Greater bilby (Macrotis lagotis)

French: Grand Bandicoot-lapin, Grand Péramèle-lapin
Spanish: Cangurito Narigudo Grande
OrderPolyprotodonta (9)
GenusMacrotis (1)
SizeTail length: 29 cm (2)
Head-body length: up to 55 cm (2)
Weight0.8 - 2.5 kg (2)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU - C2a) on the IUCN Red List 2002 and listed on Appendix I of CITES (1).

The greater bilby is the largest of the small, rat-like marsupials (3) that are known as bandicoots (7). It has a comical appearance with its oversized hairless ears and long slender hind legs that resemble those of a kangaroo (4). The soft, silky coat is a bluey-grey colour with subtle tan markings and a white belly (5). The long tail is grey towards the body and then black, followed by white at the tip (4). It is carried like a stiff banner during the bilby's cantering run (5), and there is a tuft of elongated hairs folding over the naked tail tip (4). Bilbies also have a long, pink and hairless snout (7).

At the beginning of the 20th Century the bilby was still common throughout southern Australia. Today however, two subspecies are restricted to small fragmented populations: the western bilby (Macrotis lagotis lagotis) found in the border area between Western Australia and the Northern Territory and the eastern bilby (M. l. sagitta) in southwest Queensland (10).

Inhabits arid areas, mainly associated with tussock and hummock grasslands and acacia shrublands (4).

Greater bilbies are nocturnal and spend the day in burrows that spiral into the ground (5). These burrows can be as much as 3 metres long (5) and each individual may use up to a dozen burrows with one entrance each (4). Bilbies are predominantly solitary animals, with the exception of when they are breeding, which can occur at any time of the year (9). After a gestation period of roughly two weeks, females give birth to a litter of 1 to 2 young, who are born at an immature stage of development and then stay in the backwards-facing pouch for around 80 days (9).

Bilbies are omnivores and uncover food by digging with their front feet. They eat a range of food including insects, bulbs and fungi (4). Obtaining all the moisture they require from their diet, these animals do not need to drink (7).

Bilby numbers have been decimated by human activities; they have been hunted extensively for their skins and accidentally killed in rabbit traps or by poisoned baits (4). Predation by introduced foxes and feral cats poses one of the major causes of mortality today. Populations are also under pressure from long periods of drought, which tends to concentrate animals such as bilbies, rabbits, feral predators and livestock on smaller areas of land that may be unable to sustain them (4). The severely fragmented populations of bilbies are particularly vulnerable to these extreme events.

Bilbies are protected within Australia and have been found to breed well in captivity (4). Successful reintroductions of captive-bred individuals have occurred at sites in Western (5) and South Australia (6), from which bilbies had previously been lost. These are being carefully monitored at present and appear to be doing well. The Save the Bilby Fund is working to reintroduce bilbies to Currawinya National Park in Southwest Queensland (8). The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service has established a captive breeding colony in Charleville, and these bilbies will be used in the reintroduction programme (8). The future is looking slightly more promising for this unusual but appealing marsupial.

For more information on the greater bilby, see:

Authenticated (27/8/02) by Peter McRae. Senior Zoologist, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Australia.

  1. UNEP-WCMC database (June, 2002)
  2. McRae, Peter (27/8/02) Pers comm.
  3. Animal Diversity Web (June, 2002)$narrative.html
  4. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Australian Bilby Appreciation Society, Bilby Facts (August 2002)
  6. Australian Nature Conservation Agency, Endangered Species Unit (June, 2002)
  7. Western (June, 2002)
  8. Earth Sanctuaries (August, 2002)
  9. National Parks South Australia (June, 2002)
  10. Australian Bilby Appreciation Society, Save the Bilby Fund (August, 2002)