Today, we're diving into the enchanting world of the West Australian local eyewear icon - Spectacled Hare-Wallaby, scientifically known as Lagorchestes conspicillatus, a real spectacle to behold… if you can spot them!
The Spectacled Hare-Wallaby is a small marsupial that hails from the land Down Under – Australia. It's part of the Macropodidae family, which means it's a distant cousin of kangaroos and wallabies, but with a dash of cuteness that's uniquely its own.
First things first, let's address the elephant in the room – those captivating "spectacles" that have earned this critter its name. Imagine a pair of oversized round glasses that would make Harry Potter jealous – that's what the Spectacled Hare-Wallaby's facial markings look like. These spectacles aren't just a fashion statement; they serve a purpose too! They might help reduce glare from the sun or act as a warning to potential predators, saying, "Don't mess with this adorable marsupial!"
The Spectacled Hare-Wallaby is a petite marsupial, measuring just around 30-45 centimeters in length, excluding its tail, which is about the same length as its body. This small stature makes it one of the tiniest members of the Macropodidae family. But don't let its size fool you – this little furball is packed with personality!
Hop to It!
Like its kangaroo and wallaby relatives, the Spectacled Hare-Wallaby is an accomplished hopper. These adorable creatures can bound at high speeds, covering impressive distances in their quest for food. Their hind legs are muscular and built for hopping, which also helps them evade potential threats with their agile movements.
Herbivore with a Sweet Tooth
Despite their small size, these marsupials have big appetites, especially when it comes to their favourite foods – grasses and herbs. They have a sweet tooth for succulent plants and can often be found nibbling away happily. Just imagine a mini lawnmower prancing around the Australian grasslands!
Superpower and Fun Fact
Brace yourselves for this mind-boggling tidbit! The Spectacled Hare-Wallaby boasts the world's most efficient kidneys and holds the record for the lowest rate of water turnover among all mammals. In simpler terms, they're like the water-saving champions of the animal kingdom. Even in scorching temperatures soaring past 40°C, they don't need to sip from the water cooler – they're experts at conserving water!
A Hare-raising Lifestyle
Spectacled Hare-Wallabies are typically solitary creatures, but they do come together occasionally for social interactions or, more importantly, to mate. Their reproductive habits are quite fascinating. They can enter a state of torpor, a kind of hibernation, during the hot and dry months to conserve energy. When conditions improve, they "hop" back to life and resume their activities.
Home Territory and Range
Northern Australia and stretching from Western Australia (including the stunning Barrow Island) all the way to Queensland.
Globally, they've earned the title of "IUCN Least Concern," but it's not all smooth sailing. The population on Barrow Island (WA) is facing some challenges and is listed as "Vulnerable."
While these furry critters may seem like they're straight out of a fairy tale, their story is not without its challenges. Like many of Australia's unique wildlife species, the Spectacled Hare-Wallaby faces threats from habitat loss and introduced predators. Conservation efforts are in place to protect these delightful creatures and ensure their continued survival.
This resilient species has defied the odds, emerging as the last surviving member of its genus, Lagorchestes, in mainland Australia. But how has this tenacious creature managed to endure in the face of formidable challenges, including habitat destruction and the relentless predation by feral cats and foxes? In a world where similar species like the Central Hare-Wallaby, Desert Bandicoot, and Crescent Nailtail Wallaby have succumbed to these pressures, the Spectacled Hare-Wallaby stands as a remarkable anomaly.
Despite its captivating story, this marsupial has largely remained overshadowed by more well-known macropods like its closest relative, the Rufous Hare-Wallaby, or the iconic Quokka. So, what do we know about this enigmatic species? For one, it's exceptionally cryptic, rarely glimpsed in the wild, and was even declared extinct in Broome, Western Australia, for an astonishing 13 years (2004 to 2017) before its remarkable rediscovery. Moreover, it's among the most resilient mammals in arid regions, capable of surviving without access to free water, even in blistering temperatures exceeding 40°C.
Yet, these intriguing traits alone don't fully explain how the Spectacled Hare-Wallaby has managed to navigate a perilous landscape fraught with countless threats. Adding another layer of mystery, a solitary specimen was recorded in Papua New Guinea in 1997, sparking questions about the possibility of an additional population or even another subspecies. Regrettably, subsequent evidence has remained elusive.
The species' survival, once seemingly promising, is now cast in doubt. It's possible that the Spectacled Hare-Wallaby's inconspicuous "widespread distribution" has concealed alarmingly low detection rates, potentially leading to its oversight. Speculation even suggests that the species may be on the brink of extinction in certain Western Australian regions, particularly the Pilbara, where sightings have dwindled to near nonexistence since 1990. Given that the last comprehensive distribution study dates back to 1991 (a staggering 32 years ago!), it's evident that fresh research is urgently needed. Nevertheless, in parts of the Northern Territory and Queensland, the species may maintain more stable numbers, offering a glimmer of hope for its continued existence.
Could this elusive species hold invaluable survival lessons that might aid the conservation of more endangered counterparts? This enigmatic creature unquestionably merits increased attention. What better tribute than making it the inaugural Genome Assembly release for the WA Genome Atlas initiative, generously supported by Lotterywest, recognising its significance in biodiversity conservation?
The genome assembly shared today was generated using a tissue sample of a roadkill from Barrow Island (Western Australia) provided by Dr Natasha Tay, Harry Butler Institute, Murdoch University and a draft generated with short-insert size Illumina reads [634,107,482 PE reads] and scaffolded to chromosome length genome with Hi-C [578,744,677 PE reads]. See the Methods page for more detail on the procedure. The interactive contact map of the chromosomes is included below.
This work has been enabled and conducted under Western Australian Genome Atlas (WAGA) initiative generously funded through Lotterywest. Our sincere thanks to the Lotterywest for their ongoing support through funding the WA Genome Atlas initiative and to the collective expertise and support of our WA partner organisations. This year, Lotterywest is celebrating 90 years of being part of the Western Australian community. As the only Government owned and operated lottery in Australia where all available profits are returned directly to the community in the form grants, Lotterywest has played a pivotal role in helping Western Australia to grow and turn dreams into reality.