Species Profile and Threats Database

For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed as Endangered
Recovery Plan Decision Recovery Plan required, this species had a recovery plan in force at the time the legislation provided for the Minister to decide whether or not to have a recovery plan (19/2/2007).
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans Recovery Plan for Marsupial Moles Notoryctes typhlops and N. caurinus, 2005-2010 (Benshemesh, J., 2004) [Recovery Plan].
Policy Statements and Guidelines Survey guidelines for Australia's threatened mammals. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.5 (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2011j) [Admin Guideline].
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
Declaration under s178, s181, and s183 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of threatened species, List of threatened ecological communities and List of threatening processes (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000) [Legislative Instrument].
State Government
    Documents and Websites
NT:Threatened Species of the Northern Territory-Southern Marsupial Mole, Itjaritijari Notoryctes typhlops (Pavey, C., 2006r) [Information Sheet].
State Listing Status
NT: Listed as Vulnerable (Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 2000 (Northern Territory): 2012)
SA: Listed as Vulnerable (National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 (South Australia): June 2011)
WA: Listed as Endangered (Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 (Western Australia): September 2013)
Scientific name Notoryctes typhlops [296]
Family Notoryctidae:Polyprotodonta:Mammalia:Chordata:Animalia
Species author (Stirling, 1889)
Infraspecies author  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

Scientific name: Notoryctes typhlops

Common name: Itjaritjari

Other names: Southern Marsupial Mole, Yitjarritjarri

There is currently one other recognised species of marsupial mole, the Karkarratul, or Northern Marsupial Mole (Notorcytes caurinus) (Benshemesh & Johnson 2003). Marsupial moles are not closely related to any other taxa and comprise their own unique marsupial order, the Notoryctemorphia, which may have branched off from other lineages as long as 64 million years ago (Kirsch et al. 1997). Stirling (1891) described Notoryctes typhlops from the first specimen collected in the south-east of the Northern Territory in 1888 (Benshemesh 2004).

Recent morphological and genetic work proposes a northern and southern form of the Itjaritjari. The possible taxonomic and morphological variation of the species is not yet resolved (Benshemesh 2004).

The Itjaritjari is blind and shows the typical characteristics of other highly fossorial (adapted to living underground) mammals, including a tubular body shape, an absence of ear pinnae (external visible part of the ear), heavily keratinised skin on the snout, a reduced tail and dense fur. In common with most burrowing marsupials, the pouch opens posteriorly as a protection against the entry of soil. They are the most fossorial of the marsupials, rarely venturing to the surface (Benshemesh 2004; Benshemesh & Johnson 2003).

The Itjarijari's body is covered with dense, silky, golden-brown to pale cream fur which is often coloured by oxides in the soil. The fur also covers the ear openings. They have large, spade-like claws attached to short and powerful forelimbs. The species grows to a maximum length of 16 cm with a tail length of 2.6 cm, and weighs from 30—60 g (Benshemesh & Johnson 2003; Cronin 1991; Strahan 1998).

The Itjaritjari is widely distributed throughout the arid areas of central Australia, mainly in the central deserts of the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia (Burbidge et al. 1988). It has a huge potential range and occurs on an assortment of land tenures, such as Aboriginal Land, pastoral leases, State and Federal National Parks and reserves (Benshemesh 2004).

A reasonable proportion of records and distribution information are based on sightings where a marsupial mole was not identified to species level and/or the accuracy of the record date and location is low. There are about 300 specimens of marsupial mole in Australian museums and wildlife databases and only 194 of these have had their collection locations recorded in some form. As such, it is difficult to define the ranges of the two marsupial mole species. The currently described range of the Itjaritjari may overlap in some areas with the Karkarratul, although they appear to occur in broadly different areas (Benshemesh 2004).

The Itjaritjari's distribution is known from scattered records over the sandy deserts of inland Australia. The majority of these records are from specimens or traditional information provided by Indigenous people to collectors (Benshemesh 2004). Burbidge and colleagues (1988) recorded anecdotal information from Indigenous traditional owners on the occurrence of marsupial moles within living memory or still present in areas they visited. Moles were known to still be present at most of the sites identified within the central desert range of the Itjaritjari by Burbidge and colleagues (1988), who noted that "everyone said it was still common in suitable areas"; however, much of this information probably relates to sightings from one to four decades ago. Records such as these indicate that the range of the Itjaritjari occurs with the extent of sandy soils in the central desert region (Johnson & Walton 1989). These regions include the Great Sandy, Little Sandy, Gibson, Tanami, Great Victoria and western Simpson Deserts. While surficial (occurring on or near the surface) sand deposits occur broadly across Australia, the Itjaritjari tends to occur within the distribution of well-connected, non-coastal aeolian (wind-deposited) dunes (Benshemesh 2004; Benshemesh & Schulz 2008).

There is currently not enough information on the abundance of the Itjaritjari across the species' range to give an accurate estimate of population. The development of survey techniques such as trenching and geophone studies may allow for estimation of population numbers in the future (Benshemesh 2005c; Benshemesh pers. comm.).

There is little solid data on the habitat preferences of the Itjaritjari. It is most often recorded in the crest and slope of sandy dunes which are vegetated with Acacia spp. and other shrubs (Benshemesh 2004; Benshemesh & Schulz 2008; Johnson & Walton 1989). Such habitat is widespread and typical of the sandy deserts. The Itjaritjari may also occur in some sandy plains, and might also occupy sandy river flats, especially in areas where aeolian dunes occur nearby (Benshemesh 2004). Deep, loose sand appears to be a requirement for the Itjaritjari. Evidence of the Itjaritjari is also more often found on yellower sands than on redder sands (Benshemesh 2004; EPBC referral 2007/3922). Rocky and hard substrates such as calcrete most likely represent an impenetrable barrier to the Itjaritjari, which seems to mostly travel underground and is slow and vulnerable on the surface. River flats may be rich in food resources for the Itjaritjari and possibly provide corridors for dispersal through otherwise untraversable terrain (Benshemesh 2004).

The species has also been found in sandhill country, with Mulga (Acacia spp.), Saltbush (Atriplex spp.) and Spinifex (Triodia spp.) on sandridge desert and sandridge desert with a shrubby vegetation community (Corbett 1975).

Very little is known about the reproduction or population demographics of the Itjaritjari. In general, their anatomy conforms to the normal marsupial pattern with a few differences, for example, the pouch opens posteriorly and has two teats (Sweet 1907 cited in Benshemesh 2004). The species has been recorded with one or two pouch young. It is unknown how or where the Itjaritjari raises its young; whether they form permanent burrows or build a nest. Given the back-filling tunnelling method employed by the species, a female with large pouch young would presumably have great difficulty moving from one area to another (Benshemesh 2004).

Although previously thought to be dietary specialists which consumed only ants (Winkel & Humphrey-Smith 1988), Itjaritjari are now considered to be dietary generalists, as demonstrated in a study of marsupial mole gut contents by Pavey and colleagues (2012). From this study, ants, beetle larvae and arthropods are considered to be preferred prey. Termites are a relatively abundant food source throughout the range of the Itjaritjari, but they are not commonly eaten (Pavey et al. 2012).

Seeds have also been found in the gut of the Itjaritjari, however, it is not known whether they were consumed intentionally, or in the act of pursuing seed-collecting ants (Pavey et al. 2012).

In captivity, a male collected from near Alice Springs readily ate ant pupae and larvae of beetles (Tenebrionidae and Scarabeidae) but rejected earthworms which had previously been reported as taken (Howe 1975). Captive animals have been presented with various food items and seem partial to the eggs, larvae and pupae of insects such as ants, beetles and moths, but not interested in adult insects (Benshemesh 2004; Corbett 1975; Howe 1975; Johnson & Walton 1989). In captivity Southern Marsupial Moles have also been known to consume centipedes, spiders and geckoes (M. Gillam, pers. comm. cited in Benshemesh 2004).

Movements made by the Southern Marsupial Mole most likely occur underground and require suitably sandy soils for tunnelling. Above ground, the species is vulnerable as it is slow and clumsy, and it is unlikely to be able to travel far. However, aboveground movements might enable the Southern Marsupial Mole to occasionally cross between dunes where the swale substrate, such as calcrete, is rocky, hard and inhospitable for tunnelling (Benshemesh 2004).

The Southern Marsupial Mole is considered a tunneller, but it back-fills as it moves along. After the Southern Marsupial Mole has passed through the ground the sand-filled tunnels remain and are visible in cross-section. These underground tunnels occur commonly in suitable dune habitat, around 2–6 tunnels per m² of vertical trench face. The age of the tunnels vary and can be several years old. Although some tunnels have been recorded at more than 2 m below the surface, they mostly occur 0.2–1 m from the surface and are typically twice as common in the top metre where most of their prey may be found (Benshemesh 2004). The surfacing behaviour of the Southern Marsupial Mole has important conservation implications because when the species is near the surface they are vulnerable to a range of predators, particularly foxes and cats. It appears that the Southern Marsupial Mole rarely comes to the surface (Benshemesh 2004).

Usually the tracks of the Southern Marsupial Mole on the surface only last for a few metres before returning underground. However these visits to the surface can be many and extensive; it is clear in some instances that an individual has spent many hours on the surface where it would have been vulnerable to predators. Information from Indigenous sources indicates that while the Southern Marsupial Mole may surface at any time of day or year, they are more likely to do so after rain and in cooler months (Benshemesh 2004; Burbidge et al. 1988).

After an Itjaritjari has passed underground the sand-filled tunnels remain and can be seen in a cross-section. The most efficient means of monitoring and surveying for marsupial moles is to count the number of tunnels underground. These tunnels can persist for several years and accumulate underground, providing high yield of counts relatively easily. Survey trenches are dug to view these tunnels in the trench walls and are used to detect marsupial mole activity in the area. In suitable habitat 2–6 tunnels are usually found per m² of vertical trench face. There are usually very few tunnels that are apparent when a trench is first excavated due to soil moisture. However, as the trench face dries, the tunnels become apparent in time (typically 3–5 days). The tunnels appear as circular or oval shaped outlines (larger than 25 mm) depending on the angle made with the trench wall. The standard trench size is about 120 cm long by 80 cm deep, and 40 cm wide. Tunnels are typically twice as common in the top metre (most occur between 0.2 m and 1 m), but they have been recorded more than two metres below the surface. Generally trenches are dug at three levels on a dune: near the crest; mid slope; and base of dune (Benshemesh 2004; Benshemesh 2005c).

Caution should be used when digging trenches, and digging should cease if Itjaritjari are observed. The use of mechanical equipment to dig trenches should be avoided and only used when necessary. Trench sizes should be as small as possible to avoid disturbance of habitat (EPBC referral 2007/3922).

The tracks of the Karkarratul and Itjaritjari differ and can be distinguished by experienced observers. Photographs of surface tracks can be valuable clues to identifying the species that occurs in an area, especially in areas of uncertainty between the known ranges of the two species. Handling and captivity of Itjaritjari should be kept to a minimum as they are easily stressed and may die if handled for extended periods (Benshemesh 2004).

Although there is little evidence for decline, the Itjaritjari is poorly known from the few specimens that have been studied (Maxwell et al. 1996). There is very little information about this species' ecology and the factors that may threaten the Itjaritjari are largely unknown (Benshemesh 2004).

The Itjaritjari may be a common prey item for larger predators, especially the introduced Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) (Benshemesh 2004). Predation by the Cat (Felis catus), the Fox and the Dingo (Canis lupus dingo) has been reported from the Tanami Desert (Paltridge 1998), but the intensity and impact of such predation over the species' range is unknown.

Changes to fire and grazing regimes also have the potential to substantially modify the vegetation of habitats, and consequently the availability of invertebrate prey for the Itjaritjari. Wildfires have a similar effect. Railways, pipeline trenches and large roads have the potential to hinder dispersal of the species and may genetically isolate populations (Benshemesh 2004).

The Itjaritjari is known to occur on Aboriginal and Crown land leased by mining companies and tourism operators, but mining and tourism activities only occur in a small proportion of the distribution of the species (Benshemesh 2004).

Recovery objectives recommended by the Recovery Plan for Marsupial Moles Notoryctes typhlops and N. caurinus, 2005–2010 (Benshemesh 2004), including:

  • Resolve the taxonomy issues between the different populations of marsupial moles and determine appropriate management units.
  • Describe the distribution and provide indices of the abundance of the distinct lineages of marsupial moles.
  • Determine population trends of the distinct lineages of marsupial moles.
  • Provide preliminary information on the threat of fire, introduced predators such as foxes and cats, and grazing. Their degree of impact on marsupial moles remains largely unknown.
  • Gain a better understanding of marsupial mole ecology. Describe activity patterns and ranging behaviour. Examine the diet, reproductive state and general condition of surfacing animals.
  • Coordinate and manage the recovery process through a recovery team.

A Mole Patrol project has raised awareness and the importance of reporting sightings of marsupial moles. Mole Patrol information kits have been distributed to teachers, mining companies, ecotourism operators, pastoral landcare and catchment management groups, tourists, field naturalists and other interested parties in the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia (Benshemesh 2004).

The current management of fire and feral predator baiting, throughout the sandy deserts, may have benefits for the conservation of the Itjaritjari (Benshemesh 2004).

Management docs relevant to the Itjaritjari are at the start of the profile. Other relevant documents include the Manual for Marsupial Mole Survey and Monitoring by Trenches (Benshemesh 2005c).

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Vulpes vulpes (Red Fox, Fox) Occurrence of the marsupial mole (Notoryctes typhlops) remains in the faecal pellets of cats, foxes and dingoes in the Tanami Desert, N.T. . Australian Mammalogy. 20:427-429. (Paltridge, R. , 1998) [Journal].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Felis catus (Cat, House Cat, Domestic Cat) Notoryctes typhlops in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006rl) [Internet].
Occurrence of the marsupial mole (Notoryctes typhlops) remains in the faecal pellets of cats, foxes and dingoes in the Tanami Desert, N.T. . Australian Mammalogy. 20:427-429. (Paltridge, R. , 1998) [Journal].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Problematic Native Species:Competition and/or predation Canis lupus dingo (Dingo, Warrigal, New Guinea Singing Dog) Occurrence of the marsupial mole (Notoryctes typhlops) remains in the faecal pellets of cats, foxes and dingoes in the Tanami Desert, N.T. . Australian Mammalogy. 20:427-429. (Paltridge, R. , 1998) [Journal].
Uncategorised:Uncategorised:threats not specified Notoryctes typhlops in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006rl) [Internet].

Benshemesh, J. (2004). Recovery Plan for Marsupial Moles Notoryctes typhlops and N. caurinus, 2005-2010. [Online]. Northern Territory Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts. Available from:

Benshemesh, J. (2005c). Manual for Marsupial Mole Survey and Monitoring by Trenches, Version 1.0. Report to Anangu-Pitjantjatjara Land Management and the Department of Heritage and Environment (SA).

Benshemesh, J. & K. Johnson (2003). Biology and conservation of marsupial moles (Notoryctes). In: Jones M., C.R. Dickman & M. Archer, eds. Predators with Pouches: the biology of carnivorous marsupials. Page(s) 464-474. Melbourne, CSIRO Publishing.

Benshemesh, J. & M. Shulz (2008). Survey of the underground signs of marsupial moles in the WA Great Victoria Desert. Tropicana Joint Venture and the Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts, NT Government.

Burbidge, A.A., K.A. Johnson, P.J. Fuller, & R.I. Southgate (1988). Aboriginal knowledge of the mammals of the central deserts of Australia. Australian Wildlife Research. 15:9-39.

Corbett, L.K. (1975). Geographical distribution and habitat of the Marsupial Mole, Notoryctes typhlops. Australian Mammalogy. 1:375-378.

Cronin, L. (1991). Key Guide to Australian Mammals. Balgowlah, NSW: Reed Books.

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC) (2011j). Survey guidelines for Australia's threatened mammals. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.5. [Online]. EPBC Act policy statement: Canberra, ACT: DSEWPAC. Available from:

Howe, D. (1975). Observations on the behaviour of a captive marsupial mole (Notoryctes typhlops). Australian Mammalogy. 1:361-365.

Johnson, K.A. & D.W. Walton (1989). Notoryctidae. In: Walton, D.W. & B.J. Richardson, eds. Fauna of Australia. Mammalia. 1B:591-602. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

Kirsch, J.A.W., F.J. Lapointe & M.S. Springer (1997). DNA-hybridisation Studies of Marsupials and their Implications for Metatherian Classification. Australian Journal of Zoology. 45:211-280.

Maxwell, S., A.A. Burbidge & K. Morris (1996). The 1996 Action Plan for Australian Marsupials and Monotremes. [Online]. Wildlife Australia, Environment Australia. Available from:

Paltridge, R. (1998). Occurrence of the marsupial mole (Notoryctes typhlops) remains in the faecal pellets of cats, foxes and dingoes in the Tanami Desert, N.T. . Australian Mammalogy. 20:427-429.

Pavey, C.R., C.J. Burwell & J. Benshemesh (2012). Diet and prey selection of the southern marsupial mole: an enigma from Australia's sand deserts. Journal of Zology. 211:1-9.

Stirling, E.C. (1891). Description of a new genus and species of marsupialia, Notoryctes typhlops. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia. 14:154-187.

Strahan, R. (Ed.) (1998). The Mammals of Australia, Second Edition, rev. Sydney, NSW: Australian Museum and Reed New Holland.

Winkel, K. & I. Humphrey-Smith (1988). Diet of the marsupial mole, Notoryctes typhlops (Stirling 1889) (Marsupialia:Notoryctidae). Australian Mammalogy. 11:159-161.

EPBC Act email updates can be received via the Communities for Communities newsletter and the EPBC Act newsletter.

This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Notoryctes typhlops in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Mon, 21 Apr 2014 20:58:24 +1000.