Leporillus apicalis 

Scope: Global

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Rodentia Muridae

Scientific Name: Leporillus apicalis
Species Authority: (Gould, 1853)
Common Name(s):
English Lesser Stick-nest Rat, White-tipped Stick-nest Rat

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Extinct ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2012-12-31
Assessor(s): Woinarski, J. & Burbidge, A.A.
Reviewer(s): Amori, G.
Contributor(s): Morris, K., Baynes, A. & Copley, P.
The last two specimens were collected by Norman Tindale, near Mt Crombie, south of the Musgrave Ranges in north-western South Australia in July 1933. Tindale (1933) recorded the burning of the Stick-nest Rats’ nest and the capture of the fleeing inhabitants on his ‘Mann Ranges 1933’ black-and-white film (copies held by the South Australian Museum and by the University of Adelaide). There have been unconfirmed reports since, including one from 1970, and occasional reports of fresh vegetation being added to old stick-nests, but there seems little doubt that the species is Extinct.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

Collation of available records from a variety of sources (Copley 1999), including the remains of stick nests and subfossil data (e.g. Watts and Eves 1976; Baynes and Johnson 1996; summarised in Copley 1999 and Burbidge et al. 2009) shows that it ranged though semi-arid and arid Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory, New South Wales and the far north-west of Victoria, although the distribution was probably patchy and dependent on there being suitable vegetation for food.

The distribution of stick-nest rats formed arcs along the south-eastern, southern and south-western boundaries of the arid zone, from western Victoria to North West Cape in Western Australia.  The Lesser Stick-nest Rat occurred further inland from the arid zone boundary, reaching the MacDonnell Ranges and Uluru (Baynes and Baird 1992) and occurring in the Great Victoria and Gibson Deserts, but also extended further south-west, to Peak Charles and probably parts of the Western Australian wheatbelt (A. Baynes pers. comm.).

Countries occurrence:
Regionally extinct:
Australia (New South Wales, Northern Territory, South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia)
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]


Krefft (1866) reported Lesser Stick-nest Rats ‘in great numbers … on both sides of the Murray River’, i.e., New South Wales and Victoria). Many early explorers commented on the abundance and large size of stick-nests, including in northern areas where only this species of Leporillus has been recorded (Copley 1999). However, by the early 20th century, explorers and naturalists reported that it was rare. Western desert Aboriginal people reported that it disappeared at least 40 to 50 years prior to the mid-1980s (Burbidge et al. 1988). The decline happened from east to west and from south to north (Copley 1999).

Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

Stick-nest Rats constructed large nests of sticks and sometimes stones, depending on available construction materials. Some remaining in caves in breakaways in the Gibson Desert and near the Finke stock route in the southern Northern Territory are more than 3 m by 2 m by 1 m high. Stick nests were also built in wooded country well away from ranges, but most have not survived (Burbidge and Fuller 1979, Copley 1999, see Tindale 1933 for black and white film when the last two specimens were collected). The diet was mainly vegetarian, including leaves of chenopods, other semi-succulent shrubs and grasses, but also included invertebrates such as beetles and termites (Copley 1999). The different food preferences (if not habitat preferences) between the two species of stick-nest rats are reflected in their molar teeth. Although both have incisors that are similar in being relatively narrow and fairly lightly built, their molars are very different. Those of  the Lesser Stick-nest Rat are fairly low-crowned, with quite sloping cusps and with the lophs in the lower molars forming a characteristic chevron pattern, all suggesting that the species fed on relatively high quality food, such as sandalwood nuts (whose shells are usually found in quite large numbers in their stick-nests). In contrast, the molars of the Greater Stick-nest Rat L. conditor are very high-crowned, with almost vertical cusps, suggesting that they fed on larger volumes of lower quality vegetation, such as saltbush, which was fairly abrasive, because old individuals in owl pellet accumulations have quite worn-down teeth (A. Baynes pers. comm.).

The construction of stick-nests shows that shelter was important; the nests probably provided an ameliorated microclimate and some protection from predators. A nest may have sheltered several individuals, with records of up to ten in a nest.

Radiocarbon dates of Stick-nest Rat nest-middens have revealed dates ranging from modern to 10,900 ± 90 BP (Pearson et al. 1999). Pearson and Dodson (1991), Pearson (1999) and Webeck and Pearson (2005) have studied Stick-nest Rat middens to document past changes in vegetation and climate in central Australia, while Pearson et al. (2001) have documented animal remains in the nest-middens.


Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Predation by feral cats is considered the main cause of extinction. Cats had colonized the whole of Australia by the 1890s (Abbott 2002, 2008). The arrival of Red Foxes in range may have driven remnant subpopulations to extinction; high rabbit numbers led to high fox numbers. Habitat degradation, particularly in refuges during drought, caused by introduced herbivores (mainly rabbits and sheep) before and leading into severe drought conditions may have contributed to extinction. Morton (1990) and Copley (1999) have discussed the effects of introduced herbivores on this and other extinct mammals; Tunbridge (1991) described effects of sheep at the Flinders Ranges. Predation by indigenous predators, such as Dingoes and owls, in combination with habitat degradation by introduced herbivores was probably a minor threat on its own but possibly an enhanced threat when other threats were operating.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: This species is extinct.

Classifications [top]

2. Savanna -> 2.1. Savanna - Dry
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
3. Shrubland -> 3.5. Shrubland - Subtropical/Tropical Dry
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
4. Grassland -> 4.5. Grassland - Subtropical/Tropical Dry
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
0. Root -> 6. Rocky areas (eg. inland cliffs, mountain peaks)
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
7. Caves and Subterranean Habitats (non-aquatic) -> 7.1. Caves and Subterranean Habitats (non-aquatic) - Caves
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
8. Desert -> 8.1. Desert - Hot
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
8. Desert -> 8.2. Desert - Temperate
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.3. Livestock farming & ranching -> 2.3.3. Agro-industry grazing, ranching or farming
♦ timing:Past, Unlikely to Return ♦ scope:Whole (>90%) ♦ severity:Rapid Declines ⇒ Impact score:Past Impact 
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

8. Invasive and other problematic species, genes & diseases -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species/diseases -> 8.1.2. Named species [ Oryctolagus cuniculus ]
♦ timing:Past, Unlikely to Return ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines ⇒ Impact score:Past Impact 
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.3. Indirect species effects -> 2.3.2. Competition

8. Invasive and other problematic species, genes & diseases -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species/diseases -> 8.1.2. Named species [ Felis catus ]
♦ timing:Past, Unlikely to Return ♦ scope:Whole (>90%) ♦ severity:Very Rapid Declines ⇒ Impact score:Past Impact 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

8. Invasive and other problematic species, genes & diseases -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species/diseases -> 8.1.2. Named species [ Bos taurus ]
♦ timing:Past, Unlikely to Return ♦ scope:Minority (<50%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines ⇒ Impact score:Past Impact 
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.2. Species disturbance
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.3. Indirect species effects -> 2.3.2. Competition

8. Invasive and other problematic species, genes & diseases -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species/diseases -> 8.1.2. Named species [ Ovis aries ]
♦ timing:Past, Unlikely to Return ♦ scope:Minority (<50%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines ⇒ Impact score:Past Impact 
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.3. Indirect species effects -> 2.3.2. Competition

Bibliography [top]

Abbott, I. 2002. Origin and spread of the cat, Felis catus, on mainland Australia, with a discussion on the magnitude of its early impact on native fauna. Wildlife Research 29: 51-74.

Abbott, I. 2008. The spread of the cat, Felis catus, in Australia: re-examination of the current conceptual model with additional information. Conservation Science Western Australia 7: 1-17.

Baynes, A., and Johnson, K.A. 1996. The contributions of the Horn Expedition and cave deposits to knowledge of the original mammal fauna of central Australia. In: S.R. Morton and D.J. Mulvaney (eds), Exploring central Australia: Society, the environment and the 1894 Horn Expedition, pp. 168-186. Surrey Beatty and Sons, Chipping Norton.

Braithwaite, R.W., Morton, S.R., Burbidge, A.A. and Calaby, J.H. 1995. Australian names for Australian rodents. Australian Nature Conservation Agency in association with CSIRO Australia, Canberra.

Burbidge, A.A. and Fuller, P.J. 1979. Mammals of the Warburton region, Western Australia. Records of the Western Australian Museum 8: 57-73.

Burbidge, A.A., Johnson, K.A., Fuller, P.J. and Southgate, R.I. 1988. Aboriginal knowledge of the mammals of the central deserts of Australia. Australian Wildlife Research 15: 9-39.

Burbidge, A.A., McKenzie, N.L., Brennan, K.E.C., Woinarski, J. C. Z., Dickman, C. R., Baynes, A., Gordon, G., Menkhorst, P.W. and Robinson, A.C. 2009. Conservation status and biogeography of Australia’s terrestrial mammals. Australian Journal of Zoology 56: 411-422.

Cole, J. and Woinarski, J.C.Z. 2000. Rodents of the arid Northern Territory: conservation status and distribution. Wildlife Research 27: 437-449.

Copley, P. 1999. Natural histories of Australia’s stick-nest rats, genus Leporillus (Rodentia: Muridae). Wildlife Research 26: 513-599.

Copley, P.B., Baker, L.M., Nesbitt, B.J. and Foulkes, J.N. 2003. Mammals. In: A.C. Robinson, P.B. Copley, P D. Canty, L.M. Baker and B.J. Nesbitt (eds), A biological survey of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands, South Australia, 1991 - 2001, pp. 197-241. Department of Environment and Heritage, Adelaide.

Finlayson, H.H. 1961. On central Australian mammals. Part IV. The distribution and status of central Australian species. Records of the South Australian Museum 14: 141-191.

Flannery, T. and Schouten, P. 2001. A gap in nature: discovering the world’s extinct animals. Text Publishing, Melbourne.

IUCN. 2016. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-1. Available at: (Accessed: 30 June 2016).

Krefft, G. 1866. On vertebrate animals of the Lower Murray and Darling, their habits, economy and geographical distribution. Transactions of the Philosophical Society of New South Wales 1862-65: 1-33.

Lee, A.K. 1995. The Action Plan for Australian Rodents. Australian Department of the Environment and Heritage, Canberra, Australia.

Morton, S.R. 1990. The impact of European settlement on the vertebrate animals of arid Australia: a conceptual model. Proceedings of the Ecological Society of Australia 16: 201-213.

Pearson, S. 1999. Late Holocene biological records from the middens of stick-nest rats in the central Australian arid zone. Quaternary International 59: 39-46.

Pearson, S. and Dodson, J.R. 1991. Stick-nest rat middens as sources of palaeoecological data in Australian deserts. Quaternary Research 39: 347-354.

Pearson, S.G., Baynes, A. and Triggs, B.E. 2001. The record of fauna, and accumulating agents of hair and bone, found in middens of stick-nest rats (genus Leporillus) (Rodentia: Muridae). . Wildlife Research 28: 435-444.

Pearson, S., Lawson, E., Lesley, L., McCarthy, L. and Dodson, J. 1999. The spatial and temporal patterns of stick-nest rat middens in Australia. Radiocarbon 41: 295-308.

Robinson, T. and Burbidge, A. 2008. Leporillus apicalis. In 'The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species'. Version 2011.2. Available at: (Accessed: 19 March 2012).

Tindale, N.B. 1933. Original journal. Anthropological expedition to Mann Range – 1933. Anthropological Archives, South Australian Museum. Tindale Journal Index No. AA 338/1/9. (Includes x4 reels film titled: ‘A day in the life of the Pitjantjatjara’, and sound recordings).

Tunbridge, D. 1991. The story of the Flinders Ranges mammals. Kangaroo Press, Kenthurst.

Watts, C.H.S. and Eves, B.M. 1976. Notes on the nests and diet of the white-tailed stick-nest rat Leporillus apicalis in northern South Australia. South Australian Naturalist 51: 9-12.

Webeck, K. and Pearson, S. 2005. Stick-nest rat middens and a late-Holocene record of White Range, central Australia. The Holocene 15: 466-471.

Citation: Woinarski, J. & Burbidge, A.A. 2016. Leporillus apicalis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T11633A22457421. . Downloaded on 22 October 2016.
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