one of the top truffle dispersers. In fact, quite a few truffles seem to be eaten only by bettongs, making them completely dependent on bettongs for the dispersal of their spores.

Lose the disperser and some of the truffles could disappear. Take away the truffles and some of the trees that depend on the truffles could also be lost. You see, just as the truffles need the tree for water, sugar and a place to grow; the trees rely on the truffles to fix and make nutrients available from the very poor soils that they’re growing in. This rare ecosystem, an area of less than 500 square kilometres, is so delicately poised that removing one element – the bettongs, the truffles or the trees – could just cause the whole ecosystem to collapse.

Northern bettong close-up, Queensland © Stephanie Todd / JCU / WWF-Aus

Bettongia tropica

Species Bio

Common Name

Northern bettong

Scientific Name

Bettongia tropica

Stats

They’re small! Adults weigh on average only 1.2 kilos.

Status

Listed as Endangered (EPBC Act 1999 and IUCN Red List).

 

Did you know?

The northern bettong has a prehensile tail to grasp and carry leaves and sticks, which it uses to build a nest where it can hide during the day.

THREATS

The challenges they face

  • Landclearing and deforestation
  • Fire
  • Introduced predators
  • A major cause of the northern bettong's decline is the loss or change in its habitat. A lot of the bettong's unique forest home has either been cleared to make way for agriculture and other human developments or degraded. In the wake of such disturbance, climate change looms as a threat to the long-term survival of this species.

    Traditional burning regimes have also been lost. But unlike most of Australia, it's the lack of fire that is the problem here. This forest habitat relies on relatively frequent burning to keep the understorey open and grassy. The lack of fire has allowed rainforest plants to take over and form a closed, dense forest.

    Feral and introduced animals are also threats to northern bettongs. Feral pigs not only alter the bettong's habitat, but could also be a major competitor for certain truffle species. Overgrazing by introduced herbivores (specifically cattle) can significantly alter the suite of plants, changing the composition of the understorey. Plus, cattle also love cockatoo grass, so they could be another competitor that the bettong has to contend with.

    WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP

    Volunteer for on-ground work (cage trapping, camera trapping).

    Volunteer to sort through camera images (we get thousands each time we go out camera trapping).

    If you’re in the area, and think you see a northern bettong, tell us about it! Even better, send us a photo.

    Spread the word about northern bettongs; no-one knows about this animal. If we’re going to be successful in saving it, we really need to raise awareness and get the community behind us.

    Donate so we can continue our work on northern bettongs.

    Recommended Reading

    © Sian Breen / WWF-Aus

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