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Three-striped dasyures (Myoictis)

Three-striped dasyures belong to the family Dasyuridae. Except for a few melanistic specimens, they differ from other dasyurids by having three longitudinal black stripes on the back. They have a blunt rostrum and wide interorbital region; a diastema between the first and second incisors; a large second premolar compared with the first and third; large, well rounded bullae and nasal bones broadened at their bases (2,3).

They are widely distributed over mainland New Guinea and occur on some offshore islands including Salawati and Waigeo, Japen and the Aru Islands. There is uncertainty about the number of species or subspecies of Myoictis. Laurie & Hill (4) list one species, M. melas, and three subspecies, M.m. melas, M.m. wallacei and M.m. wavicus). Ziegler (5) and Menzies (6) refer only to M. melas and Flannery (7-9) lists two subspecies, M.m. melas and M.m. wallacei.

There are four species: Woolley's Three-striped Dasyure (Myoictis leucura); Three-striped Dasyure (M. melas); Wallace's Dasyure (M. wallacii) and Tate’s Three-striped Dasyure (M. wavicus). These differ in the form of the tail and there is no overlap found in their ranges as presently known (1).

A small male specimen of Myoictis melas was collected in 1828, being the first dasyurid marsupial collected from New Guinea. Papuans said the “Insinsie” lived in the forest on the ground and foraged mainly at night (1). It was referred to as Phascogale melas by Macklot (11), due to its uniform black colour. Schlegel (12) described a second species based on two specimens (male and female) collected by H.A. Bernstein in 1865 on the island of Salawati, northwest New Guinea. This species, Phascogalea Thorbeckiana, differed from P. melas in being brightly coloured with three black stripes down the back. In 1866, Schlegel (13) noted a specimen collected by A.R. Wallace on the Aru Islands and described by Gray (14) as Myoictis Wallacii.

Thomas (15) synonymized melas, thorbeckiana and bruijnii under thorbeckiana and pilicauda with wallace, but Jentinck (16) noted that melas has priority over thorbeckiana. Tate & Archbold (2) placed these forms in a subgenus (Myoictis) of Phascogale within the Phascogalinae, while Tate (3) placed Myoictis as a genus within the Dasyurinae. He recognized two species, Myoictis melas (including melas, thorbeckiana, bruijnii, senex and bürgersi) and M. wallacei (including pilicauda). Tate & Archbold (2) suggested that Phascogale nouhuysii (17) might represent another species of Myoictis, but Tate (3) referred nouhuysii to the genus Neophascogale.

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