Greater Bilby

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Profile

No, this is NOT a fake animal. The greater bilby actually does exist. These animals have no other animals that they look much like. The medium-sized marsupials live in inland Australia. These animals are the largest of a group of marsupials known as bandicoots. Once you know what one looks like, bilbies are almost unmistakable. Their large, hairless ears; long, multi-colored tail, muscular legs; and long snout make these animals unique from all others. The rear legs of these animals look a lot like a kangaroo’s back legs, but they are used for a different purpose. Instead of hopping to get around, bilbies gallop. When they are moving around like this, their long tail sticks high in the air like a flag pole – except without the flag. These animals are marsupials, so the females have pockets in which their newborns stay for a while. Unlike most marsupials, the pocket faces backwards. For most marsupials this would mean that the babies would fall out when the mother is standing up, but for bilbies it helps keep dirt away from the young when the mother is digging. Marsupial moles also have a backwards facing pocket.

Coloring

The body of the bilby is light, bluish grey, and the snout and ears are peach colored, due to their lack of hair. The base of its tail is also grey, but it then turns black. The last half of the tail is white. A bilby’s belly is white or cream colored. Some animals just need to make up their mind what color they want to be.

Size

Bilbies are actually larger than what they might seem from the picture above. Their tail alone is about one foot (30 cm) long! Their head and body can be up to 22 inches (55 cm) long. A bilby’s tail can be more than half the length of its body! These animals can weigh up to five and a half pounds (2.5 kg). Males are usually larger than females.

Diet

As with some other desert-dwelling animals, bilbies never need to drink water as they obtain all necessary liquid from their food. These marsupials eat almost any living thing they can fin., Grass, fungus, termites, ants, spiders, lizards, eggs, snails, and even small mammals are not safe from a hungry bilby. The bilbies ears are very useful when it comes to hunting. They place their large ears against the ground, and can hear the slight sounds of insects burrowing underground. The hungry animal then burrows down to where its prey is. It then uses its anteater-like tongue to slurp up the insects. The downside of this method of eating is that the bilby often consumes a large amount of dirt and sand along with the insects.

Habitat and Range

Today, there are two subspecies of the greater bilby: the western bilby and the eastern bilby. These names tell where each subspecies lives. Historically, almost three quarters of Australia was bilby range. Now they only inhabit about twenty percent of Australia. There are small pockets of bilbies scattered throughout inland Australia. The Australian desert where the bilby lives is not like the bare, sandy Sahara desert. Instead it is more like the deserts in the south-western United States. Their habitat has small shrubs and patches of grass scattered throughout it.

Status and threats

Bilbies are not necessarily threatened directly by humans, but peoples’ actions in the past are still harming bilby population. Foxes and feral cats which have been introduced by humans are dangerous predators of the bilby. Previously, humans hunted bilbies, and these animals were endangered by traps and poisoned baits meant for rabbits. Due to these threats, the bilby is classified as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.

Reproduction

Bilbies are solitary animals, except for when they decide it is time to breed. These marsupials do not have a specific breeding season as many animals do, instead they just breed when they are ready. For females, this may happen up to four times each year! Greater bilbies have one of the shortest gestation periods of any mammals. It lasts just two weeks! The female gives birth to up to four babies, though this number is usually one ore two. The young stay in their mother’s pocket for about eighty days. After this, they spend two more weeks living in the burrow.

Oh yeah! I forgot to mention these animals lived in burrows! Just a minute…..

Burrow

Here you go! These animals are nocturnal, and therefore spend the day in burrows so they can sleep without the bright light and desert heat keeping them up. Each individual bilby can have up to a dozen burrows to itself. Each with its own entrance! These burrows spiral down into the ground and can be up to ten feet (3m) long!

Young

The young bilbies feed on the female’s teats deep inside her pocket. After they come out of her pocket, they are still not weaned, and drink from teats on the outside of her pocket. These two different teats give two different types of milk. When the young have left the pocket, they will not return, as the mother’s next litter has likely already taken up residence there. Females are ready to mate by the time they reach five months of age, but males take three months longer. It is estimated that only one quarter of all bilby babies will reach this age. Despite this, these animals can live up to ten years in the wild, though most ones only reach six or seven years.

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Sources:

 

Photo credits:

  • Bilby – molvray.com
  • Mystery animal – Arturo de Frias Marques

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