Richard Lydekker.

A hand-book to the marsupialia and monotremata online

. (page 7 of 23)
Online LibraryRichard LydekkerA hand-book to the marsupialia and monotremata → online text (page 7 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of the scrubs fringing the rivers and clothing the coast-range.
Although in such situations this interesting little creature is far
from rare, yet its shy and retiring disposition, coupled with the
density of the forest which it frequents, render it difficult to
obtain. Mainly diurnal in its habits, and, when undisturbed,
by no means ungraceful in its movements, the Musk-Kangaroo
procures its food on the ground by turning over leaves, twigs,
and stones for the sake of the insects and worms that lie con-
cealed beneath, while roots are dug up with its claws. At
times it may be seen sitting up on its haunches and munching
palm-berries, which are held in the fore paws, after the manner
of a Squirrel. Except in the case of parents and their young, it
is rare that more than two individuals are seen in company.
The breeding season takes place during the period of the rains,

Digitized by



and the number of young produced at a birth appears to be
either two or one. The strong musky odour from which the
creature takes its name is perceptible in both sexes, although
much more strongly developed in the female than in her con-


The second great family of the herbivorous Diprotodont
Marsupials is typically represented by the creatures properly
known as Phalangers, which the colonists of Australia per-
sist in misnaming Opossums. It includes, however, several
other forms, such as the Flying Phalangers and the Koala,
to^icther with the remarkable and aberrant Long-snouted

Side view of Skull of a species of Phalanger*

Pouched-Mouse. Although the number of sub-families (3), and
likewise of genera (12), is the same in this family as in the
MacropodidcB^ the list of species is considerably less, being just
over thirty instead of somewhat exceeding fifty.

If it were not for the existence of the Musk-Kangaroo, which,
as we have seen, forms in many respects a connecting link
between them, the Fhalangerida would be easy enough to
separate from the Macropodida; bu^ —' '"-'' ^^^- '^-^' — " -

Digitized by



definition of the two is by no means easy. The following are,
however, the distinctive characters which serve to differentiate
the members of the present family as a whole from those of
the Macropodida : —

All the feet with five toes ; those of the fore limbs generally
sub-equal ; those of the hind limbs, with the second and third
united in a common integument (syndactylous), the fourth the
longest of the series ; the fifth but little smaller, and the first
(or hallux) large, furnished with a broad clawless terminal pad,
and widely opposable to the others (see fig. 3, p. 12). Tail
(except in Fhascolarctus, where it is rudimental), long, and
nearly always prehensile. Stomach simple ; intestine, except in
Tarsipes, furnished with a blind appendage or caecum; and
the pouch well-developed, with its aperture directed backwards.
In the skull the lower jaw lacks the large pocket-like cavity on
the outer side of the hinder part, and communicating with the
canal of the dental nerve, which forms so characteristic a feature
in the Macropodida, Owing to the frequent presence of a
variable number of functionless minute teeth in the anterior
part of the jaws, the dentition as a whole is too variable to admit
of precise formulation. There are, however, generally three pairs
of upper and one pair of functional lower incisors ; the latter
wanting the scissor-like action characterising the MacropodidcB.
Of the two or three premolars usually present, the last is
generally furnished with a sharp cutting edge (although this
character is less marked than in the preceding family), and is
placed obliquely to the line of the molars. The molars,
generally four in number, may be crowned either with blunt
tubercles or with sharp-cutting crests.

It will be obvious that almost the only characters which
separate the Phalangerida from the Musk-Kangaroo are the
structure of the lower jaw and the backward direction of the
aperture of the pouch.

Digitized by



As regards their distribution in space, the Phalangerida
range not only over Australia and Tasmania, but are likewise
found in New Guinea and the Austro-Malayan islands, their
extreme westerly limit being Celebes. The two most peculiar
and aberrant genera (Fhascolarctus and Tarsipes) are, however,
exclusively Australian.

As is well remarked by the author of the admirable technical
work the " British Museum Catalogue of Marsupials," the Pha-
langers and their allies may be regarded as the most generalised,
and therefore presirmably the most ancient types of Diprotodont
Marsupials at present existing. Related closely to one another
in respect of external form and appearance, they differ very
widely in regard to their dental characters, thus showing that
specialisation has played a large part in the latter. It is scarcely
necessary to observe that the numerous small functionless teeth
occurring in so many members of the family are remnants of
the fuller series of teeth characterising the second and more
generalised primary sub-division of the Marsupials known as the
Polyprotodonts. And it may be incidentally mentioned here,
as tending to show the origin of the comparatively specialised
Biprotodonts from the generalised Polyprotodonts that even in
such a highly specialised group as the Kangaroos vestiges of at
least five pairs of incisor teeth have recently been discovered
in the foetus.

In their modes of life the Phalangers and their allies are
essentially arboreal creatures, the great majority of them being
largely assisted in their climbing by their highly prehensile tail.
Some, however, have " gone one better " than this, and have
developed large parachute-like expansions of skin from the
sides of the body, by means of which they are able to take long
flying leaps from bough to bough, and thus from tree to tree.
And it may be mentioned here as a somewhat remarkable
circumstance that the different groups of these Flying Phalan-

Digitized by


78 Allen's naturalist's ubrary.

gers, like their analogues the Flying Squirrels, have developed
their parachutes, independently of one another, from distinct
groups of their non-volant cousins. In the case of the three
genera of the flying forms, this is proved by the circum-
stance that while their relationship to one another is of the
most distant nature, each is closely allied to a non-flying

While the great majority of the members of the family are
purely vegetable feeders, subsisting chiefly on leaves and fruits,
a few feed either entirely or partially on insects, while others
have taken to a diet of flesh.

Fhascolarctos, Blainville, Bull Soc. Philom., 1816, p. no.

The genus Fhascolarctus, which is represented by a single
Australian species, is also the type of the first sub-family
(PhascolarctituB)^ the distinctive characters of which are as
follows : —

Tail wanting ; muzzle short and broad ; tongue not extensile ;
cheeks furnished with pouches ; intestine with a blind appen-
dage, or caecum ; teeth large ; only one premolar in the upper

The genus itself may be defined by the following assemblage
of characters : —

Size large; form very stout and clumsy; fur thick and woolly ;
ears large and thickly furred ; fore toes sub-equal, their relative
lengths in the order 4, 3, 5, 2, i, and the first and second op-
posable to the rest ; claws thick, strong, and sharp ; soles of
both pairs of feet granulated, without striated pads. Two teats ;
eleven pairs of ribs. Upper molar teeth with low squared
crowns, carrying curved crests, of which the convexity is turned^

Digitized by




Lipurus cinereuSy Goldfuss, Isis, 1819, p. 274.

Phascolarctos fuscus, Desmarest, Mamm., voL L, p. 276 (1820).

Phascolarctos koala^ Gray, in Griffith's Anim. Kingdom, p. 205

Phascolarctos cinereusy Fischer, Syn. Mamm., p. 285 (1829);

Thomas Cat Marsup. Brit. Mus., p. 210 (1880).
{Plate X.)
Characters. — General colour grey; under-parts white or yel-
lowish-white. Nose thinly clothed with minute hairs; ears
rounded, white, save the hairs on their hinder surface, which
are black with white tips ; rump dirty white, sometimes irregu-
larly spotted; feet white. Length of head and body about
32 inches.

Distribution. — Eastern Australia.

Habits. — Having a superficial resemblance to a small Bear, as
is especially shown by the absence of a tail, the broad furry
, ears, short and wide head, and stout and short limbs, the Koala
is commonly spoken of by the Australian colonists as the
" Native Bear ; " while its sluggish habits have occasionally given
rise to the title of " Native Sloth." Nevertheless, the creature
is a true Marsupial, and also one of a most lazy and sluggish
disposition, moving about on the stems of the gum-trees in the
most dehberate manner, and feeding chiefly upon leaves and
grasses. Its favourite haunts are the hollow stems of trees,
from which it issues forth by night, and occasionally also by
day, in search of food. In the evenings, more especially
during the autumn, one of these animals may frequently be
observed crawling slowly along the topmost branches of some
giant Eucalyptus ; while if it is a female, it is as likely as not
to have its solitary offspring perched securely on its back.
Always, apparently, a solitary creature, the Koala moves awk-

Digitized by




80 Allen's naturalist's library.

wardly enough on the ground, where, if danger threatens, it
always seeks safety by endeavouring to reach the nearest tree,
up which it soon climbs till out of reach of gunshot. When
alarmed or wounded, the Koala utters a loud, hoarse groaning
cry, which can be heard at a great distance. The flesh is con-
sidered a great delicacy by the natives, and is regarded as not
unpalatable even by Europeans. Of its pursuit by the natives
in the neighbourhood of Port Jackson, Colonel Patterson
writes as follows: "The natives examine, with wonderful
rapidity and minuteness, the branches of the loftiest gum-trees,
and upon discovering a Koala, they climb the tree in which it
is seen with as much ease and expedition as a European
would mount a tolerably high ladder. ^ Having reached the
branches, which are sometimes forty or fifty feet from the
ground, they follow the animal to the extremity of a
bough, and either kill it with the tomahawk or take it
alive. The Koala feeds upon the tender shoots of the blue
gum-tree, being more particularly fond of this than of any
other food ; it rests during the day on the tops of these trees,
feeding at ease or sleeping. In the night it descends and
prowls about, scratching up the ground in search of some par-
ticular roots."

The Koala must be an abundant animal, since from 10,000
to 30,000 skins are annually imported into London, while in
1889 the enormous total of 300,000 was reached. The value
of these skins now ranges, according to Poland, from five-
pence to a shilling each ; and they are mainly used in the
manufacture of those articles for which a cheap and durable
fur is required.

Fhalanger^ Storr, Prodrom. Method. Mamm., p. 33 (1780.)
The second and chief sub-family {Fhalan^erina) of the

Digitized by


Digitized by


Digitized by









Digitized by


t Digitized by V3OOQ IC


family under consideration is typically represented hy the
Cuscuses, and may be characterised as follows : —

Tail well-developed, generally prehensile ; muzzle sk«rt and
broad ; tongue not extensile ; no cheek-pouches ; iatestine
provided with a large blind appendage or caecum; stomach
simple ; teeth large.

In the genus Phalanger itself we find the following features
distinctive : Size large or medium ; form stout ; fur thick and
woolly ; ears moderate or short. Front toes sub-equal, their
relative lengths in the order 4, 3, 5, 2, i ; claws long, stout,
and curved ; soles of feet naked and striated, with large ill-
defined pads. Tail strong, with its terminal portion naked,
smooth or granulated, and prehensile. Teats four.

Of the five species of Cuscuses, one is common to Northern
Australia, New Guinea, and the Austro-Maylayan Islands,
while the others are restricted to the two latter regions, ranging
as far westwards as Celebes. Completely arboreal and mainly
herbivorous in their habits, the Cuscuses are slow and sleepy
animals, passing the day curled up among the foliage, and only
waking into activity with the approach of night. The different
species present a great amount of variation as regards size, colour,
and dentition, and are therefore not always easy to determine.


Phalangtsta urstna, Temminck, Monogr. Mamm., vol. i., p. 10

Cuscus ur sinus y Lesson, Man. Mamm, p. 219 (1827).
Phalanger ursinuSy Thomas, Cat. Marsup. Brit. Mus., p. 195


Sexes similar; fur coarse and harsh; general colour dark
brown or black. Nose naked, with the bare portion extending
in a wedge-shaped form up the muzzle nearly to the level of

Digitized by


82 Allen's naturalist's library.

the eye. Face blackish, with the hairs tipped with dirty white,
and a whitish patch round the eye ; ears short and rounded,
thickly covered with short, coarse hairs, which are dirty white
intemftUy and on the edges, and black on the outside. Chin
and under-parts greyish, with the hairs black at the base, and
dirty yellowish-white at the tip. Limbs black; toes naked
above ; soles of feet broadly striated. Tail furry like the body
for about half its length, the hair extending two or three inches
further on the upper than on the lower surface. Somewhat
larger than the next species, with a proportionately longer tail.

Distribution. — Celebes.

Habits. — Like the other species of the genus, this Cuscus
lives mainly upon the leaves of trees, of which it consumes
large quantities. Although its movements are slow, the
animal is difficult to kill, owing to the denseness of its soft,
thick fur, which deadens the effect of a charge of shot, and
also to its extreme tenacity of life, which is said to be so great
that even a fracture of the spine or a perforation of the brain
will often not prove fatal for many hours. By the natives
of the islands which they inhabit the flesh of all the species of
Cuscus is much esteemed as food ; and Mr. Wallace relates an
instance of the great difficulty which he experienced in obtaining
a fine specimen of one of the species, until he found out that
by promising to restore the body he would be readily permitted
to retain the skin. Many of these animals are taken by the
natives, who climb after them among the branches, where;
firom their slow motions, they are easily made prisoners. All
exhale a strong odour, which in some instances is stated to be
so powerful as to permeate the whole woods in which they dwell


Fhalangista maculata^ Geoffi:., Cat Mus., p. 149 (1803).

Digitized by



Phalangista papuensis^ Desmarest, Mamm., Suppl , vol. ii., p.

541 (1822).
Cuscus maculatusy Lesson and Garnot, Voyage Coquille, Zool,

voL i., p. 150 (1826).
Fhalanger maculatus^ Thomas, Cat Marsup. Brit. Mus., p.

197 (1888).

Sexes usually different, the females being larger than the
males. Size large ; fur soft ; top of muzzle above nose thinly
covered with hair; ears small, thinly clothed on both sides with
soft woolly hair. General colour consisting of various combina-
tions of white, rufous, and black ; under-parts white tinged with
yellow or rufous ; tail generally deep yellow, furry from one-half
to three-quarters of its length above, and from one-third to one-
half beneath. Length of head and body about 26 inches ; of
tail 19 inches. The yellow colour of the base of the tail will
serve to distinguish the dark varieties of this species from the
preceding, in which the same region is dark like the body ;
these two species being the only members of the genus in which
the ears are thickly haired both externally and internally.

Distribution. — Northern Australia, in the Cape York district,
Southern New Guinea, and the Austro-Malayan Islands, east-
wards from Saleyer, but unknown in Celebes, the Southern
Moluccas, or the Halmah^ra group.

As a rule, the females are generally grey and black, while the
males are usually spotted, although sometimes they resemble
the ordinary grey female, with the exception of having a few
indistinct whitish spots on the back and flanks. From this
form there is a gradual transition to one in which the fur is
nearly wholly white, save for a few dark spots. Other males
assume a more or less decided red tinge ; the rufous tint some-
times occupying only a part or the whole of the portions of the
fur which are usually dark, but in other cases suffusing tiiose

u 3

Digitized by


84 ALLEN'S naturalist's UBRARY.

regions of the body which are generally white. The most
curious feature about the coloration of the species is, however,
that the females inhabiting the small island of Waigiou, to the
south of Ceram, are coloured like the fully spotted and reddish
males of the same island. That the ordinary grey hue of the
female is the primitive coloration of the species, may be pretty
safely admitted ;. the spotted and rufous males being a higher
and more specialised development of coloration. For some
unknown and at present apparently ineiplicable reason this
specialised type of coloration has spread to the females in the
island above-mentioned, which thus contains what we may call
the most advanced representatives of the species.

Habits. — In Australia this Cuscus is described as a shy, soli-
tary creature, which is but rarely seen, although often more
frequently observed by day than by night. It appears to be
sparingly distributed over the thin bush, especially in the neigh-
bourhood of the creeks and swamps, where it is generally found
singly. Although it is probable that the chief food of this
Cuscus is, like that of its allies, of a vegetable nature, yet the
creature bears an ill-repute among the colonists, by whom it is
commonly termed the " Tiger Cat," on account of its alleged
depredations on the poultry- roost.


Didilphis orientalis^ Pallas, Misc. Zool., p.* 59 (1766).
Phaianger orientalis^ Storr, Prodrom. Method. Mamm., p. 33

(1780); Thomas, Cat. Marsup. Brit Mus., p. 201 (1888).
Phalangista rufa^ et P, alba^ Geoffr., Cat. Mus., pp. 148, 149

Cuscus orientalis^ Gray, List Mamm. Brit. Mus., p. 84 (1843).

CharacterB. — In common with the two following members of

Digitized by



the genus, this species differs from the two foregoing, in
having the inside of the ears nearly or quite naked.

Rather inferior in size to the last, and the females smaller
than the males ; fur soft and woolly, very variable in length.
General colour grey, but varying from nearly white to dark
greyish-brown, albino individuals, nearly always males, being
comparatively common. Upper-parts uniform in tint ; ihe
head, back, and outer surface of limbs being of the same hue,
which is generally decidedly paler in the males. Upper sur-
face of muzzle naked for about half the distance to the eyes.
The internally naked ears small, and round, well furred over
for the greater part of their external surface. Chin and under-
parts generally pale grey or white ; but in some (mostly male)
individuals the throat and neck strongly suffused with yellow
or rufous. Tail usually haired for its basal half above and its
basal fourth below, but very variable in this respect.

Distribution. — Timor, Bouru, Sula, Gu^beh, and the islands
eastwards to New Guinea.

Variety. — In the New Britain group and the Solomon Islands,
as far eastwards as San Christoval, this species is replaced by a
considerably smaller race {F. breviceps\ in which the general
colour is usually darker, and the dark line down the back less
distinctly marked than in the typical form.

Habits. — Writing of the habits of the Moluccan represen-
tatives of the genus, Mr. H. O. Forbes observes that these ani-
mals " are very plentiful, and in May the females all seem to
have a little one in their pouch. One of them was a tiny
creature, about two inches long, quite hidden in its pouch,
fixed by its lips formed into a single round orifice to its
mother's teat. They are much eaten by the natives, by
whom they are caught in nooses set in the trees, or by artifice.

Digitized by


86 Allen's naturalist's library.

In moonlight nights, creeping stealthily to the foot of a tree,
where they have observed one sleeping, taking care not to
lift their heads so that the light flash in their eyes, they
imitate at sh^rt intervals its cry by placing the fingers in the
nose ; the Cuscus descends, and is fallen on by the watchers

IV. Wallace's cuscus. phalanger ornatus.

Cuscus ornatusy Gray, Proc. Zocl. Soc, i860, pp. i and 374.
Phalanger nrnatus^ Thomas, Cat. Marsup. Brit Mus., p. 205

Characters. — This species, which was discovered by Dr. A. R.
Wallace, may be distinguished from the last by its smaller size
and lighter build, and by the back being more or less dis-
tinctly spotted with white, the dark line down the latter being
well marked. Old males frequently become highly rufous on
the fore quarters, neck, and under-parts.

Distribution. — Molucca islands, viz., Morotai, Ternate, Bat-
chian, and Halmah^ra.

y. celebean cuscus. phalanser celebensis.

Cuscus celebensis, Gray, Proc. Zool. Soc, 1858, p. 105.
Phalangista celebensis, Jentink, Notes Leyden Mus., vol. v.,

p. 181 (1883).
Phalanger celebensis, Thomas, Cat. Marsup. Brit. Mus., p. 206


Characters. — The smallest of the genus. Fur thick and soft ;
colour uniform grey, with a coppery tinge, but no trace of a
dark line down the back. Top of muzzle naked nearly to the
level of the corner of the eye. Ears larger than in the other
species, covered behind with soft fawn-grey hairs, but with

Digitized by



their margins and inner surface naked. Chin and under-parts
white or yellowish-white, sometimes passing into deep chestnut
at and near the root of the tail. Tail furry for about one-half
of its length superiorly, and for two-fifths below ; its terminal
portion with more fine hairs scattered over its upper and lateral
surfaces than usual, and with the contrast in colour between
the upper and under surfaces very strongly marked.

Distribution. — Celebes and Sanghir Islands.


TrichosuruSy Lesson, Diet. Class. d'Hist Nat., voL xiii., p. 332

Size large ; form stout ; fur thick and woolly ; ears medium
or short. Fore toes sub-equal, their respective lengths in the
order 4, 3, 2, 5, i ; claws large and strong ; soles of hind feet
thickly haired beneath the heels, elsewhere naked, with low,
rounded, ill-defined pads. Tail strong, its terminal third or
half naked inferiorly, and its extreme tip completely bare.

Side View of Upper and Lower Jaw of a species oi Phalanger.

Chest with a gland. The molar teeth with four cusps which
tend to form two incomplete transverse ridges ; and the fourth
premolar large, obliquely placed, and vertically ridged (es-
pecially in the lower jaw), thus approximating very closely to
the corresponding tooth of Hypsiprymnodon.

Digitized by



Widely different in the structure of its skull and teeth from
the following genus, the present one, remarks Mr. Thomas, is
" not easily definable externally. Its fore feet appear, how-
ever, k) be of more normal construction than in Pseudochirus ;
its tail is more densely haired terminally, although in this cha-
racter \\. is approached by Pseudochirus lemuroides\ and in most
specitiiens the discoloration of fur caused by the chest-gland
forms an easy method of recognising its members."


Didelphis vulpecula^ Kerr, Linn. Anim. Kingdom, p. 198 (1792).
Didelphis vulpina, Meyer, Uebers. Zool. Entd. NeuholL, p. 23

Phalangisia vulpina^ Desmareet, Nouv. Diet. d'Hist. Nat., vol.

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryRichard LydekkerA hand-book to the marsupialia and monotremata → online text (page 7 of 23)