The term “bilby” usually refers to the greater bilby (Macrotis lagotis). The lone remaining species in the Thylacomyidae family, the bilby is closely related to the rat-like marsupials known as bandicoots, but is larger and has a more carnivorous diet. Bilbies can only be found in arid regions of central Australia, where their population is in decline. The greater bilby’s closest relative, the lesser bilby, went extinct sometime in the 1950s-1960s.
Bilbies are usually 11-22 inches long and weigh 2-6lbs. They have large, hairless ears and an elongated snout. Their large rear legs somewhat resemble those of a kangaroo and their tails are nearly equal to their body length. Strong forelimbs and thick claws allow the greater bilby to efficiently dig burrows and forage for food.
Bilbies make their homes in spiraling burrows that are very difficult for predators to access. They may keep several burrows spread out around their range, using some for sleeping and others for quick escape if necessary. Bilbies are known to use existing burrows time and again; some existing burrows are thought to be over 100 years old.
The greater bilby is an omnivore and eats a range of items including grasshoppers, spiders, termites, seeds and fungi. They are purely nocturnal and do not forage for food until well after dark. Bilbies live either alone or in mating pairs. Females have an amazingly short gestation period of just 12-14 days and can thus bear young up to eight times per year.
Habitat loss and predation by feral cats has led to the greater bilby being classified as nearly endangered. There is currently an aggressive conservation effort underway in Australia including predator-free sanctuaries and captive breeding programs to hopefully save this unique species.
Bilbies receive all the water they need to survive from food, and therefore do not need to have access to a water source.
One possible reason for the bilby’s decline is the construction of artificial lakes and water points to its habitat. These man-made sources of water allow predators to survive in a more arid environment than would otherwise be possible.
Save the Bilby Fund