Ever heard of the Bandicoot? You might have heard of the infamous ‘Crash Bandicoot’ that was centre stage to a host of PlayStation games. But do you know much about the incredible little marsupials on which that character is very loosely based?
These fascinating marsupials, belonging to the order Peramelemorphia, and currently have 20 species that are alive today, spread across several different families, subfamilies and genera. The very wide taxonomy is a clue to the massively reduced diversity of existing species, from what was once a much more lively family tree.
From the commonly known Long-nosed Bandicoot to the elusive Greater Bilby, each species has its own rich history and character. These amazing little pouched animals have some features that make them quite unique, even amongst their marsupial cousins. Though they are found throughout Australia and areas of Indonesia, their range is only a fraction of what it used to be before European settlers arrived.
Appearance & Characteristics of Bandicoot
Depending on the species, Bandicoots can be as small as 11 inches or as long as 31 inches. Their weight varies between 0.4 to 3.5 pounds. The Golden Bandicoot is the smallest of the short-nosed bandicoots (Isoodon) averaging a length of 14 inches from head to tail. Bandicoots are sexually dimorphic with males usually being larger than females.
Bandicoots are characterised by their long snouts which give them a V-shaped face, as well as large ears, and a lengthy tail. They have quite a distinctive appearance, not obviously marsupial at first glance. In fact they look very similar in shape to the elephant shrew, despite the difference in size. Their eyes are small but sharp, helping them navigate during their nocturnal adventures.
Their fur can range from shades of brown, black, golden, white, to grey. This soft fur not only provides warmth but also acts as a camouflage against predators.
Their hind legs, as with most marsupials, are well built for jumping and are quite powerful. Their sharp claws and pointed snout make them expert diggers, perfect for their burrowing lifestyle.
5 Most Common Bandicoot Species
- Long-nosed Bandicoot: Predominantly found on the east coast of Australia, this species boasts grey-brown fur and a contrasting white belly. They’re known for their elongated snouts.
- Northern Brown Bandicoot: This species, one of the largest of the bandicoots, is adorned with a speckled black and brown coat, with a solid white underside. Their habitat stretches from the northern and eastern coastal areas of Australia, as well as some islands. This species also have a reverse pouch, which keeps it clear from dirt and grime when they are digging.
- Southern Brown Bandicoot: Also known as the Quenda in Western Australia, they’re found across southern Australia & Tasmania. Their fur is a mix of brown shades, and they are notably smaller than their Northern Brown Bandicoot cousins.
- Eastern Barred Bandicoot: These are primarily found in parts of Tasmania. Their fur has 3 or 4 pale stripes, making them easily distinguishable.
- Greater Bilby: This isn’t just a bandicoot; it’s a cultural icon, especially around Easter in Australia. Found in parts of Queensland, Western Australia, and the Northern Territories, they have larger ears and a distinct appearance. Bilbies are not ‘true’ bandicoots, but align with the taxonomy, which has has changed more than once over the years.
Bandicoots vs. Bilbies – Spotting the Differences
While both are marsupials, share many characteristics, and belong to the same superfamily ‘Perameloidea‘ Bilbies and Bandicoots are different. Bilbies belong to the family ‘Thylasomyidae‘, with the only extant species being a member of the genus ‘Macrotis‘.
Bandicoots on the other hand, make up the family ‘Peramelidae‘, and within that, the ‘true bandicoots’ are within the genera of the subfamily ‘Peramelinae‘.
In terms of physical differences, Bilbies have notably larger ears, a longer tail, and softer fur. Their diets also differ, and while both are generally omnivorous, Bilbies prefer specific seeds and plants, while Bandicoots have a more varied diet.
Distribution – Location and Habitat
The bandicoots range is only a fraction today, of what it used to be, particularly before European settlement in and around Australia. That being said, they can be found in a range of different habitats. From the dense forests of Tasmania to backyards in suburban Australia, they’re everywhere!
They love places with dense vegetation, fallen logs, and native plants. If you find small conical holes in your garden, it’s a sign of a bandicoot’s visit. They’re not pests; in fact, they help gardens by controlling insect populations.
Most species have very specific ranges, and some are more limited than others. Some of the species that live on Papua New Guinea for example, have a very limited range, of only a few kilometres in mountainous terrain – as human impact pushes them into smaller and smaller paces. Others fare far better, particularly those that live on mainland Australia or Tasmania areas where competition for a home is not so brutal.
The Lifestyle & Behaviour of Bandicoot
Bandicoots are primarily nocturnal animals, and terrestrial animals too, meaning they’re most active during the night and on the ground. Their nights are filled with foraging, exploring, and digging. These solitary animals have a unique behaviour of creating conical-shaped holes in the ground as they search for food.
Males are known to be territorial, often marking their territory with scent glands located on their chest. They can be quite aggressive when defending their territory, especially during the mating season. While they might be loners, bandicoots communicate using a range of vocalizations, from hisses to grunts, especially when they feel threatened.
During the day, bandicoots rest in shallow nests made of leaves and grass, usually hidden under dense vegetation to stay safe from predators.
Diet & Nutrition of Bandicoot
These little animals are generally omnivorous and have a diverse palate. From insects, spiders, and worms to plants, fruits, and seeds, they eat a range of different foods. The types of plant and insect that they eat does differ depending on what is available in their local habitat. But one thing they have in common is how they find and eat their food. They use their amazing snouts to help them detect food, then their incredibly sharp claws to help them dig up insects. Their small teeth are perfect for grinding plants too.
Predators & Threats to Bandicoot
Australia is a country that faces many challenges ecologically. Much of the land is arid, and the pressures on habitable land, with the growing climate problem are only getting larger. If you think humans are feeling this, then you can only imagine that animals, including bandicoots are feeling it more.
With all the pressures on their populations, human, environmental and predatorial, many species find themselves in a vulnerable state.
In terms of predators, there are quite a few that are happy to make a meal of the bandicoot. They need to be wary of birds of prey, large snakes and dingoes in particular. The latter is known to be a notorious hunter of bandicoot. Some populations in Australia and Tasmania also have to contend with Quokkas and Tasmanian Devils, although such occurrences are thought to be relatively rare.
It’s not only native predators, but those that the pesky Europeans brought with them too. Non native animals such as foxes, feral cats and dogs are also a threat to bandicoots, especially those that might visit your garden and come into contact with your pets.
Land clearance for residential and agricultural expansion puts pressure on populations too, and the roads that run through them are often a hazard for bewildered bandicoots.
Males are quite solitary animals and don’t settle down with a mate. During the breeding season, they actively seek out receptive females using their keen sense of smell. Males can detect chemical signals or pheromones released by females, indicating their readiness to mate. This is the time when you are likely, if ever, to see males fight, as they become quite aggressive and competitive when it comes to mating rights.
Female bandicoots have a remarkably short gestation period, with some species carrying their young for just about 12 days, one of the shortest known pregnancies in mammals! This rapid development is believed to be an adaptation to their unpredictable environment, allowing them to reproduce quickly when conditions are favourable.
After this brief gestation, similarly to baby kangaroos and baby possums, the young are born in a very underdeveloped state. They are tiny, blind, hairless, and extremely vulnerable. Immediately after birth, they crawl into the mother’s backward-facing pouch, where they latch onto a teat and continue their development.
They remain in the pouch for around 50 days, depending on the species. Once they leave the pouch, they stay in the nest and suckle for another few weeks before venturing out on their own. The mother will often create a nest using leaves and grasses, providing a safe space for her young to rest while she forages.
By two to four months of age, most bandicoots are fully independent and ready to start their own reproductive journey.
Lifespan of Bandicoot
In their natural habitat, bandicoots typically live for between 2 to 4 years. In captivity, they average a longer life, between 4 to 6 years. It does vary by species depending on a number of factors. However, many bandicoots don’t make it to adulthood in the wild, due to the numerous challenges they face early in life. Predation is a significant factor.
Environmental factors, such as food availability, habitat quality, and climatic conditions, also play a role in determining their lifespan. For instance, during periods of drought or food scarcity, bandicoots may face higher mortality rates.
As bandicoots approach the end of their lifespan, they may show signs of aging, such as reduced activity levels, decreased foraging efficiency, and vulnerability to diseases.
The Bandicoot’s Role in Ecosystem Balance
Bandicoots are nature’s helpers. Not only do they control insect populations, but they also help in seed dispersal too. Their digging habits aerate the soil, promoting plant growth and decomposition, enriching the soil with nutrients.
Bandicoots are an indicator species, meaning that their presence – or lack of – in an ecosystem can help to signal if that system is healthy or in decline. They are sensitive to environmental changes and as such can help to understand pressures in certain areas, and to help decision making around conservation projects.
Population and Conservation
Bandicoot populations have faced significant challenges over the years. The introduction of non-native predators, habitat destruction due to urbanization, and vehicular accidents have all played a role in their declining numbers.
Several species of bandicoots are now listed as endangered or vulnerable. The Eastern Barred Bandicoot, for instance, is considered extinct in the wild in parts of Australia, with only a few populations remaining in protected areas. The Desert bandicoot – Perameles eremiana has also only recently been declared extinct as of the IUCN latest assessment in 2012.
Conservation efforts are in full swing to protect many of these unique marsupials. Programs include habitat restoration, breeding programs, and predator control. Awareness campaigns are also being conducted to educate the public about the importance of bandicoots in the ecosystem and how they can help in their conservation
5 Fun Bandicoot Facts for Kids
- Bandicoots have a pouch that faces backward. This keeps the babies safe when mom digs!
- They can choose to walk either on their lower rear legs or on all fours.
- They can jump really high, thanks to their strong hind legs.
- Bandicoots have a super sense of smell, which they use to find food.
- They’re not rats, even though they might look a bit like them. They’re marsupials, just like kangaroos!
Bandicoot Families, Genus And Species
|Isoodon auratus – Golden bandicoot
|Australia – Western Australia, Northern Territory
|Isoodon macrourus – Northern brown bandicoot
|Coastal North and East Australia, Papua New Guinea
|Isoodon obesulus – Southern brown bandicoot
|Perameles bougainville – Western barred bandicoot/ Shark Bay bandicoot
|Western Australian islands of Bernier and Dorre
|Perameles eremiana – Desert bandicoot
|Perameles gunnii – Eastern barred bandicoot
|Australia – Victoria, Tasmania
|Perameles lagotis – Long-nosed bandicoot
|Eastern Australia – Queensland to Victoria
|Macrotis lagotis – Greater bilby
|Australia – remote northern desert areas
|Macrotis leucura – Lesser bilby
|Chaeropus ecaudatus – Pig-footed bandicoot
|Echymipera clara – Clara’s echymipera/ Clara’s Spiny bandicoot
|West Papua, Papua New Guinea
|Echymipera davidi – David’s echymipera/ David’s Spiny bandicoot
|Echymipera echinista – Menzie’s echymipera/ Menzie’s Spiny bandicoot
|Papua New Guinea
|Echymipera kalubu – Common echymipera/ Common Spiny bandicoot
|Echymipera rufescens – Long-nosed echymipera/ Rufous Spiny bandicoot
|Australia, Indonesia, ,Papua New Guinea
|Microperoryctes longicauda – Striped bandicoot
|West Papua, Papua New Guinea
|Microperoryctes murina – Mouse bandicoot
|Microperoryctes ornata – Ornate bandicoot/ Eastern striped bandicoot
|Papua New Guinea
|Microperoryctes papuensis – Papuan bandicoot
|Papua New Guinea
|Microperoryctes aplini – Arfak pygmy bandicoot
|Rhynchomeles prattorum – Seram bandicoot
|Island of Seram
|Peroryctes broadbenti – Giant bandicoot
|Papua New Guinea
|Peroryctes raffrayana – Raffray’s bandicoot
|Indonesia, Papua New Guinea