Kangaroos - The 100 Days Project: Day 3[98]

The Truffle Roos

I read today that the ‘common’ Boobook Owl is becoming far less common than it was thanks to our use of rat poisons. The owl, a hunter of rodents, eats the dying rats – for of course the poisons drive them outside in search of water – and is therefore poisoned himself. It’s hard, sometimes, not to think of the mere presence of the human as the most toxic element in the environment.

But I was going to write about the potoroos – the potoroos and the bettongs. The potoroos and bettongs are smaller members of the kangaroo family, members of the Potoroidae. With the musky rat-kangaroo and a few other like creatures they are also collectively known as the rat-kangaroos.

Source: John Gould, The Mammals of Australia, 1863

There are four extant species of bettongs – the Eastern, or Tasmanian bettong, the Northern bettong, the Boodie, and the Woylie – and at least two extinct species, and there are three extant species of potoroo, the Long-nosed potoroo, Gilbert’s potoroo, and the Long-footed potoroo, and one extinct species, the Broad-Faced potoroo, though it should be mentioned that the Gilbert’s potoroo, one of the world’s most endangered mammals, was thought to be extinct until its rediscovery in 1994. Although potoroos and bettongs were common all over the mainland at the time of white settlement, all of the creatures I’ve just mentioned are on the lists of threatened or near-threatened species (the Gilbert’s potoroo and the Woylie are listed as critically endangered).

These species are of various sizes, but all somewhere between the size of a large rat and a rabbit or small cat. It is suggested that the principal causes of the dramatic decline in their numbers, if we must blame other animals rather than the humans who introduced them, are predation from cats and foxes, or competition from rabbits (etc.), though of course the greatest blame lies in human predation and destruction of habitat.

I could go on about the desperation of their predicament, but in fact I’d like to talk about truffles. Truffles are cetomycorrhizal funghi, which is to say funghi which grow along the roots of trees. Both the potoroos and the bettongs are funghivores, which is to say eaters of funghi. More to the point, they are lovers of cetomycorrhizal funghi, i.e. truffles and truffle-form funghi, and experts in finding them. Indeed, it has been suggested that, in detecting truffles, no other creature on earth can match them.   

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