• Nathan Litjens

What could be cuter than a fuzzy Dasykaluta?

What is a Kaluta and why are they so cool?

Face to face with a Kaluta

When I am asked about the business name, the most common question I have been getting is “Why Kaluta?” or “What is a Kaluta?” I'm glad you asked because it gives me a chance to talk about some of our lesser known species here in this massive country we call Australia. Sharing information on lesser known species is, after all much of what the business is all about.

Meeting the little beast - the Kaluta habitat

This is the sort of habitat that we were turning up Kaluta in, though bigger Spinifex clumps were better we did find them in unusually sparse areas too.

In short, a Kaluta (Dasykaluta rosamondae) is a small, rather ferocious little marsupial, a cousin of the Tasmanian Devil from the dry country of mid-Western Australia, an area known as the “Pilbara”. The region is largely made up of sedimentary rocks such as rich ironstone as well as a multitude of other areas of geological – and commercial interest. It was in 2014 that I had my first introduction to the region while delivering a truck. I was on a seriously limited time budget and couldn't stop, but driving through was nothing short of spectacular. The banded iron rich hills, the stark white eucalypts and rings of prickly spinifex grass growing on the red sand and rocky scree slopes, dissected by sandy dry creek beds. It's a harsh area and it gets hot. The town of Marble Bar in the heart of the region is Australia's hottest town with day after day of rock cracking heat in the summer, under a persistently blue sky. My time in the Pilbara on the occasion was measured in hours only. I emerged out the other side at Port Hedland in less than half a day. The next journey to the area didn't eventuate until 2016. I had finished a season in the Kimberley and took my mates Pete and Adam on a road trip. We had a blast. And it was there, in a gorge in Karijini that I met my first Kaluta. I had been spotlighting by myself and saw one scamper over the rocks. It wasn't much of a sighting, but it was a sighting no less. I was excited, only hours earlier I had been reading about Kalutas and their unusual habit of flicking the tail up and down as they forage. This one had done just that. For the next few days we managed to sight more of them, one even scuttling over the road. It was a treat for sure. In May 2019 I had the pleasure of working with BioLogic, a Perth based company on their ecological surveys in the Pilbara region. The results of the survey were unique – the one animal that we captured in excessive numbers was in fact the Kaluta! They would get in to everything. Pitfall traps, Elliott traps, even setting off the cage traps meant for cat-sized mammals! Apparently this is unusual for Kalutas, to be in such high numbers. The time of year might provide a clue to that, however.

Kaluta males live fast and die young. Why?

Kaluta tucking in to a delicious and very juicy centipede. There's not much they won't eat!

You see, many – in fact most of our tiny marsupials from the Dasyurid family are very short lived – often only surviving a year. It's a strange yet highly effective, if not brutal (on the part of the individual) strategy. In a climate such as the Pilbara, this makes sense for rapid population expansion – and reduces competition with the adult males for the young. How does that work? Well, we had been surveying before the breeding season. All of the Kalutas that had survived predation up until that point were before the annual population crash beginning as early as September. In season, the males go absolutely nuts. With their natural death imminent, they are programmed to breed. And breed they do. They relentlessly pursue females and, as soon as their DNA is no longer required, they shut down and simply die. Females live on to rear the young and will often die too, sometimes surviving for another season. It's a fast paced life with a harsh ending, but nature doesn't care all that much about what we perceive as fair.

Kalutas are also packed full of attitude and appetite to match!

The other cool thing about the Kaluta is their attitude. They look sort of like a slightly bushy tailed mouse with a pointy nose and feint eye ring, but that's where the similarity ends. They eat just about anything they can capture. I've witnessed them with the remains of other, only slightly smaller marsupials, geckoes heavier than them, spiders, centipedes, moths and crickets. Mice and scorpions are on the menu too! Their appetite is seemingly endless – well, when you only have a year to live, why not pig out? In the hand, they don't seem to get all that nasty like I expected. After handling countless Kalutas, I did not get bitten once. They just wriggled about and eventually snuggled down waiting for release, bounding off into the prickly Spinifex to enjoy their short, action packed lives day by day.

And that's how it should be.

Hunched and ready to rocket off into the Spinifex. A Kaluta upon release.


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