|The greater bilby, sometimes called the greater
rabbit bandicoot, is extremely rare. The only other species in this genus,
the lesser bilby, has not been seen since 1931. The bilby’s evolution from
the bandicoot occurred as an adaptation to the arid and semiarid regions
of Australia. As a result of increased ranching, development, and introduced
species, the once abundant bilby has suffered a huge decline in numbers
during the twentieth century.
Behavior: the habitat of the greater bilby’s range includes semidesert areas of woodland, savannah, and grassland with loose soil. Its home range is temporary and depends on the availability of food. Unlike bandicoots, which sleep in nests on the ground during the day, the bilby sleeps in its underground burrow until dusk. In this way it escapes the desert heat. The bilby digs its burrow in a steep spiral to a depth of about five feet. At the end of the tunnel is the sleeping chamber. Unlike rabbits, which also dig burrows, the bilby is solitary, so its burrow never becomes a warren (den with several chambers). Instead, each burrow is occupied by a single adult bilby, by a female with young, or, occasionally, by a breeding pair.
The bilby grooms its fur regularly, using the long claws on its hind feet. Even though its hind legs are longer than its front legs, the bilby does not hop like a rabbit. Instead, it moves on all four feet at a slow, shuffling pace. This unusual gait is caused by the hind legs moving together, alternating with the front legs, which also move together. This rare marsupial is found only in areas where the soil is suitable for burrowing. The bilby is a fast and powerful digger. It excavates tunnels that are almost six feet deep.
Food and Feeding: The greater bilby hunts both above and below the ground’s surface. It feeds mainly on insects and small animals such as mice, birds, and lizards. Most of the bilby’s water intake comes from the seeds and fruit that supplement its diet. The bilby uses its strong forelegs and the snout, curved claws on its front feet to dig into the soil around trees and bushes. It pokes its long, tapered nose into the holes to find insect larvae. Areas occupied by bilbies are usually marked by several of these holes, which have soil scattered around the edges. The bilby uses its keen senses of hearing and smell to locate prey.
Breeding: Unlike the bandicoot species, which breed year round, the female bilby bears her young from March to May. The mating season – February to April – is the only time when the usually solitary adult bilbies come together. After a gestation period of less than two weeks, one to three young are born, even though the female bilby is capable of suckling eight. As with other marsupials, the newborn are tiny – less than half an inch long – and they are so underdeveloped that they look like fetuses. Once born, the young crawl into the mother’s pouch, which opens down and backward so that it won’t be filled with earth while the mother digs for insects or vegetation. In the pouch, the young bilbies attach themselves to their mother’s teats (nipples) and suckle for several weeks. At the end of this time, the young are fully developed, but they will leap back into their mother’s pouch if threatened.
Greater Bilby and Man: the bilby had been common throughout its range until the beginning of the twentieth century. At that time there was a sudden drop in the marsupial’s numbers. The decline in population has since been linked to the colonization of Australia by European settlers: their cattle and other grazing livestock damaged the grasslands of the bilby’s habitat. The introduction of other species that became wild also affected the bilby, which suffered from competition with rabbits for burrows and from predation by foxes. Its numbers also decreased as a result of being hunted for its pelt.
Related Species: Related to the bandicoots.
The only other species in the genus is the lesser bilby, Macrotis leucura,
which is thought to be extinct.
Features of the Greater Bilby:
Did You Know:
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