Burrowing bettong (Bettongia lesueur)

Also known as: boodie, Lesueur’s rat kangaroo
French: Bettongie De Lesueur, Kangourou-rat De Lesueur
Spanish: Canguro-rata De Lesueur
GenusBettongia (1)
SizeHead/body length: 37 cm (2)
Tail length: 30 cm (2)
Weight970 - 1530 g (2)
Top facts

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

The burrowing bettong is a marsupial and the only burrowing member of the kangaroo family (4) (5) though, as its other common name, the Lesueur’s rat kangaroo, indicates, it actually bears some resemblance to a rat. Originally there were two subspecies, Bettongia lesueur graii and Bettongia lesueur nova, though the former subspecies is now Extinct (1). Like a kangaroo, it has well developed, muscular hind limbs and short muscular forearms. The head is small with a pointed muzzle, short rounded ears and beady black eyes (6). This mammal is covered in short dense hair which is brown to grey in colour, and has been described as ‘woolly’ as its hair is softer than that of other bettong species. Burrowing bettongs also bear a faint hip stripe on the body and a distinctive white tail-tip (2).

This species no longer exists on mainland Australia, and until recently was only found on three islands off the coast of Western Australia: Barrow, Dorre and Bernier Island (4) (5). Following a successful reintroduction by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) in 2002, this species is now also found in Faure Island (7).

This small marsupial inhabits a variety of habitats from spinifex deserts to woodlands (5).

Burrowing bettongs are strictly nocturnal and use scent to locate food, which they then dig out of the ground using their muscular limbs. This species feeds on tubers, bulbs, seed nuts, plants and fungi, termites and marine refuse (4). Burrowing bettongs have also been observed eating carrion and raiding vegetable gardens (4).

Social groups consist of one male and several females. They dig and occupy a simple burrow which may have a short tunnel and 1-2 entrances or a large warren with more than 100 entrances. One of these warrens may house more than 50 individuals from several groups. Males are aggressive towards other males and defend the females in their group (4).

Females produce up to three litters each year with one offspring per litter, though twins are occasionally born. Females will mate again shortly after giving birth. However, the second offspring is not born for around four months as embryonic development is delayed. This allows the first-born to be nurtured by the mother and gives it a better chance of survival (4). If the first young dies, embryonic development of the following offspring begins. Gestation lasts for only 21 days, and sexual maturity is attained within one year (4).

This Australian species has been completely lost from the mainland, though in 1855-56 they were reported as being abundant. They were considered as agricultural pests by farmers who settled in Australia in the 19th century, and were shot and poisoned in their hundreds (2). Introduced feral animals such as foxes are thought to have kept their numbers low, as has competition from other introduced species such as rabbits, cattle and black rats (Rattus rattus) (4). Increased grazing and changes to fire regimes have also significantly reduced vegetation cover for this species (5).

The four islands on which this species occurs have been declared as nature reserves (5). Dirk Hartog Island and the Gibson Desert Nature reserve have also been recommended as sites for translocation of populations following the success on Faure island (5) (7). In addition, research is underway to identify the causes of this species’ decline so that conservation practices are well informed (5). The Western Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) is responsible for the conservation of this species and it is hoped that these new efforts will enable this unique species to recover (5).

For information on this species and other protected Australian Wildlife see: Australian Wildlife Conservancy Annual Report 2002

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2009)
  2. Richardson, B.J. and Walton, D.W. (1989) Fauna of Australia: Mammalia. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.
  3. CITES (January, 2004)
  4. Animal Info (January, 2004)
  5. Kennedy, M. (1992) Australian Marsupials and Monotremes, An Action Plan for their Conservation. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
  6. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, London.
  7. Australian Wildlife Conservancy Annual Report 2002 (January, 2004)