Narrative of an expedition into Central Australia, by Charles Sturt

Appendix.

Animals.

But few mammalia inhabit Central Australia. The nature of the country indeed is such, that we could hardly expect to find any remarkable variety. The greater part is only tenable after or during heavy rains, when the hollows in the flats between the sandy ridges contain water. On such occasions the natives move about the country, and subsist almost exclusively on the Hapalotis Mitchellii, and an animal they call the Talpero, a species of Perameles, which is spread over a great extent of country, being common in the sand hills on the banks of the Darling, to the S.E. of the Barrier Range, as well as to the sandy ridges in the N.W. interior, although none were met with to the north of the Stony Desert.

The Hapaloti feed on tender shoots of plants, and must live for many months together without water, the situation in which we found them precluding the possibility of their obtaining any for protracted intervals. They make burrows of great extent, from which the natives smoke them, and they sometimes procure as many as twelve or eighteen from one burrow. This animal is grey, the fur is exceedingly soft; although the animal is in some measure common, I could not procure any skins from the natives.

Very few kangaroos were seen, none indeed beyond the parallel of 28 degrees. All that were seen were of the common kind, none of the minor description apparently inhabiting the interior, if I except some Rock Wallabi, noticed on the Barrier Range. The last beautiful little animal always escaped us in consequence of its extreme agility and watchfulness.

The Native Dog was not seen beyond lat. 28 degrees. Nor was it found in a wild state beyond Fort Grey, to the best of my recollection; these miserable and melancholy animals would come to water where we were, unconscious of our presence, and would gain the very bank of the creek before they discovered us, rousing us by as melancholy a howl as jackal ever made; their emaciated bodies standing between us and the moon, were the most wretched objects of the brute creation.

The first Choeropus castanotus seen, was on the banks of the Darling, in the possession of the natives, but it was too much injured to be valuable as a specimen. A second was also killed there, but torn to pieces by the dogs. None were afterwards seen until after the Barrier Range had been crossed, when about lat. 27 degrees several were captured alive, as detailed under the head Dipus. In like manner the first nest of the “Building Rats” (Mus conditor, Gould) was found in the brushes on the Darling, where they were numerous. The last nest of these animals was on the bank of the muddy lagoon to the north of the Pine Forest, in which the party were so embarrassed, at the end of 1844.

The first Hapalotis, seen was in lat. 29 1/2 degrees on some plains to the eastward of the Depot, where it was nearly captured by Mr. Browne. A second was taken by Mr. Stewart, at the tents, but in neither places were they found inhabiting the same kind of country as that in which they were subsequently found in such vast numbers. Mr. Gould thinks there were two species amongst those brought home, and it may be that these two were different from those inhabiting the sand hills: they only differed, however, in a darker shade in the fur, and a reddish mark on the back of the ears.

There were both rats and mice in the N.W. interior, numbers of which took up their abode in our underground room at the Depot, but there was no apparent difference between them and the ordinary rat or mouse.

There was only one Opossum killed, or indeed seen to the westward of the Barrier Range, nor do they appear to inhabit the interior in any numbers. Since there were no signs of the trees having been ascended by the natives in search of them.

1. Canis Familiaris, var. Australasiae. — Dingo.

This animal was not very numerous in the interior, more especially towards the centre, for it was not noticed to the north of the Stony Desert. Wherever seen it was in the most miserable condition, and it is difficult to say on what they lived. This animal was of all colours. It appears to me that if these dogs are indigenous, nature has departed from her usual laws as regards wild beasts, in giving them such a variety of colours.

2. Macropus Major. — Great Kangaroo.

This animal did not extend beyond 28 degrees. Six or seven were there seen on a small stony range, but very few were observed to the westward of the Barrier Range.

3. Macropus Laniger. — Red Kangaroo.

This fine animal did not extend beyond the neighbourhood and plains of the Murray, where it is not numerous. Several of the smaller kangaroos were taken during the progress of the Expedition up the Murray and Darling rivers; but as they have been frequently described, it is not thought necessary to insert them in this list.

4. Choeropus Castanotus, Gray.

This animal was first killed on the Darling, but the specimen was destroyed by the dogs. Two or three were afterwards taken alive in latitude 26 1/2 degrees. They were found lying out in tufts of grass, and when roused betook themselves after a short run, to some hollow logs where they were easily cut out. The Choeroups is a beautiful animal, about eight inches long in the body, with a tail of considerable length, having a tuft at the end. The fur is a silvery grey, and very soft. When confined in a box they ate sparingly of grass and young leaves, but preferred meat and the offal of birds shot for them. The Choeropus is insectivorous, and I was therefore not surprised at their taking to animal food, which, however, not agreeing with them, they died one after the other. They squat like rabbits, laying their broad ears along their backs in the same kind of way.

5. Hapalotis Mitchellii.

This beautiful little animal was, as I have observed in the introduction to this notice, first seen in the vicinity of the Depot. It was subsequently found in vast numbers, inhabiting the sandy ridges from Fort Grey to Lake Torrens. Those immense banks of sand were in truth marked over with their footprints as if an army of mice or rats had been running over them. They are not much larger than a mouse, have a beautiful full black eye, long ears, and tail feathered towards the end. The colour of the fur is a light red, in rising they hop on their hind legs, and when tired go on all four, holding their tail perfectly horizontal. They breed in the flats on little mounds, burrowing inwards from the edge; various passages tending like the radii of a wheel to a common centre, to which a hole is made from the top of the mound, so that there is a communication from it to all the passages.

They are taken by the natives in hundreds, who avail themselves of a fall of rain to rove through the sandy ridges to hunt these little animals and the talpero, Perameles, as long as there shall be surface water. We had five of these little animals in a box, that thrived beautifully on oats, and I should have succeeded in getting them to Adelaide if it had not been for the carelessness of one of the men in fastening a tarpauline down over them one dreadful day, by which means they were smothered.

6. Mus Conditor, Gould. — The Building Rat.

Inhabits the brushes in the Darling, in which it builds a nest of small sticks, varying in length from eight inches to three, and in thickness, from that of a quill to that of the thumb. The fabric is so firm and compact as almost to defy destruction except by fire. The animals live in communities, and have passages leading into apartments in the centre of the mound or pyramid, which might consist of three or four wheelbarrows full of the sticks, are about four feet in diameter, and three feet high. The animal itself is like an ordinary rat, only that it has longer ears and its hind feet are disproportioned to the fore feet. It was not found beyond latitude 30 degrees. See page 120, Vol. I.

7. Acrobates Pygmaea. — Flying Opossum Mouse.

This beautiful and delicate little animal was killed in a Box tree, whence it came out of a hole, and ran with several others along a branch, retreating again with great swiftness. It was so small that if the moon had not been very bright it could not have been seen. It is somewhat less than a mouse in size and has a tail like an emu’s feather, its skin being of a dark brown.

8. Lagorchestes Fasciatus (L. Albipilis, Gould?). — Fasciated Kangaroo.

One only of this animal was seen on the plains of the interior. It is peculiar in its habits, in that it lies in open ground and springs from its form like a hare, running with extreme velocity, and doubling short round upon its pursuers to avoid them. The Lagorchestes is very common on the plains to the north of Gawler Town, but is so swift as generally to elude the dogs. It is marsupial, and about the size of a rabbit, but is greatly disproportioned, as all the Kangaroo tribe are, as regards the hind and fore quarters. In colour this animal is a silvery grey, crossed with dark coloured bars on the back.

9. Phalangista Vulpina. — The Opossum.

Like the preceding, only one of these animals was seen or shot during the Expedition; it was in one of the gum-trees, taking its silent and lonely ramble amongst its branches, when the quick eye of Tampawang, my native boy, saw him. It does not appear generally to inhabit the N.W. interior. The present was a very large specimen, with a beautifully soft skin, and as it was the only one noticed during a residence of nearly six months at the same place, it was in all probability a stray animal.

10. Vespertilio. — Little black Bat.

This diminutive little animal flew into my tent at the Depot, attracted by the light. It is not common in that locality, or any other that we noticed. It was of a deep black in colour and had smaller ears than usual.

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