Photo by David Cook
Northern Brown Bandicoots (banner image) are more commonly found in open forests, grasslands, canelands and gardens. Whereas Long-nosed Bandicoots (above) prefer wetter, more dense habitat, such as wet sclerophyll forests and rainforests.
Sometimes both species occur in the same location, especially in closed forest habitats that are adjacent to open forest habitats.

Most Land for Wildlifers in south-east Queensland (SEQ) will have had some sort of encounter with a bandicoot at one time or another. Whether it is waking to find a pock-marked lawn, a glimpse of a small brownish animal caught in the headlights as it gallops for safety or hearing a strange squeaking grunt in the dark. We have two local species in SEQ:

  • the Northern Brown Bandicoot (Isoodon macrourus), which translates broadly as long-tailed equal-tooth, and
  • the Long-nosed Bandicoot (Perameles nasuta), which means the notably-nosed pouched-badger.

I’d always assumed that the name ‘bandicoot’ was taken from one of Australia’s many Indigenous languages, but in fact, it was first used in India and is a corruption of the Telugu word ‘pandi-kokku’, which means pig-rat. However, they are not, as their name might suggest a rodent, but are marsupials and a close relative of the bilby. From the writings of Tom Petrie I have learnt that bandicoots are known as ‘yaggo’ in the Turrbal language and according to John Mathew as ‘dhun-kal’ by the Kabi Kabi (Gubbi Gubbi).

Bandicoots have been maligned, impugned and treated as vermin for much of the last 200 years. One of the reasons is that they were mistakenly thought to spread the Paralysis Tick (Ixodes holocyclus). There is little evidence to support this and they are just one of many mammals, birds and sometimes reptiles that play host to Paralysis Ticks.

“Yes, but what about the holes in my lawn!” someone shouts from the back. Recent studies of Quenda (or the Southern Brown Bandicoot) have shown that the digging by bandicoots, along with other native digging mammals, is a vital ecological service. This process, termed bioturbation, increases soil nutrient availability, microbial and fungal activity enough to significantly benefit seedlings that germinate in the spoil heap. This may not seem all that important, but when you consider that a single bandicoot might dig around 45 foraging pits each night it really starts to add up. In fact, it adds up to nearly 4 tonnes of soil cultivated per year. It also appears that the digging done by native animals with an omnivorous diet is more beneficial than the digging done by introduced herbivores such as the rabbit.

Northern Brown Bandicoot Shorter nose. Shorter round ears. Longer tail. Heavier build. Darker fur.
Long-nosed Bandicoot Longer nose. Longer more-pointed ears. Shorter tail. Slighter build. Paler fur.
A bandicoot foraging pit (or ‘snout poke’) is usually narrow, conical and 5-15 cm deep with soil piled to one side. Photo by Alan Wynn.
A male Long-nosed Bandicoot is seen here using a scent glad behind its ear to mark out its territory.
Bandicoot scats are commonly found around their diggings. They have a strong ‘meaty’ smell when fresh. These scats contain soil, insect parts and fibrous plant material derived from the bandicoot’s varied diet of insects, larvae, spiders, lizards, earthworms, berries, seeds, roots and fungi. Photo by Alan Wynn

Despite falling smack bang in the middle of the ‘critical weight range’ of 200 grams to 5 kgs, in which our native mammals have been hardest hit by introduced predators such as cats and foxes, our local bandicoots have been remarkably persistent compared to the rest of the bandicoot and bilby clan (Family Peramelidae). Since European settlement, two species of bandicoot and one bilby have become extinct, another two are extinct or critically endangered on the mainland, and two more are classified as vulnerable to extinction. Only one, the Southern Brown Bandicoot, still shares the status of common with the Long-Nosed and Northern Brown Bandicoots, but it has experienced significant declines across its former range.

So, why do we still have bandicoots in SEQ when the rest of Australia is losing theirs? It’s certainly not due to their intelligence because bandicoots are dumb, really dumb. The ratio of actual brain mass compared to expected brain mass for a given body size is called the encephalisation quotient (EQ). The typical range for mammals is 0.5-1.5. Humans are an extreme case having an EQ of up to 7.0, while at the other end of the scale bandicoots are less than half as brainy as expected with an EQ of less than 0.5. The ability of our two local bandicoots to persist where other marsupials of a similar size have declined is pretty much all down to some fairly impressive reproductive traits.

The Long-nosed and Northern Brown Bandicoots have a gestation period of just 12.5 days (one of the shortest of all marsupials) and conditions for breeding in SEQ are favourable pretty much throughout the year. Females can start breeding at 4-5 months of age and produce up to 4 litters of 2-4 young per year.

The newborn young are about the size of a baked bean and, like other marsupials, are relatively undeveloped. While still attached to the placenta by an umbilical cord they crawl a short distance to a backwards facing pouch where they attach to one of eight teats. They grow rapidly and are ready to leave the pouch at about 50-55 days with weaning occurring at about 60 days. Females can mate again while they have pouch young and give birth to a new litter soon after the previous young have been weaned.

Typically, bandicoots are solitary creatures that only come together for mating. Even young bandicoots are on their own just a few days after being weaned if the mother has given birth to another litter. During the day, they shelter in a camouflaged nest of grass and leaves that sometimes will have soil raked over the top to improve its weatherproofing.

Whether it is because they are common and look a little like a large rat or the bad press that they have received since European settlement, bandicoots are often overlooked or dismissed by us humans. They deserve better than this. They are essential for the ecological well-being of our forests and despite threats from introduced predators, pets, habitat loss and roads they manage to hang in there. So while they have been lost from urban areas or intense agricultural lands they are still reasonably common where there is suitable habitat.

To help bandicoots return to, or continue to find a home on, your Land for Wildlife property you can help by:

  • Retaining or restoring areas of native grass and shrubs.
  • Restricting livestock access to areas of bushland.
  • Retaining leaf litter and dead timber on the ground.
  • Avoid frequent burning.
  • Being a responsible pet owner.
  • If you have a pool, make a wildlife ramp out of a piece of wood or heavy rope.

 

Article by
Alan Wynn
Conservation Partnerships Officer
Sunshine Coast Council

References & Further Reading

Lydecker HW, Stanfield E, Lo N, Hochuli DF and Banks PB (2015) Are urban bandicoots solely to blame for tick concerns? Australian Zoologist, 37(3) 288-293.

Milewski A (2018) Of Bandicoots, Beaks and Braininess. Wildlife Australia, 55(2) 31-34.

Queensland Museum (2007) Wildlife of Greater Brisbane. 2nd Edition. Queensland Museum.

Valentine L, Ruthrof K & Hobbs R (2018) Scratching Below the Surface with Marsupial Diggers. Decision Point Online, October.

Van Dyck S & Strahan R (eds) (2008) The Mammals of Australia. 3rd Edition. New Holland.

https://www.steveparish-natureconnect.com.au/nature-centre/its-not-a-big-rat-its-a-bandicoot/
https://environment.des.qld.gov.au/wildlife/livingwith/bandicoots.html

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