Bilby — Greater Bilby What is a Bilby?

Bilby

Photo: Greater Bilby

The bilby is a ground-dwelling, nocturnal marsupial with soft grey and white fur, pink rabbit-like ears, a long pointed pink snout and a black and white tail. When the first European settlers arrived in Australia in 1788, there were two species of bilbies. These were the Lesser Bilby and the Greater Bilby.


25 Bilby Facts

  1. The bilby is a rabbit-sized Australian marsupial.
  2. It has grey and white fur, rabbit-like ears and a long pointed snout.
  3. The bilby’s scientific name is  Macrotis lagotis.
  4. The bilby loves to dig extensive burrows up to 3 meters long and 2 meters deep.
  5. It digs is burrow to a depth where the temperature inside can be maintained at a constant 23°C.
  6. Its deep spiralling burrow with many exits also keeps it safe from predators.
  7. It is estimated that a single bilby can shift 1-2 tonnes of soil a year while digging.
  8. Bilbies don’t hop. They gallop like a horse.
  9. When moving slowly, they move like a rabbit.
  10. The bilby gets most of its water from its food.
  11. It doesn't need to drink water.
  12. Because of its feeding habits, a bilby’s poo can contain up to 90% sand.
  13. And because it eats even an insect’s exoskeleton, its poop glistens sometimes.
  14. A bilby has 48 teeth, 26 upper and 22 lower ones.
  15. Bilbies breed between March and May.
  16. The gestation period is 14 days, producing two births.
  17. The babies spend another 12 weeks in their mother's pouch.
  18. Bilbies have a lifespan of 6-10 years.
  19. The bilby is terrestrial, which means it doesn't climb trees.
  20. Before Europeans arrived in Australia, bilbies were found in over70% of the country.
  21. Today they on found in only 20% of the country.
  22. The Lesser Bilby because extinct in the 1950s.
  23. There are only about 10,000 bilbies alive in the wild today.
  24. The bilby is facing extinction.
  25. Bilbies are close relatives of the bandicoot.

The Lesser Bilby became extinct in the 1950s, and the Greater Bilby is endangered. This article is about the Greater Bilby, often referred simply as bilby.


Bilby Description What Does a Bilby Look Like?

The bilby is roughly the size of a rabbit. It has a body length of 30-55 cm and a tail of another 20-30 cm. The bilby has soft blue-grey fur and weighs 1-2.4kg. The female is slightly smaller than the male. Because of its long snout and large ears, the bilby has an excellent sense of smell and hearing. The bilby’s eyesight, however, is poor. The bilby has strong forearms and claws designed for digging burrows and uncovering buried food. The female bilby’s pouch faces backwards to prevent dirt from entering it while digging her burrows or hunting for food. The male bilby does not have a pouch.

Bilbies have hind legs similar to those of a kangaroo, but bilbies don't hop. Instead, when they need to move quickly, bilbies gallop like a horse. When moving slowly, their movement is similar to a rabbit's.

Bilbies usually live alone. Sometimes females may live in pairs. The bilby lives for about 7 years.

Bilbies are close relatives of the bandicoot, but followed a different evolutionary path about 20 million years ago.

Related Article: Australian Marsupials


Bilby Habitat & Burrow Where Do Bilbies Live?

Photo: Greater Bilby Habitat Map

Photo: Greater Bilby Habitat

The bilby lives in a few isolated areas of Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and Queensland. They prefer dry and hot regions such as deserts, arid rocky soils with little ground cover, tussock and hummock grasslands and acacia shrubland.

The bilby builds an extensive network of underground burrows within its home range. These burrows can be as long as 3 meters and can spirals down to depths of 2 meters. These burrows have many exits. The bilby builds to these depths to keep its burrow at a constant temperature of 23°C and to be safe from predators. It moves between its many burrows frequently for resting and escape from predators. Bilbies also repair and reuse burrows abandoned by others.

Being nocturnal, it shelters in a burrow until night-time. It may return to its burrow during the night to rest or hide from predators.

Before European settlement in 1788, bilbies inhabited over 70% of the Australian continent. Today their range has declined to less than 20%.


Bilby Diet What Do Bilbies Eat?

Bilbies are omnivores, eating mainly termites and their larvae, grasshoppers, beetles, ants, spiders, bulbs, seeds, fungi and fruit. It also eats small lizards, eggs, snails and other small animals. Bilby feeding grounds are usually dotted it numerous 10-25cm deep holes that the animals have dug in search of food.

It forages for food by scampering about sniffing the air for signs of food and listening with its large ears for prey. Most of the bilby's prey is at ground level or just below ground. Once it locates its food, it digs it up with its powerful claws or licks it up with its long, sticky tongue. As a consequence, the bilby consumes large quantities of sand. Researchers have found bilby poop (faeces) to contain 20-90% sand. It also consumes all parts of insects it captures, including their hard exoskeletons. As a result, the bilby's poop sometimes glistens with the tiny fragments of the iridescent parts of the insects it has eaten. The bilby gets most of the water its needs from its food.

Bilby Video

Photo: Video of Greater Bilby


Bilby - Reproduction Bilby Babies

Bilbies socialise only during the breeding season, which is between March and May. The gestation period is just 14 days. A female can give birth to as many as five babies, but the usual number is just two. The young are born tiny and underdeveloped and crawl from their mother’s birth canal to her pouch. Once in their mother’s pouch, they attach themselves to a nipple in the pouch. They remain there for 12 weeks. They are fully weaned by 15 weeks. A bilby becomes sexually mature at five months.


Billy - Predators & Threats What Kills Bilbies?

Invasive animals, such as dingoes, red foxes and feral cats, kill bilbies. Introduced grazing animals such as the feral camel, sheep and cattle also contribute by degrading the bilby's natural habitat. They are responsible for the perilous decline in the number of bilbies.

Native predators such as snakes, monitor lizards and birds of prey also kill bilbies. However, they are not responsible for the recent rapid decline in the number of bilbies.


Bilby - Conservation Status Is the Bilby Endangered?

It is estimated that there are less than 10,000 bilbies in the wild and their population continues to decline. They are in danger of extinction.

Related Article: Australian Animals