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Threatened Species Feature: Water Mouse

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The vulnerable water mouse (Xeromys myoides) is a small mammal about twice the size of a house mouse.

It has dark steel-grey fur with a contrasting pure white belly, lower snout and cheeks. Old water mice can be grizzled grey with a red tone to their sides. Adult water mice can have white spotting on their back in southeast Queensland. Water mouse fur is silky and resistant to water and mud, and its tail is shorter than its head-body length. Despite living in wetlands, the back feet of the water mouse are not webbed. It has a strong, acrid smell.

The water mouse creates and lives in a variety of long-term protective mud or peat shelters. From Cooloola to Curtis Island, it uses hollow mangroves, paperbark and swamp she-oak stumps and limbs, mangrove roots, tidal banks, bunds and artificial spoil heaps as scaffolding for these shelters, and it also builds distinctive free-standing mounds that are often covered in vegetation. It primarily eats crabs, leaving a distinctive feeding sign.

Habitats along the south-central Queensland coast

The water mouse primarily lives in mangroves, saltmarshes, and tidal reed flats between Cooloola and Curtis Island. It may also occur in freshwater to saline coastal wetlands, coastal swamps and wet heath.

The water mouse has a patchy distribution from Hervey Bay to the Gladstone–Curtis Island area and a more consistent distribution within the Great Sandy Strait, including the west coast of K’gari. Known local strongholds are at Kauri Creek and Tin Can Inlet in the Great Sandy Strait.

Local threats

The water mouse is very likely to have lost coastal habitat to urban, agricultural and commercial development along the south-central Queensland coast. Ongoing threats to its persistence in the region include predation by foxes, habitat and shelter damage by pigs, coastal development, future coastal habitat squeeze as sea levels rise, and coastal habitat is unable to migrate inland due to the built environment; fire, cattle, and oil spill. Habitat loss due to the developing aquaculture industry, and prolonged inundation from more intense rainfall events and cyclones, may also be of concern.

Snapshot of local inventory and management programs

Much of the potential habitat between Cooloola and Curtis Island has been surveyed at least once to find local water mouse populations. However, unsurveyed areas remain. Local opportunities for inventory surveys in these areas include targeted programs (e.g. camera deployment), active searches during coastal habitat monitoring (e.g. shorebirds, fish), and recreational exploration.

Private graziers in the Bustard Bay region have installed exclusion fencing to remove cattle long-term from water mouse habitat. Other opportunities to implement on-the-ground habitat restoration and threat management programs include Indigenous Ranger, Natural Resource Management, catchment stewardship and Landcare partnership programs. Blue carbon programs hold much potential to manage and restore intertidal water mouse habitats effectively.

Draft National Water Mouse Recovery Plan

The Commonwealth Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water recently developed a draft national water mouse recovery plan that is available for comment until Friday, 30 September 2022. You are encouraged to read through the draft plan and provide input and feedback. Be sure to include information about your expertise, who you represent, and your interest in water mouse.

Below are some focused questions about specific parts of the draft plan that are relevant to Cooloola to Curtis Island, although feedback to improve any aspect of the plan is welcome.

  1. Do you know of an unreported water mouse location? If so, please provide information about who can speak for that country.
  2. Where else could the water mouse live?
  3. What can be done to give the water mouse the best chance of persisting long-term along the south-central Queensland coast? What has not been considered?
  4. Do you know about an unreported area where threats to water mouse are being managed? Who is the best contact for this area?
  5. What would your organisation like to do for the water mouse in the future?

The department also seeks information about images, artwork, quotes etc., that support one or more aspects of the draft recovery plan. These could express what the water mouse means to people and country, what people are doing as managers and custodians of water mouse country, or what could happen in the future to help the water mouse.

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