“Wambenger” is an Aboriginal word for a small, nocturnal Australian marsupial also known as a phascogale. Marsupials are unique in that they birth an embryo which completes its gestation attached to a nipple in its mother’s pouch.
This name means “pouched weasel” and was used by early European settlers because of the animal’s similarity to the tenacious carnivore of the northern hemisphere.
There are two different species of wambenger:
and the red-tailed,
both of which only occur in Western Australia. The brush-tailed variety prefers forest and woodland and is the only species to occur in jarrah forests, including the Perth Hills.
Wambengers live in low densities, with individual females having a home range of about 50ha. Males require more than twice this.
Emerging from the safety of their tree-hollow home well after dark, they spend most of the night in the canopy, climbing expertly through the branches and catching insects with their sharp teeth.
Their cryptic behaviour, low numbers and the fact that many are eaten by cats, foxes, owls and goannas, means wambengers are extremely rare.
While many, including Australians have probably never heard of a wambenger, they are an important part of what makes the landscape unique.
They can also be a natural form of pest control, eating many of the spiders, ants and cockroaches humans find annoying.
The main thing these cute animals need to survive is habitat (that is, native vegetation with big, hollow-bearing trees), and so can be helped by supporting the protection of local area bushland.
- At 250mm, a wambenger’s tail can be longer than its body.
- They weigh about the same as an iPhone 4 (about 150-200g).
- Their black “bottlebrush” tail has hairs as long as a matchbox (50mm).
- While climbing, a wambenger can leap 2m between branches.
- Like many carnivorous marsupials, all males die after breeding.
- Wambengers eat mostly spiders, crickets, centipedes and even bull ants but will also feed on nectar and sometimes small birds.
- In Western Australia they are classified as “vulnerable”, meaning they can be threatened with extinction if habitat continues to be lost.