When the first spexplorers reached Australia, they initially noticed what was different from HE, starting with the dinosaurian fauna, and working their way down through the bizarre and unexpected monotremes, tingamarrs, and gondwanatheres of the continent. Very little attention was given to the various marsupials seen scurrying through the undergrowth and climbing through the trees. It wasn't until a detailed morphological and genetic study of the continent's marsupial fauna was undertaken that it was discovered that all marsupials in Spec's Australasia were, by all indications, bandicoots.
Though in present times on HE bandicoots are a comparably minor group of generalist omnivores. There is no record of them from Australia prior to the Eocene (although Australia has little in the way of terrestrial Paleocene deposits on either world. Specworld bandicoots are either heavily convergent upon HE bandicoots, if not the genuine article. Basal forms have Dasyurid-like dentition in the front of their jaw, with up to three pair of incisors and intact canines, and
Diprotodont-like hind feet, with digits two and three fused to form a grooming comb. Most interestingly, they also share the distinctive bandicoot proto-placenta. Gestation is incredibly short, averaging a week in most of the smaller species. Young are generally no more developed at birth than average for metatherians, but the amount of time spent nursing is shorter than for similar sized metatheres on HE or Spec, leading to a short "in-pouch" period of one to three months.
P-Peramelemorphia on Spec was far luckier than its HE analogue. The large HE clade which led to Diprotodonts and Dasyurids either never evolved, or went extinct without gracing the fossil record with any definitive species. Specworld bandicoots have evolved into virtually every small terrestrial and arboreal mammalian niche in Australasia, excluding a relative paucity of terrestrial herbivores.
GLABRACAUDA (Naked-Tailed Bandicoots)
Naked-tailed bandicoots, a group which has been suggested based upon shared morphology, have recently been upheld as a monophyletic group by the discovery of a nearly-complete fossil skeleton of the Eocene Proglabracauda. This genus, while having a primitive metatherian tooth count shows many of traits found throughout the clade today, including an elongated snout and oversized hind legs which push many modern forms towards a bounding, hopping gait.
METAMUSIDAE (mousicoots and allies)
Two of the three groups of mammals which take the "rodent" niches elsewhere on Spec, xenos and multis, are entirely absent from Australia. Gondwanatheres are present, however they are nowhere near as diverse as their Malagasy counterparts, only found in their usual wetland ecosystems along with a number of burrowing niches throughout the continent. Instead, most of the small granivore/omnivore niches are on Spec's Australasia are filled by the Metamusidae, colloquially known as "mousicoots." Their name is more due to similar diet and behavior to HE murids than an outward physical resemblance with their long-nosed face and oversized back legs they more closely resemble elephant shrews than Murids. Metamusids have developed a dentition remarkably similar to HE lagomorphs or specworld xenos, with two pairs of ever-growing incisors in the upper and lower jaws, absent canines, and a large gap between their incisors and premolars.
However, they retain more premolars and molars than either of these groups. Though omnipresent through both Australia and New Guinea, they are strictly found in small mammal niches, with no known species larger than a rat.
Striped Mousicoot (Metamus lineatus)
The striped mousicoot is a found throughout coastal eastern Australia. The bulk of its diet is seeds, although it regularly takes insects as well. Like other species within the Metamus genus, few individuals live for much longer than a year, making them among the shortest-lived mammals known on spec. Given the prolific bandicoot reproductive system, this is not as much of a liability as it might seem for a metatherian a year is more than enough time for the average female to produce two to three litters.
Rufus Mousicoot (Metamus ruburum)
The rufus mousicoot occupies much of the semi-desert fringes of central Australia, although it is seldom found in its true arid heart. Unlike its eastern cousin, it lives mainly on a diet of grass, and is around twice the size, at around 100 grams. A pioneer species, its prolific status makes it one of the first animals to colonize land after large fires.
Dusky Fauxrat (Rostrolongus fuscus)
The dusky fauxrat is one of the largest mousicoots, weighing around 500 grams. It eats mainly nuts, fallen fruit, and fungi. However, it is more omnivorous than most mousicoots, eating insects and other small animals when available, and showing a particular lust for eggs. Specsplorers visiting Cape York should check all boxes and backpacks several times before leaving for hitchhiking individuals of this species. There was a near miss last year, when a female with young in her pouch made it onto an expedition to New Caledonia. Fortunately, she was apprehended before it was discovered empirically if a marsupial rat would do to the endemic fauna what HE rats did to avian fauna on so many islands.
Scruffers are medium-sized rooting omnivores with a heavy tendency toward herbivory. Even for the casual observer, it's clear that they are related to mousicoots, with similar long snouts, oversize ears, and naked tails. Their dentition is essentially identical as well, save for the development of open-rooted molars and the beginnings of hindgut fermentation of tough vegetable matter. Scruffers have also evolved into true quadrupedal runners, with front and rear legs almost equal in size.
Andersen's Fauxrat (Gramenrattus anderseni)
Andersen fauxrat is, upon first glance, an unremarkable, mainly herbivorous large mousicoot of southeastern Australia. However, when a detailed genetic assay of Glabracauda was undertaken, this species and its close relatives were found to be a outgroup of scruffersrather than mousicoots. Morphologists were at first unconvinced, but a closer examination of Australia's Paleogene fossil record found no true mousicoots prior to the Pliocene. Instead all earlier species seem to be morphologically more similar to Grammenrattus.
Bristly Scruffer (Nothotasyau echinatus)
The bristly scruffer is found throughout the steppe, savanna, and monsoon forest west of the Great Dividing Range. A smaller scruffer, it tops out at 6 kg, and lives in small family groups, subsisting on a diet of mainly grasses, succulents, and tubers. While not an active hunter by any means, it will greedily take down any insect or small vertebrate it comes upon, along with carrying back bones to safe locations where it can slowly extract the marrow in peace.
The most surprising thing about this otherwise unremarkable animal is its apparent invulnerability to dinosaurian predation. While desert leapers will occasionally dig into their burrows and eat young, cedunasaurs and rhynchoraptors give them a very wide berth. Experiments have shown that the bristly scruffer exudes a pheromone from glands on its neck which induces unease, even terror, in any dinosaur with a reasonably strong sense of smell. As the species is nocturnal, visual hunters like Avisaurs rarely chance upon it in the open. Given its comparable security from predation, it is both long lived for a scruffer (individuals have been estimated at up to 20 years old), and has low fecundity, producing only one offspring every other year.
Biard's Scruffer (Nothotasyau bairdi)
Baird's scruffer weighs in at 12 kg, making it the largest species in the cosmopolitan scruffer genus. It is found throughout Southeastern Australia. It is the most herbivorous scruffer up to 90% of their diet is made up of made up of foliage and roots, with most foraging of insects taking place during the warm summer months. The species became adapted to dedicated browsing during the ice ages, when competition from ornithischians disappeared. Unlike its more northerly cousins, scruffers form large agglomerations dominated by alpha males, who are highly territorial even outside of the breeding season. For a species with no fangs, horns, or other immediately notable means to injure rivals, these fights get quite vicious, with well-placed kicks from powerful back legs often causing fatal injuries.
Gurumukas show a clear resemblance to the other naked-tailed bandicoots, though they appear to be related to other Glabracaudates only distantly. One of the two major Australasian clades of mammalian predators, derived forms show many adaptations for carnivory, including sharp canines, shearing carnassials, reduced molar count (down to two pair in derived species), and stereoscopic vision. However, their resemblance to HE Carnivorans ends at the head. Derived gurumukas have modified the ancestral semi-bipedal scamper of the Glabracaudate ancestor into a bipedal, hopping gait, giving the overall appearance of predatory jerboas. Most species are quite small, filling the terrestrial insectivore niches on the continent, but a few are larger in size and specialize in vertebrate prey.
Kuril (Entophaganax minor)
The Kuril is a small insectivore of the northern Australian rainforests. It weighs only 15 grams, and is relatively unspecialized, superficially similar to a mousicoot with the exception of having binocular vision. When moving slowly through the underbrush, it is a quadruped, but like many mousicoots, it jumps on its hind legs to travel long distances or escape predators. It is an ambush hunter of small insects and land snails, generally dispatching them with a quick bite to the head.
Birndi (Carnidipus saltator)
Weighing in at 50 grams, the birndi is a desert animal which not only takes insect prey, but also small frogs, lizards, and on occasion birds and mousicoots. It is the most basal gurumuka which has shearing carnassial teeth derived from the first upper and lower molar. Like most derived species in its clade, it has developed a hunting style which involves pouncing on its prey before making a precision bite to a vulnerable spot such as the neck. The birndi has never been observed drinking water in the wild, suggesting it gets all needed water from the food it eats.
Desert Leaper (Metazerda carnifex)
With the start of the ice ages, many continents saw their sauropod and ornithischian faunas become comparably impoverished, as these "scalies" retreated towards the tropics. Elsewhere, this only affected herbivorous fauna, with maniraptors and mammals quickly radiating into the now vacant niches. On Australia however, the major predatory guild, the Ornithischian rhynchoraptors, was also affected. Although their suburb burrowing skills (among the best for dinosaurs), allowed them to be competitive in cooler climates than would otherwise be possible, there is a large southern fringe of the continent which is marginal habitat under present conditions. Some gurumuka have flowered into these vacant ambush hunting niches.
At 8 kg, the desert leaper is the largest gurumuka. Though built in a similar fashion to its smaller cousins, it has several adaptations which transform into an ambush hunter. Though it still hops over long distances, its foot bones have become less tightly attached, allowing it to walk, though not run, bipedally. It also has retractile claws on its hind feet, which in concert with foot pads allow for totally silent approaches. The desert leaper hunts by stalking prey until it is less than two meters away. It then dispatches in a similar manner to its smaller cousins, jumping onto its quarry feet first, with claws extended, and killing with a swift bite to the neck. Unlike its smaller cousins however, it will hunt prey its own size or larger, often grappling for some time before landing a killing bite. Though not an especially skilled burrower, where diurnal prey is scarce it will hunt at night, using its arms to break open burrows of sleeping reptiles, dinosaurs, and mammals.
Forest Leaper (Metazerda orientalis)
The forest leaper is found throughout the Eastern Forests, Tasmania, and the Australian mountains. Topping out at 6 kg, it lacks the comical ears of its desert cousin, but is otherwise quite similar. It has a few novel hunting behaviors not seen in other leapers. It is known to prey upon small fish and other water creatures, typically standing on one foot in shallow water and plunging its suspended foot down upon passing prey, not unlike a miniature drak. Most remarkably, it has been known to capture birds on the wing, jumping up to a meter vertically with remarkable precision.
BRACHYOPSIA (Short-Faced Bandicoots)
Short-faced bandicoots are the second great "suborder" of specworld bandicoots. As their name would suggest, they lack the comically long muzzles of HE bandicoots or most Glabracaudates. While all forms retain the weird, polyprotodont lower incisors, the number of premolars and molars are reduced, giving most species faces a more conventional mammalian muzzle. Forelimbs are generally long and powerful, making members of this clade skilled diggers and climbers, and the tail is thickly-furred, unscaled, and often reduced in size. Though this clade contains some generalist species which are similar to HE bandicoots in both looks and habits, it also contains the largest, most intelligent, and most charismatic mammals in Spec's Australasia.
Forest Karora (Nothomeles umbros)
The forest kaora is a medium-sized ground bandicoot, typically weighing five kilograms, which is common throughout New Guinea. It is mainly carnivorous, spending most of its nighttime foraging hours rooting through the undergrowth for grubs, snails, frogs, and lizards. It also has well-developed front legs which it uses to burrow with abandon, uncovering both calorie-rich tubers as well as the burrows of small gondwies and mousicoots.
Yowie (Metaursus avarus)
The yowie is a solitary omnivore roughly the size of a HE sun bear (50 kg), and next to the yoe, is the largest land mammal in Spec's Australia. The bulk of its diet is made up of herbage, roots, seeds, and fallen fruit, but it also searches the undergrowth for insects, small vertebrates, and carrion. In the winter, it migrates out of its normal home in the Australian mountains towards the coast and digs up hibernating small dinosaurs and mammals. Specsplorers often get a chance to see the yowie's opportunistic nature for themselves, as it not only frequently raids the rations of expeditions, but often destroys dozens of specimen jars and bags often making itself grievously ill in the process.
Aside from its large size and parallelism with HE ursids, the most unique aspect of the Yowie is its reproduction. It has the longest gestation of any spec metathere a full 45 days in length. Though its young are born blind and helpless, they are only as underdeveloped at birth as those of HE placental groups like rodents. Nursing however takes up to nine months to complete long for a metatherian, but around half the length one would expect for a marsupial of its size.
The species has a disjunctive range, with smaller subspecies in Tasmania that became isolated after the last ice age. The Tasmanian yowie has a reddish coloration instead of the sandy pelt of its northern cousin. It is also has more herbivorous habits, possibly due to the lack of any ornithischian browsers to either compete with or prey upon opportunistically. Interestingly, Baird's scruffer is known from subfossils throughout the island, although no extant indiviudals have been found. Given the Tasmanian yowie's niche has converged upon that of the scruffer, it is hypothesized the latter species lost out in the completion for scarce island resources.
Throughout the forests of Australia and New Guinea, one can hear deep, resonant roars louder than those of any other animal on the face of Spec. Though the forests have many fearsome inhabitants, they have an unassuming source arboreal spec-bandicoots which seldom weigh more than a few kilograms. Bullroarers owe their name to an enlarged hyoid bone present in all derived species, remarkably similar to that of HE howler monkeys. While bullroarers have all the telltale signs of bandicoot ancestry, given their similar environment, they have converged remarkably on HE possums, although they lack prehensile tails, and derived forms evolved primate-like nails on their fingers and all toes but their grooming claws. Their diets, however, are generally different from HE possums. The presence of the Neodryosaurs in Spec's Australia kept bullroarers largely out of browsing niches until the ice ages. Because of this, most species having a diet similar to HE Cercopithecine monkeys, eating mainly fruit, but with a healthy mix of newly-grown leaves, seeds, and insects. Bullroarers can be found in any part of Australia or New Guinea with some tree cover.
Mute Bullroarer (Jarrahcola olor)
The mute bullroarer is present only in the p-Jarrah-Karri forests native to Southwestern Australia. It is a small bullroarer, weighing no more than 300 grams. It is more scansorial than arboreal, often opportunistically foraging on the ground when no predators are present. Insects make up a greater proportion of its diet than other bullroarers, although roughly half of its diet is made up of fruit and seeds. Though its name would suggest it was totally mute, the species is capable of small mewling cries. However, it diverged from other bullroarers before the evolution of their characteristic hyoid, meaning it is incapable of making the stunning calls of others in the group. Indeed, when first discovered it was thought to be an aberrant, omnivorous mokoi until details of its pedal morphology and braincase made it clear it was the most basal bullroarer, the descendent of a line which split off soon after the bullroarers and mokoi parted ways.
Striped Bullroarer (Dendrotherium striatus)
The striped bullroarer was the first discovered species in its clade, and is the most common species throughout a narrow coastal band running from Southern Queensland to New South Wales. A nocturnal animal, it generally tops out at two kilograms. It is a consummate generalist, eating anything that will not run away that requires little in the way of digestion. Roaring generally only takes place during the mating season, when the adult males fill the forests with wailing. This racket makes coastal areas of Australia during the spring probably the least desired place for graduate students to do field studies. There is one bit of added amusement to interactions with the species in the field, however. Apparently, the smell of humans is very close to the pheromones put out by the species, as it shows an odd attraction (though thankfully not sexual) to human campsites. More than once spexplorers have awoken to have one, two, or a whole troop of the creatures sleeping beside them, or even inside their own sleeping bags. For this reason, it is advisable to sleep in a secured tent when visiting the area.
Cacophonous Bullroarer (Dendrotherium maxima)
The cacophonous bullroarer, at 8 kilograms, is the largest species within the Dendrotherium species complex. It can be found throughout the tropical and subtropical rainforests in the north of Queensland. Aside from its large size, as well as its black fur, it looks virtually identical to its southern cousin. However, it is behaviorally far more complex. Instead of forming loose agglomerations which provide defense in numbers, the troop is a social order similar to that of many HE old-world monkeys.
Perhaps the most stunning development has been the use of the roar not simply as a mating call, but as a collective defensive weapon. When a low-ranking male on guard duty sees a predator approaching, such as a yarri or an avisaur, he calls out to his troopmates. The troop then quickly assembles itself and begins calling in tandem, with speed, pitch, and syncopation varying dramatically within a period typically lasting no longer than a few minutes. Under this barrage of sound, all but the most determined predators quickly give up some even fall to the ground, temporarily stunned. The only predators that are invulnerable are snakes, which have generally poor hearing and indeed the troop tends to simply disperse when a snake is sighted.
Though originally thought to be a mainly passive defense, videos documenting its use show troop members form particular formations depending upon the angle of the predator's approach. In addition, the frequency of the call varies depending upon the species threatening the troop. This suggests on at least an unconscious level the troop knows how to arrange itself in order to focus calls for maximum disorientation. In practice this seems to fall under the same "swarm theory" which allows birds to flock and fish to school. However, some believe the species shows signs of true intelligence, and there have been more attempts at studying cacophonous bullroarer intelligence than any other specworld species. Unfortunately, they do not share the strange love of humans of their southern brethren. Earplugs are advised when visiting their territory.
Androsynth (Polyzygos lutea)
The androsynth is a small bullroarer common throughout the forests of Papua, and has the most unique reproductive strategy, and socialsystem, of any mammal on either Spec or HE. Similar to HE armadillos of the Dasypus genus, mothers give birth to four genetically identical offspring. However, this combined with the social nature of many bullroarers has resulted in what can only be called incipient eusociality.
Groups of identical siblings seek out one other groups of the opposite gender to form new troops. Unless they are unseated by their own offspring, this promiscuous eight-some are the only reproductively active troop members. Hormones put out by troop mothers stop their daughters from going into estrus. Mature sons are capable of reproduction, but ingrained incest taboos prevent them from breeding with the only fertile females. Instead they content themselves with homosexual liaisons. The amount of time offspring stay with their troops varies according to scarcity of food and competition within the area. When spreading into a depopulated area, offspring often leave as soon as they are sexually mature. In contrast, in densely-populated areas children will sometimes make an alliance (through means which are still unclear) with an outside group of siblings and overthrow the reign of their parents.
Androsynth are also unusual because of their relationship with the barometz tree (Barometz agrestis) . The barometz has reservoirs of sap which collect in cavities in two to three places on the surface of a mature tree. This sap makes up approximately 40% of the diet of androsynth. In return for this "offering" by the trees, androsynth eat any insects they find on the barometz, as well as eating if palatable, and destroying if unpalatable, any creeping vines or undergrowth plants which threaten their hosts. This commensal relationship has also altered the flowering patterns of the barometz, as its flowers are small structures found around the sap-filled cavities. When the androsynth reach in with their hands or heads, they inadvertently pollinate the tree. Small berries continually form around the cavity and are also relished by the androsynth. Androsynth-barometz dominated forests can stretch for thousands of square miles in New Guinea only broken up by the presence of enough eculasaurs to graze immature trees into oblivion.
Gula (Bradyopsis villosus)
The gula, weighing up to 20 kg, is the largest bullroarer, and the only one which is a strict herbivore. It can be found throughout Southern Australia in arboreal habitats too cold for dendrosaurs, like many mammals, its ancestors seem to have radiated into a niche which became vacant with the cooling of the ice ages. In contrast to the generally adorable looks of the other bullroarers, it is a bristly, foul-smelling, ill-tempered creature. By virtue of its low metabolism and the lack of any high-browsers in Southern Australia they are often extraordinarily locally common, making up around half of the herbivore body mass in some environments.
Mokois are the second great clade of mammalian predators in Australia. Both genetic and morphological studies suggest this group only parted ways with the ancestors of bullroarers after the Austrialian bolide in the early Miocene. From the neck down, they remain quite similar, although their dentition shows numerous adaptations for a more predatory lifestyle, including reduced molars, large canines, and shearing carnissal premolars similar to gurumukas, but derived from different premolars. In general form they are strikingly similar to old-world felimurids. The group is not very diverse, at most there are a half-dozen species spread across two genera, the small true mokoi and the far larger "dodacadactylines" which uniquely among tetrapods have a polydactl cloning of digit one on their hind feet as a trait of the genus.
Common Mokoi (Scansodon vulgaris)
The first decribed mokoi species was originally simply called "mokoi" after aboriginal demons, until it became clear it was part of a species complex of between seven and ten species which spread from Tasmania to New Zealand. It is by far the most widespread species however, spread across a large swath of Northern Australia. Weighing in at around 1.5 kilograms, it is the terror of the treetops for small prey such as lizards, frogs, and tweeties. When pressed, it will pursue prey onto the ground, and is actually a fairly capable burrower.
Yarri (Dodecadactylos fulvus)
The Yarri can be found from New Guinea to southern Queensland. It is a unique creature which epitomizes the weirdness of the generally strange Australian fauna a predatory mammal specializing in ornithischian prey. At 12 kilograms, it may not be the largest predator, or even the largest mammal in Australia, but it is large enough to take down dendrosaurs with ease while remaining small and agile enough to weave its way through the trees in hot pursuit. It also preys upon hypsies, chorosaurs, and brush-runners, generally pouncing upon them opportunistically as they are browsing on low foliage. Oddly, despite its habitat overlapping with many species of bullroarers, it seldom preys upon them except in times of famine, possibly because bullroarer troops often put up a fight when a predator is sighted, rather than simply bolting to safety.
Wonthaggi (Dodecadactylos fuscus)
A secretive creature, the wonthaggi is little known at present. Although larger (it tops out at 15 kilograms) and less flashy than the yarri, it is otherwise quite similar in morphology. However, it appears quite different in behavior. No kills have been observed in the trees, possibly because you'd have to be half-starving to think taking down an adult gula was a good idea. While active predation has been seldom recorded, kills have been found with wonthaggi tooth marks which range from scruffers and tingamarrs, all the way up to yearling yoes and yowies. How it takes down its prey is as of yet unknown, but it is presumed from track marks it ambushes its prey on the ground.