It’s hard not to like an animal associated with the phrase ‘snout pokes’. Bandicoots are small marsupials native to Australia and New Guinea that use their front feet to dig for food. As they forage for underground insects and larvae, they leave behind a series of small conical holes – snout pokes!
The name bandicoot is taken from the term ‘pandi-kokku’ which means ‘pig-rat’ in Teluga, an Indian language.
There are seven species of bandicoots surviving in Australia. We help to conserve two species on our reserves: the Long-nosed Bandicoot (Perameles nasuta) and the Northern Brown Bandicoot (Isoodon macrourus) – and a further two species through our Wunambal Gaambera (Golden Bandicoot) and Tasmanian Midlandscapes (Eastern Barred Bandicoot) partnerships.
The Long-nosed Bandicoot has bristly grey-brown fur, a white underbelly and pointed ears, weighs around 1.5kg and is 30cm to 43cm long. The Northern Brown Bandicoot has brown fur, a short tail, rounded ears and a slightly larger body (up to 2.1 kg and 47cm long). Bandicoots live between two to four years.
Where do Bandicoots live?
The Long-nosed Bandicoot is found along the east coast of Australia, from north Queensland to Victoria and Tasmania. The Northern Brown Bandicoot’s range follows the coastline of northern and eastern Australia, as far south as NSW. It’s also found in southern Papua New Guinea.
Both species can live in a variety of habitats, from heaths and woodlands to rainforests. They prefer habitats with dense vegetation to shelter during the day, and open areas to forage for food at night.
Since European settlement, the bandicoots’ range has greatly reduced. While the Long-nosed and Northern Brown Bandicoot are not endangered, the loss of bushland around suburban areas mean that many populations are locally extinct.
The Northern Brown Bandicoot is now extinct in parts of Queensland and northern NSW.
Bandicoots are solitary, terrestrial (non-climbing) and nocturnal marsupials. They’re highly active and have a running style described as a ‘gallop’!
Bandicoots forage at night using their sensitive noses to smell out food. They then use their long, curved toes to dig out the underground fare.
They’re opportunistic omnivores, eating both plants and animals, from insects, insect larvae, lizards, mice and snails, to fungi, grass seeds, berries and fruit. They seem to ‘grunt’ happily when their muzzle chances upon food, and make a shrill squeak when disturbed.
They play an important ecological role – turning over soil, which increases the rate of leaf litter decomposition, soil production and nutrient cycling. They're also critical in dispersing fungi spores, so losing bandicoots (and bettongs) from ecosystems has cascading effects on plant diversity, species composition and structure of forests and woodlands.
During the day, bandicoots sleep in camouflaged nests – shallow holes lined with grass, leaf litter and other debris. To waterproof their hideouts they kick a layer of soil over the top of the nest while it’s raining. They can also use abandoned burrows, tunnels and logs to hide from predators and take refuge from the elements.
Bandicoots are territorial and typically solitary: the home range of a female is around 1-4 ha, and 18-40 ha for males. They mark their territory with a gland behind their ear.
Interactions between females and males are restricted to the mating season – the only time females tolerate the male’s company!
Bandicoots breed up to four times a year and have the shortest gestation period (about 11 days) of any marsupial. They can give birth to up to five babies.
As a marsupial the female bandicoot has a pouch where her young grow, drinking milk from her teats. The pouch is ‘reversed’, opening at the back so that dirt doesn’t enter while she digs!
The under-developed, furless young are only 1cm when born, and take three months to live independently. If food is scarce, the female bandicoot may resort to eating her young!
Threats to bandicoots
The main threats to bandicoots are habitat loss from urbanisation and land-clearing, predation from foxes, cats and dogs, and collisions with vehicles. (Native predators include snakes, owls, quolls and dingoes.) Intense wildfires, or too frequent burning, also has negative impacts, destroying the shelter used to hide from predators.
Introduced herbivores, like rabbits and deer, threaten bandicoots’ survival through direct competition for food and habitat, and through removal of undergrowth used for shelter and refuge, making bandicoots more susceptible to predators.
What's Bush Heritage doing?
Two-thirds of the nine species of bandicoot present in Australia at the time of European settlement are now considered extinct (two species) or threatened with extinction (four species). Bush Heritage has bought four properties that now provide a permanent refuge for bandicoots.
The Long-nosed Bandicoot is found on three of our reserves: Brogo (NSW), Fan Palm and Yourka (Queensland). The Northern Brown Bandicoot is found at Fan Palm, Yourka and Carnarvon Station reserves (all in Queensland).
We’ve removed sheep and cattle from these reserves and undertaken feral herbivore control, reducing damage to vegetation and competition for food. We also undertake low-intensity burns, carefully planned to minimise harm to native species, while controlling invasive weeds.
Our partnership work with farmers in the Tasmanian midlands is also helping preserve important habitat for the Eastern Barred Bandicoot and our work the the Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation helps protect country for the Golden Bandicoot in the north of Western Australia.
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