1 March 2024

Wik-Mungkan name for new rodent species

| Cape York Weekly
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The recently-discovered Kalla, or eastern delicate mouse, has been named to acknowledge the Wik-Mungkan word for mouse. Photo: Supplied.

The Wik-Mungkan language has been embraced by researchers after they discovered two new species of native rodent spanning the northern part of the country.

The aptly named delicate mouse was previously thought to be a single species spanning a massive stretch of Australia, from the Pilbara in Western Australia, across parts of the Northern Territory and through Queensland, down to the New South Wales border.

But researchers from Australian National University and CSIRO thought there might be more to the story, with lead author Dr Emily Roycroft explaining the rodent was now acknowledged as being three distinct species.

“Thanks to new genetic technology, we’ve confirmed the delicate mouse is three species, not one,” Dr Roycroft said.

“Identifying undescribed species and giving them official names goes a long way to making sure they’re properly looked after.”

Dr Roycroft said while it was difficult for the untrained eye to tell the species apart, the discovery was significant for the future of the tiny mouse.

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“The two new species haven’t had any conservation or research attention, because we didn’t know they were there,” Dr Roycroft said.

“We don’t know, for example, if population declines have gone undetected as a result of all three species being assessed as a single unit.

“The delicate mouse has not been a conservation priority, but that’s because it was thought to have a distribution three times larger than it actually does.

“This will allow us to reassess.”

The three species will now go by common names that point to their location: the western delicate mouse, or Pilbara delicate mouse, the northern delicate mouse, and the eastern delicate mouse, found across Cape York and down the Queensland coast.

The eastern delicate mouse – Pseudomys mimulus – will also be known as Kalla, the Wik-Mungkan word for mouse.

Dr Roycroft said the delicate mouse differed from the rodents commonly found in houses and backyards.

“House mice, black rats and brown rats are invasive species brought to Australia since European colonisation,” she explained.

“Delicate mice are part of a group of native rodents that have been evolving in Australia for the last five million years [and] they’re a crucial part of Australia’s natural environment and ecosystems.

“Delicate mice are our smallest Australian rodent – they can weigh as little as six grams, so they’re really tiny.”

The distribution areas for the three species of delicate mouse, which, until recently, were thought to be a single species. Photo: Supplied.

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