GREATER BILBY – [Macrotis lagotis]

GREATER BILBY

Physical characteristics: The greater bilby, also called the rabbiteared bandicoot, is a small bilby about the size of a rabbit. It measures 9 to 10 inches (23 to 26 centimeters). Males weigh from 2 to 5.5 pounds (1 to 2.5 kilograms). Females are smaller, weighing from 1.8 to 2.5 pounds (0.8 to 1.1 kilograms). Bilbies have soft, silky bluegray fur on their back and white bellies. They have a long, thin snout and a long black tail with a white tip. The lesser bilby, a relative of the greater bilby, became extinct in 1931, so the greater bilby is usually referred to simply as the bilby.

Geographic range: Bilbies are found in the Northern Territory, Western Australia, and Queensland, but their populations are isolated from each other.

Habitat: Bilbies prefer hot, dry grassland, and will occasionally live in dry, shrubby, open woodlands.

Diet: Bilbies feed at night. They are omnivores,

and like other bandicoots eat insects, insect larvae, earthworms, bulbs, and seeds.

Behavior and reproduction: Bilbies are the only bandicoots that dig burrows. They are excellent diggers, and these burrows can be up to 6 feet (2 meters) deep. They stay in the burrows during the day for protection against the heat.

Like all bandicoots, bilbies live alone, coming together only to mate. They mate throughout the year and give birth only fourteen days after mating. The young are then carried in the mother’s pouch for eighty days. After they leave the pouch, they live in the burrow with their mother who feeds them for another two weeks.

Greater bilbies and people: Bilbies were very common until the beginning of the twentieth century and were an important source of food for native peoples. However, their numbers rapidly decreased with the introduction of non-native predators such as the red fox and the cat. Today, the bilby has become a symbol of Australia’s efforts to save its native species.

Conservation status: As of 2003, the bilby was considered Vulnerable to extinction. Their numbers decreased because of non-native predators, competition for food by rabbits, and changes in habitat brought about by livestock ranching and farming. The bilby has been the focus of an intensive public awareness and recovery program. The Save the Bilby Appeal was begun in 1999 and has been quite successful. Sales of chocolate Easter bilbies have helped to finance captive breeding programs and reintroduction of bilbies to the wild. Most recently, the Save the Bilby Appeal has started a campaign to fence a large area where bilbies released into the wild will be protected from predators.