SURPRISINGLY, the most common small marsupial in the Ballarat region is not well-known. It is the agile antechinus. An older name for it is marsupial mouse.
This small animal mid-way between a mouse and a rat in size has a remarkable annual population cycle. All males die soon after mating in August.
This was been noticed at Mt Buninyong last month.
An observant runner found one, then a second, then a third small animal dead on the roadside up the mount.
Another observer (also a runner) reports seeing a few more a few days earlier. And these were noticed only on the side of the road going up the mount, without any attempt at a search.
How many more were scattered elsewhere?
These would all have been males of the agile antechinus. At just over 11 months old, they had matured, mated, and then died. They all die within a few days of each other. This is the normal annual cycle for this animal.
At their death in August, the antechinus population consists entirely of pregnant females. No adult males exist.
In September, all females in a population give birth within a period of about two days.
Although common, the agile antechinus is seldom seen. This is because it is a nocturnal forest-dwelling animal.
Even its name is hardly known. The "ante" part is easy enough pronounce. The "ch" in the middle is pronounced as k, and the remainder is accented the same as "shyness".
There are occasional reports of the agile antechinus entering houses and sheds, but it stays mostly away from humans.
This active little marsupial prefers forests with denser undergrowth and leaf-litter. Its food is insects, spiders and similar creatures, which it finds on the ground, on logs and on treetrunks.
It is common in forests on and south of the Great Dividing Range across Victoria.
Early spring sightings
THE spring weather a week ago brought with it signs of things to come.
As well as the usual early wildflowers already mentioned on recent Nature Notes pages, the first insects have now been reported as well.
Notable among these are the painted lady butterfly, and the first dragonfly.
The first nuisance blowflies inside homes and buildings have also been sighted, and there has already been a local snake report, at Burrumbeet.
Introduced weeds such as capeweed and onion-grass have produced their first flowers too, and natives such as early Nancy and yellow star are making their welcome appearances for another season.
Numerous reed warblers have returned to Lake Wendouree, and a group of seven great crested grebes has appeared.
Yellow-faced honeyeaters have returned too. Cuckoos have been reported at only a few places so far, and only in small numbers.