Seeing all the world’s mammal families?

Here’s something to consider while we are all stuck at home.  Seeing a representative of all ~250 bird families is eminently achievable for those with the time, money and inclination.  Do enough birding tours to the right areas and you can get them all.  A second trip for some families may be required if you are unlucky.  You can see more information about how to do it at (albeit that’s slightly out of date now).  It would require a couple of trips to most continents, visits to other well known biodiversity hotspots such as New Guinea, Borneo, Madagascar and New Zealand, and then a few more targeted trips would be needed, to New Caledonia, Sulawesi, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
But what about seeing a representative of every mammal family?  Is it achievable?  Where would you have to go, and what would be the hardest families?  A look down Jon’s life list suggests there are about fifteen families he’s missing, based on his checklist.  Some of them seem gettable if that’s your focus (e.g. Feathertailed Gliders, Monito del Monte and Aye-aye).  Others could take a lot of time (Pygmy Right Whale and Pacarana?).  Are Mole Rats and Marsupial Moles the dealstoppers for the average mammal watcher?
A good visual guide to mammal families, albeit using different taxonomy, is at htps://
Murray Lord


  • Rinchen Wangchuk

    Dear Mammal Watching group,
    Thank you so much for accepting me in this great group with lots of invaluable information about mammals across the world.
    To introduce myself I am Rinchen Wangchuk from Bhutan as small Himalayan country the kingdom of Happiness. Currently I work with the only conservation and environment research institute in Bhutan and also it extends to South Asian region in terms of the UNESCO Madanjet Singh South Asia Forestry studies housed at our Inst. campus.
    I would personally thank Murray Lord for sharing the valuable visual guide to the families of mammals of the world.
    I look forward to learning many more from many experienced and knowledgeable experts present in this group.

    Many Best Wishes and prayers from Bhutan

    Stay Safe, Take care

  • Cathy Pasterczyk

    I would love to see such an article.

  • Jon Hall

    Thanks Murray, this is an interesting question and I am looking forward to hear what others think. Mac Hunter for instance is on a mission to see all the mammal families …. I reckon Marsupial Mole has got to be the hardest (unless there is a Yangtse River Dolphin left). Pygmy Right Whale is also seemingly impossible to see regularly anywhere accessible at least unless – as they very occasionally do – one turns up in a harbor and hangs out for a bit. I think there was one in Capetown a few years ago for a few days, and some told me there was one around Albany Australia for weeks in the late 1990s (but that rumor – or my memory – might be total BS). Pacarana is another that I would love to see – and Rob at Wild About Colombia is doing all he can to discover a spot for those .. so stay tuned. I’ve no idea about how hard Naked Mole Rats are, or the Dormouse family that has Malabar and Chinese Pygmy Dormice in it… has anyone seen either family? But I think most of the others are not too hard now. What I find impressive is how quickly this list is becoming accessible. Just 10 years ago I didn’t think there was much prospect of seeing quite a few of these families that there are are known sites: in 2010 Solenodon, Pen-tailed Tree Shrew, Silky Anteater, Linsangs, Furepetrid bats … all seemed very hard to find .. now they are easy – or at least quite possible. Even 6 months ago I thought Monito del Monte and Laotian Rock Rat would both be difficult, but recent reports show they are can both be found reliably in a day. I need to make more of an effort!

  • Don Roberson

    I was wondering the same thing while entering my mammal list into Scythebill, as Jon recommended for ‘sheltering in place.’ Is Kitti’s hog-nosed bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai) now considered “easy”? And while my quest has been the 250+ bird families, I think saying they are “easy” is perhaps exaggerated. While inclinations may be equal, time and money are not equally distributed to those inclined. Among birds, I found Bristlehead, Berryhunter, Elachura, Spot-throat, Rail-babbler, and more to be quite difficult with limited time at any location. But the fun is in the search — and that would apply to mammals as well. I might “complete” by bird family set after 50 years of effort this year, and I’m not sure what to do if that gets accomplished! Great stuff to talk about.

    • Jon Hall

      that’s a good point Don (on “easyness”) … I should rephrase at least to define that as “there is a location at which you can likely see a family member mammal with two or three days of effort”. But yes getting to the location can be long, expensive and tough.

    • Murray Lord

      Fair point Don – most of the bird families you’ve named are the ones I still need. But I think the main difference is that you can get every bird family just by taking enough Birdquest tours – that ain’t the case for mammals!

    • Paul Carter

      To Don Roberson. Yes Kitti’s Hog-nosed is easy, with a straight forward walk to one of the caves. Paul

  • mac hunter

    My wife and I are only up to 123 of the 159 families in HMW (so behind Jon and probably some others) but we keep picking off 2 or 3 families per year and I expect to close the gap significantly but not eliminate it, particularly because of the two families already mentioned, marsupial mole and pygmy right whale. In general the fossorial species are a major challenge and we are still missing golden moles, naked mole rats, and more, but I am optimistic about getting most of them. We are trying to see as many vertebrate families as possible and have succeeded with all but one of the birds, gloriously conspicuous compared to many families of snakes, lizards, amphibaenas, caecilians, and frogs. And then there are all those abyssal fish, far out of reach of a casual scuba diver….mac hunter

    • Murray Lord

      Out of curiosity how are you going on frog families Mac?

      • mac hunter

        Dear Murray….. We only have 22 of 53 frog families (per Amphibia Web). There was an explosion in splitting frog families (and herps in general) about a decade ago. And besides the fossorial issue, many require travel to tropical areas during monsoons (which is more feasible than many people realize).

  • Vladimir Dinets

    I’m still missing 13 families out of 158 (by my count). Most would be relatively easy if I got to spend more time in Australia, New Guinea, NZ and Indochina, but I still haven’t figured out how to see marsupial moles, although I have a few ideas.

    Of the ones I’ve seen, pygmy right whale and Zenkerella were pure luck and I have no idea how to do it on purpose. My otter shrew sighting was very poor and borderline countable. Everything else is doable if you have time, money and basic skills.

  • Venkat Sankar

    A very nice goal, and certainly something I’d like to accomplish at some stage. I think most are fairly easy to see, so here’s a list of potentially “problematic” ones to find and some notes:

    Golden Moles (Chrysochloridae)
    Asian Linsangs (Prionodontidae) – seems like Banded Linsang is being seen more often at Mt. Kinabalu (or maybe are there just more mammal watchers spotlighting there?), and Spotted Linsang is reportedly seen “often” at Phou Louey NBCA in Laos
    Pygmy Right Whale (Cetotheriidae)
    Marsupial Mole (Notoryctidae)
    Bilby (Thylacomyidae) – I hope I’m wrong on this one, but I’ve read of very few sightings in recent years; a tough combination of living in very remote areas and heavy declines due to predation by feral cats and foxes
    Pacarana (Dinomyidae) – reportedly common in some parts of the central Cordillera in Colombia (e.g. Otun Quimbaya); I’d like to try an exploratory trip in this area soon to find out more…
    Mouselike Hamsters (Calomyscidae) – it seems pretty common in the right areas (e.g. Tandoureh NP in Iran) and should be easy to catch in Shermans but all the species’ ranges are difficult to visit currently
    Spiny Dormice (Platacanthomyidae) – I’ve seen many photos of Malabar Spiny Dormouse from sholas of the S Western Ghats (e.g. Shendurney, Kalakad, Munnar areas). Mammal watchers don’t really visit these places much, but I suspect intensively searching for a few nights in good forest with a heatscope should find one.

    I think there is enough information to find all the others, given targeted searching in the right areas for a suitable amount of time. It’s amazing how many of these are very possible now – I’d have never expected Kha-nyou, Monito del Monte, Thumbless Bat, etc. to be very doable anytime soon.

    FYI Jon, I read a report from a safari guide in Kenya that Naked Mole-rat is pretty easy to see in Meru NP, and sometimes also in Samburu NR.

    • Venkat Sankar

      Oops, forgot a couple. I think Otter-shrews and Cistugidae ought to be pretty tough too. No idea where or how to look for either of those…

      • Jon Hall

        Thanks Venkat – good to know about Naked Mole-rat. I saw (and badly photographed) Cistugo lesueuri in a crack above a door at the riverine rabbit spot in South Africa. They might still be there!

  • Vladimir Dinets

    Bilby is only difficult if you follow idiosyncratic Australian rules for counting (they don’t count mammals seen in fenced predator-free reserves; I tried pointing out that under such criteria 1/4 of the county is not countable due to the dingo fence, but I’m not very high in the ranks there). Disclaimer: I haven’t seen a wild bilby myself.
    Golden moles are relatively easy in Kirstenbosch, Lambert’s Bay and Plettensberg Bay (probably even easier with a thermal scope).
    There’s a bunch of sites for Calomyscus in Turkmenistan and in Nakhichevan enclave of Azerbaijan, but they are not particularly easy to see or trap unless you know exactly where to try. One species occurs in Hazarganji Chintal NP near Quetta.
    I saw one Malabar spiny dormouse in Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary in Kerala (a wonderful place, highly recommended), and two Chinese species. The Chinese ones are nearly blind but ridiculously fast and difficult to see well, use red light.
    The good thing about Cistugo bats is that some populations are in places with no or almost no other bats, such as Swakopmund, so you can ID them in flight. I also got them in Glencairn near Cape Town (see my trip report), although they weren’t present at that roost according to a friend of mine who visited early this year. Could be a seasonal thing.

  • Murray Lord

    I’ve tried to come up with a list of the minimum number of countries you’d have to visit to be able to see all the mammal families. Not 100% sure it’s right, but here it is. I’ve mentioned some of the families that you would need to get, or would have the best chance of getting, in those places. I do realise some of these species may not be gettable in practice in these locations, but they do occur there.

    USA – including Alaska for Walrus, Narwhal/Beluga. Pronghorn. Grey Whale. Lots of widespread American families. Manatees. Aplodontia. Maybe Pygmy & Dwarf Sperm Whales.

    DOMINICAN REPUBLIC – Solenodon. And Hutias if you split them.

    PERU – most of the Neotropical families including Pacarana, Amazonian river dolphins, Shrew-Opossums.

    ARGENTINA – Monito del Monte. Franciscana

    SOUTH AFRICA – Cistigo bats. Dassie Rat. Springhares. Many other widespread African families

    CAMEROON – for Zenkerella (if split as a family). Also other central and west african families including Anomalures and Otter-shrews

    ETHIOPIA – Gundis, and Naked Mole Rat

    MADAGASCAR – lemur families, Madagascan carnivores. Sucker footed Bats. Tenrecs.

    PAKISTAN – the easternmost country for Calomyscidae (brush tailed mice). Also Asian river dolphins

    CHINA – Red Panda. Platacanthomyidae (tree mice shared with India). Various other Palearctic families

    BORNEO – Pen-tailed Treeshrew. Linsangs.

    LAOS – Kya-Nyou

    THAILAND – Kitti’s Hog-nosed Bat.

    NEW ZEALAND – Short tailed Bat.

    AUSTRALIA – about 17 families that are either endemic or shared with New Guinea. Also various bats and sea mammals including Dugong. I’m assuming this is the best place for Pygmy Right Whale. Would need to visit south west (Honey Possum & Numbat), north west (Marsupial Mole, Bilby), North East (Musky Rat-Kangaroo) and south-east (Koala, etc).

    It’s a shorter list than where you’d need to go to see all the bird families. Interestingly you don’t need to go to New Guinea to get any endemic mammal families, but there are half a dozen bird families that only occur there.


    Peroryctydae are often considered a separate family, endemic to New Guinea.
    I know good places for pygmy and dwarf sperm whales in Japan, are there some in Australia?

  • Murray Lord

    Hi Vladimir. Thanks for that possible family, I hadn’t picked up on that. Mind you when I googled Peroryctydae I got zero results so either it has another name or it hasn’t been suggested by all that many people!

    I think Pygmy and Dwarf Sperm Whales are pretty hard to get in Australia. For Pygmy Right Whale you need the luck these people had:

  • Vladimir Dinets

    Sorry, made a typo. Peroryctidae.

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