Woylie (Brush-tailed Bettong)

© Brad Leue/AWC

Quick Facts

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Bettongia penicillata ogilbyi (Bettongia penicillata penicillata presumed extinct)
  • FAMILY: Potoroidae (bettongs, potoroos and rat-kangaroos)
  • CONSERVATION STATUS: National: Endangered; WA: Critically Endangered; SA: Rare; NT: Extinct; Vic: Threatened; NSW: Presumed extinct;
  • SURVIVING POPULATION: <15,000 individuals
What Is Awc Doing Brad Leue Brush Tailed Bettong © Brad Leue/AWC

What is AWC doing?

AWC protects almost 10 per cent of the world’s remaining Woylies, with important populations protected within feral predator-free areas at Karakamia, Scotia, Yookamurra, Mt Gibson and Newhaven wildlife sanctuaries.

AWC monitors Woylie populations across these five sanctuaries, contributes to the national Woylie Recovery Team, and facilitates a number of Woylie research projects.

The 2021 reintroduction of the species to Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary was an important milestone. The translocation of 44 Woylies from Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary took place during AWC’s 30th anniversary celebrations, making history by returning the species to the Northern Territory where they have been locally extinct for over 60 years. A further reintroduction is planned for Mallee Cliffs National Park in NSW later in 2021.

Threats To Wildlife Awc Brush Tailed Bettong © AWC

Threats to Species

Predation by European foxes and more recently, feral cats, is the major cause of range contraction and decline of Woylie populations in Australia. In Western Australia, Woylies increased in distribution and abundance following large-scale fox-baiting during the 1980s. However, most populations have declined again in the last 15 years – most likely due to predation by feral cats, although research is also being conducted into the potential role of disease in population decline. In the past, extensive areas occupied by the Woylie were cleared for agriculture, and millions of Woylies and other bettongs were killed as agricultural pests or for the fur trade in the early 20th century.

Endangered W Lawler/AWC

Description

The Woylie has greyish-brown fur on the upperparts and flanks and pale grey fur on the underside. The tail is darkly coloured with a distinctive black brush at the end (hence the species’ common and scientific name). Adult males grow to 36 centimetres (head-body) and 1.8 kilograms. Females are slightly smaller than males, and breed continuously throughout the year, giving birth to one young (rarely two) at a time. A single female can produce up to three offspring per year, depending on environmental conditions.

Ecology

A small nocturnal marsupial, the Woylie is considered an important ‘ecosystem engineer’ because its digging and foraging helps turn over topsoil, cycling nutrients and improving aeration and water infiltration into the soil. 

Woylies primarily eat underground fungi (truffles), as well as tubers, bulbs, seeds and other vegetative products, such as resin. Their foraging also disperses plant seeds and fungal spores facilitating plant recruitment. 

Range and abundance

At the time of European colonisation, Brush-tailed Bettongs inhabited much of southern Australia, from Western Australia through to the western plains of the Great Dividing Range in New South Wales and southern Queensland. Two sub-species are recognised – the Brush-tailed Bettong (Bettongia penicillata penicillata) in eastern Australia and the Woylie (Bettongia penicillata ogilbyi) in Western Australia. However, the historical geographical relationship of these sub-species is uncertain and their common names are used interchangeably. Bettongia penicillata penicillata is now presumed extinct, while Bettongia penicillata ogilbyi is restricted to three remnant populations in southwest Western Australia – Kingston and Perup in the Upper Warren and Dryandra Woodland.

Woylie news

B Leue/AWC
Breaking News In the Media 05 Aug. 2021

Woylies make a historic return to the Northern Territory

© Carly Moir/AWC
© Brad Leue/AWC
News from the Field 02 Jul. 2020

Endangered Woylies increasing at Mt Gibson

Sanctuaries Where You Can Find the Woylie

© Wayne Lawler/AWC
Western Australia

Karakamia

Karakamia was AWC’s first sanctuary, protecting 268 hectares of wetlands, granite outcrops, and large areas of Jarrah, Wandoo, and Marri...

© Joey Clarke/AWC
New South Wales

Scotia

“Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary … a vitally important project for Australia and for the planet.” – Sir David Attenborough Scotia Wildlife...

© Brad Leue/AWC
Western Australia

Mt Gibson

Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary protects a large area of diverse habitat in the south of Western Australia. As the site...

© Wayne Lawler/AWC
South Australia

Yookamurra

Protecting over 5,000 hectares of crucial habitat in the Murray Darling region, Yookamurra Wildlife Sanctuary is a stronghold for Australia’s...

© Josef Schofield/AWC
Northern Territory

Newhaven

Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary is one of Australia’s largest non-government protected areas, offering beautiful scenery and a diverse mix of arid...

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