Aboriginal women in Western Australia’s north have encountered a strange, silky-haired mole that is only spotted a handful of times each decade.
The marsupial mole is found only in desert areas of northern and central Australia, and rarely surfaces from underground.
Kate Crossing, who co-ordinates an Indigenous Protected Area in the Gibson Desert, said she was stunned to see one of the animals during a field trip with the local Aboriginal rangers near the Northern Territory border.
“We saw this little golden creature run along the track in front of us, and as I brought the car to a stop, one of our rangers, Yelti, yelled out ‘Kakarratul!’ and jumped out and grabbed hold of it,” Ms Crossing said.
“It was less than the size of your hand, and it’s just this golden-coloured animal, with a little pink nose, and it lives almost all its life underground.
“It is so rare to see them above ground, so we were just amazed … we were so lucky.”
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The women, who are from the remote community of Kiwirrkurra, quickly took some photographs and video footage, before releasing the animal a little way off the road.
Ms Crossing said there was tremendous excitement as they were able to touch the fast-burrowing creature, which they call Kakarratul.
“Some of the people who’ve spent more time in the desert before [white] contact had seen a mole before, but not for many years, and there were younger people who’d never seen one properly,” she said.
“It had beautifully soft fur, and it looked really delicate … but it also had really strong front legs and feet. When we put it down, off the road, it went straight down and it was gone in less than 30 seconds.”
Relatively little is known about the marsupial mole, which is so well adapted to living underground it has no functioning eyes or ears.
It is believed the crabs gather together for protection, although an alternative theory posits that mating is behind the behaviour
A marine scientist who was scuba diving off Melbourne has filmed a giant spider crab aggregation on the shores of Port Phillip Bay.
Victorian-based aquatic scientist Sheree Marris said approximately hundreds of thousands of crustaceans make their way to southern Australia’s shores between May and July each year as the ocean waters cool.
“What I found really interesting about this aggregation is I’ve never seen so many before,” she told the ABC.
“I swam in a straight line for four-and-a-half minutes and the crabs were thick on the sandy shallows. It was gobsmackingly amazing.
“[In previous years] I’ve swam maybe a minute-and-a-half to two minutes and [this year] I wasn’t going slow.
“It’s pretty awesome.”
But marine research biologist Dr Julian Finn from Museum Victoria said it is hard to know the exact number of crabs coming to Port Phillip Bay and why they choose to aggregate in large piles, because there is not a lot of research available about the crustaceans.
“But it is fantastic what is happening. It’s an amazing spectacle that people should go and see,” he said.
“We are really lucky that such an amazing thing happens near Melbourne.”
Ms Marris said the sight of all the crabs made her feel “like a kid on Christmas day, getting all their presents”.
“I was excited. I was like a kid in a candy shop. The ocean is my happy place,” she said, noting that, unlike most people, she is not afraid of the crabs.
Ms Marris is a sea life enthusiast who once won a Young Australian of the Year award
Ms Marris said the aggregation allows crabs to moult with “safety in numbers”.
“When the crabs have freshly moulted, their bodies are soft, making them vulnerable to predators such as rays and sharks,” she said.
“That’s why they commit to the shallows. For crustaceans, for them to grow, they need to shed their shell, which is really hard.
“They get out of their old shell and they grow a new shell, which is really soft and takes time to harden.
“So by being in this aggregation, it reduces their chances of being eaten. It’s like a case of safety in numbers.”
Display was like a ‘moving blanket of legs and claws’
In terms of deciding which crabs go on top of the pile, “it’s every crab for themselves,” Ms Marris said.
“There’s no hierarchy. It’s just this orange chaos of legs and claws. It’s a moving blanket of legs and claws really, it’s pretty awesome,” she said.
“At times they kind of just stack on top of each other and the maximum I’ve seen is 10.
“But that’s how deep it can actually get, which makes sense because if you’re on the top, you’re going to be more vulnerable, especially if they’ve just freshly moulted.”
The moulting process is determined by some biological cues and some environmental cues as well, Ms Marris said.
“What happens is when one starts moulting, it sets off a chain reaction and then you’ll get these massive moults. At the end of the video, you can see where they do start moulting,” she said.
“Some people freak out when they do start seeing [what they think has been] a mass death of crabs.” Follow @AnimalXTV
Bone Diggers: Mystery of a Lost Predator, Thylacoleo – The Marsupial Lion
Australia is known for its cute marsupials, the koala, the kangaroo and the wombat among others. Very few people are aware that there was once a marsupial that was a deadly “creep up and get ya” predator that was more ferocious than a sabre tooth tiger. It was Thylacoleo Carnifex — the Marsupial Lion Australia’s lost predator.
The Nullarbor Plain is a remote treeless desert resting between the Great Australian Bight and the Great Sandy Desert. It is hard, stony country…flat and featureless.
In May of 2002 an group of cavers, in an Indiana Jones style operation, discovered three caves, which had never been entered by man. The entrance to one of the caves was mere shoulder-width, vertical tube that rapidly expanded to cathedral proportions. In the first cave their head torches illuminated a sight that caused scientific wonderment and a world-wide media frenzy.
At the far end of a side tunnel the cavers discovered the pristine and complete skeleton of the fabled marsupial lion, Thylacoleo. It lay there as if it had died only a year ago. The skeleton was bleach white against the red earth and not a speck of dust on it. Their immediate reaction was to take a photo and get out – their main concern was to preserve the site for scientific analysis.
The photo of Thylacoleo and the cave coordinates ended up on the desk of Dr John Long, vertebrate palaeontologist a world renowned Bone Digger with the Western Australian Museum. Within a matter of weeks funding and an expedition to recover the remains had been arranged. It would prove a journey full of surprises both during the expedition and later as the remains were studied. The first surprise to take John and his team by surprise was the age of the remains. He was sure the skeleton could only be about 40,000 years old — several dating techniques later and a shattering date of at least 500,000 years suddenly propelled the find into mega-star status.
Bone Diggers – Mystery of a Lost Predator is the amazing story of the dangerous recovery mission and how the remains of the marsupial lion allowed science a unique opportunity to reconstruct the beast and it’s behaviour.
From recreating its brain to morphological analysis, the life and form of Thylacoleo began to take shape – this is science at its best!
A co-production between Storyteller Media and the Western Australian Museum.
Storyteller produce and distribute documentaries and factual programming specialising in animals and nature; from endangered species and what’s being done to save them to mysterious animal and monster stories. Follow @AnimalXTV