4 Dec 2018


Australia has a plethora of wonderful and unique animals - many of them you may not even have heard of! But there’s one small creature that you’ll definitely be hearing more of... meet the woylie.

‘What’s a woylie?’ you might ask.

Well, here are some interesting facts about woylies:

1. A woylie is a small marsupial, endemic to Australia

This means they’re only found in this country and nowhere else in the world. They’re also known as the brush-tailed bettong (bettongia penicillata) or brush-tailed rat kangaroo. They have grey-brown coloured fur that covers their entire body and a furry tail that ends in a dark brown/black tail.

While they might be small, these little nocturnal diggers are extremely important for our Australian ecosystem.

2. They can fit in the palm of your hand

Woylie (brush-tailed bettong= Bettongia ogilbyi) in hands. Western Australia
Woylie (brush-tailed bettong, Bettongia ogilbyi) in hands. Western Australia © Sabrina Trocini / WWF-Aus

These small marsupials measure between 28-45cm from their head to the base of their tail. Their hind feet are actually longer than the entire length of their head! And their tail adds another 29-36cm to their entire length.

3. Their tail acts like a fifth limb

Their long tails are prehensile, meaning they can use it like an extra limb to pick up and carry objects like grass and branches that help build their dome-shaped nests.

4. They communicate via pee

Woylies have a well developed sense of smell. They’ll communicate with each other through scent using urine, faeces and rubbing scent glands.

5. Short, but very productive lives

A woylie or brush-tailed bettong (Bettongia penicillata) with its young in the Dryandra Woodlands= Western Australia
© John Lawson / WWF-Aus

The average lifespan of a woylie is around 6-8 years (though some can live longer in Zoos). Despite their short lives, they sure make the most of it. They breed all-year round and following the birth of the juvenile, a mother will mate again straight away.

A joey will remain in their mother’s pouch for up to 110 days, and they’ll reach sexual maturity by 180 days. Once sexually mature, female woylies can produce an average of 3 babies a year!

6. They love their truffles!

A woylie’s diet consists of an array of roots, legume pods, tubers, bulbs, seeds, insects and carrion. But the bulk of their nutrients come from underground fungi - truffles - which they dig out using their strong foreclaws.

7. Woylies are soil engineers

A woylie / brush-tailed bettong (Bettongia penicillata) eating a quandong in the Dryandra Woodlands, Western Australia, October 2015
A woylie / brush-tailed bettong (Bettongia penicillata) eating a quandong in the Dryandra Woodlands, Western Australia, October 2015 © John Lawson / WWF-Australia

Their love for fungi is extremely important for the health of the forest and woodland ecosystems. These little diggers help to spread fungal spores and seeds which creates a better home and environment for plants and other wildlife.

8. Sadly, they’re Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Woylie populations have declined from 225,000 to around 10,000 - 20,000 in the last 15 years. They once inhabited more than 60% of mainland Australia, ranging from Western Australia, Northern Territory, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales

Now, they can only be found in small pockets in Western Australia and offshore islands in South Australia.

9. Predators and habitat destruction are huge threats to the woylie

In the past, extensive landclearing for agriculture led to the death of millions of woylies and other species of bettongs. They were considered pests. Now, they’re also under immense threat by introduced predators, including foxes and feral cats.

10. But with the help of WWF-Australia, they made a huge comeback to Yorke Peninsula.

A woylie or brush-tailed bettong (Bettongia penicillata) is released in Perup= Western Australia
© WWF-Aus / Alexander Watson

WWF-Australia and our partners are working to restore South Australia's Yorke Peninsula and its spectacular landscape through the Marna Banggara project. The woylie is the first species to be reintroduced! In August 2021, 40 of these little soil engineers were translocated from Wedge Island, SA to Yorke Peninsula, with more to come. Marna Banggara is an ambitious conservation project and the biggest rewilding effort ever undertaken in Australia.

Want to be a part of this exciting rewilding project and help woylies thrive? Check out our Marna Banggara page. With your help, we can save our threatened species and turn the tide on Australia’s extinction crisis.