The fawn-footed melomys Melomys cervinipes (also known as the fawn-footed mosaic tailed rat) is a small to medium sized (40-90g) nocturnal murid rodent native to the Eastern coast of Australia.
It is russet-brown to brownish-grey on the dorsal surface, with a white belly and feet. Its name is derived from its characteristic tail scales that are inter-linked like a mosaic tile, compared to other mice and rats that have overlapping tail scales.
This mouse is one of only four species within the Melomys complex in Australia, although several Melomys species are known from Papua New Guinea. It is morphologically indistinct from the grassland melomys M. burtoni, which occurs in sympatry in the Wet Tropics. There are some minor morphological differences, in the dentition structure and the length of the interdigital pads, that have been used to distinguish the two species in the field. Two other species of Australian melomys are recongised, namely the Cape York melomys M. capensis and the Bramble Cay melomys M. rubicola. The Bramble Cay melomys has not been seen since 2007, suggesting this species is extinct. The fawn-footed melomys is currently listed least concern, and its population is considered to be stable. However, the species should be monitored, as they are potentially susceptible to environmental change.
The fawn-footed melomys has been described as a rainforest specialist, although it is known to occur in disturbed areas (forest edges) and has been located in grasslands and cane fields. Little is known of the diet, but it is suggested that these mice are primarily herbivorous, feeding on leaves, seeds, fruits and flowers. They are scansorial, adapted to climbing rainforest trees to search for food. Melomys are important prey items for many rainforest predators, such as sooty owls and pythons. They also play a role in pollination and seed dispersal of rainforest plants.
Very little is known about the behaviour of fawn-footed melomys. It appears that males and females occupy separate territories that overlap with each other. It has been suggested these animals are solitary, with males and females only coming together for mating. Young can be born throughout the year, provided there are sufficient resources. Gestation is relatively long for a murid this size (being approximately 38-40 days). Females give birth to relatively small litters of 1-3 pups, which they raise alone in the absence of a mate. The young have well-developed incisors at birth, which facilitates nipple clinging. Like many rodents, the young are altricial, being blind at birth. Development is rapid, although absolute weaning age is unknown.
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