Local Inhabitants

10 12 2006

m_bilby.jpgG. C. Watson noted, when he surveyed the Langlo that the country had been abandoned and that he found only two settlers – Pettiford and Bucknall. But clearly, the land was not really abandoned at all. Apart from the native aboriginal population it was home to a graceful little bandicoot called the Bilby. Monty is not sure what to make of this weird creature but I am all for producing chocolate bilbies to celebrate Easter.


An extract from Tim Flannery’s excellent book, Australia’s Vanishing Mammals, RD Press, 1990)

This graceful bandicoot is quite variable in size and, depending on sex, habitat and age can weigh anything between 800 and 250 grams. It has a head and body length of 290-550 mm, with the tail adding an extra 200-290 mm.

The bilby has long, silky, blue-grey fur with white on the underside, although seasonal molts may change the coat length and the colour to a fawn-grey. Its ears are long, largely naked and rabbit-like, and it has an elongated muzzle, the last 20 mm of which are flesh-coloured and naked.

In some specimens there is a faint indication of bars across the thigh fur. The tail is first grey near its base, and then black, and ends in a sharply defined white tip. A horny spur protrudes beyond the hairs at the extreme tip and there is a crest on the upper surface of the tail. As the bilby moves with its cantering gait it often carries its tail like a stiff banner. When the animal is cantering the hind legs move together and the front legs alternatively. It usually has white feet and may have blackish tips on the claws.

The bilby has strong forelimbs and claws and it uses these to good advantage when digging for food and when burrowing. Although most bandicoots do not make burrows, bilbies dig burrows with a relatively steep spiral to a depth of up to 1.8 metres and length of three metres. The entrance is often next to a termite mound or some shrubs, and is left open. However, when it is at home, the bilby blocks the entrance with soil which extends for some distance into the burrow.

Bilbies are basically omnivorous. They eat insects and their larvae, seeds, bulbs, fruit, fungi and, in captivity, meat and small vertebrates.

Some burrows studied appear to be grouped, suggesting that the animals may live in colonies. However, investigations and reports from Aborigines show that pairs of animals and their latest offspring may inhabit each group of burrows. Home ranges may be temporary in location and shift in response to food availability. Bilbies studied in the Northern Territory were found to stay within 100 metres of their burrows, although they used and visited a number of burrows.

The sudden and widespread contraction of the bilby’s range may be attributed to the effects of rabbit and livestock grazing, foxes and cats and a change in the fire regime implemented by Aborigines.




3 responses

11 12 2006

Did Mr. Watson ever write about the wombat, an animal near and dear to my heart? 🙂

14 12 2006

I’ve never heard of a bilbie before!

15 12 2006

Love it.

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