Quolls of Australia

Caution: archived content

This content may have been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004

Threatened Species Day fact sheet

About the fact sheet

Four species of quoll occur in Australia: the northern, spotted-tailed, eastern and western quolls. Once, most parts of Australia were inhabited by at least one of the species.

Captain Cook collected quolls along the east coast in 1770, and recorded "quoll" as their local Aboriginal name. Quolls were often seen by early settlers, who called them "native cat", "native polecat" and "spotted marten", names based on familiar European animals.

Since 1770, all four species have declined dramatically in numbers. This is mainly because of habitat loss or change across Australia, and introduced predators such as foxes and cats.

Quolls are carnivorous marsupials with a pointed snout, a long tail and brown to black fur distinctively spotted with white. They are lively, attractive animals, with bright eyes, a moist pink nose and many sharp teeth.

The largest species, the spotted-tailed quoll, eats birds, reptiles and mammals such as bandicoots, possums, echidnas and rabbits. The smaller quolls eat mainly insects, birds, frogs, lizards, snakes, small mammals and fruit. Quolls also eat carrion (dead animals), and sometimes scavenge around campsites and rubbish bins.

Like most Australian mammals, quolls are mainly active at night. Typically, they spend the day in one of their many dens, although spotted-tailed quolls and northern quolls sometimes forage and bask in the sunshine. Their large home ranges can extend for several kilometres in each direction from a smaller core range, and the range of a male quoll often overlaps those of several females. An interesting feature of their behaviour is the use of shared latrine (toilet) sites in open spaces such as rock ledges, for marking their territory and other social functions.

Male quolls travel widely during the breeding season, with mating occurring during winter. All four species have a gestation period of 21 days. Because they are marsupial mammals, their young are born tiny and undeveloped and must work their way to the pouch, where they attach themselves to a teat to feed. Only the spotted-tailed quoll has a true pouch. In the other species, the young are protected by shallow folds of skin around the teats. As the pups grow, they dangle from the mother's belly; later, she carries them on her back.

Quolls reach sexual maturity at one year. They have a naturally short life span, with smaller quolls living an average of only two years, and the larger spotted-tailed quoll about four to five years. The northern quoll is particularly short-lived.