Bilby What is a Bilby?


Photo: Greater Bilby

Bilby Description What Does a Bilby Look Like?

The bilby is a small nocturnal Australian marsupial with soft blue-grey and white fur, pink rabbit-like ears, a long pointed pink snout and a black and white tail. It has a body length of 30-55cm with a 20-30cm long tail. The bilby weighs 1-2.4kg and is roughly the size of a rabbit. The bilby has an excellent sense of smell and hearing due to its long snout and large ears. But its eyesight, however, is poor. The bilby has powerful clawed forearms specialised for digging their burrows and uncovering food beneath the ground. Bilbies have hind legs like a kangaroo, but they don't hop. At high speeds, they gallop like a horse. At slow speeds, their movement is similar to that of a rabbit. The female bilby is slightly smaller than the male and has a backwards-facing pouch to to prevent dirt from entering its pouch while digging. The male does not have this pouch. Bilbies usually live alone and live for about 7 years.

When the first European settlers arrived in Australia in 1788, there were two species of bilbies. These were the Greater Bilby and the Lesser Bilby which became extinct in the 1950s. The Greater Bilby is also called a greater rabbit-eared bandicoot and dalgyte. This article is about the Greater Bilby, often referred simply as bilby.

Related Article: Australian Marsupials

Bilby Habitat & Burrow Where Do Bilbies Live?

Photo: Greater Bilby Habitat Map

Photo: Greater Bilby Habitat

Bilbies live 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. Bilbies build complex underground burrow systems with multiple entrances and chambers. These burrows, about 2 meters deep and up to 3 metres long, are usually dug in sandy soils with good drainage and protect the bilby from predators, environmental extremes, and the elements. They also repair and reuse burrows abandoned by others and frequently move between their many burrows. Being nocturnal creatures,  bilbies shelter in their burrows during the day and are active at night.

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?

The bilby is an omnivorous animal with a diet of plant and animal matter. Its diet comprises termites, grasshoppers, beetles, ants, spiders, small lizards, bulbs, seeds, fungi, fruit and flowers. They locate their meals by sniffing out signs of food and listening carefully with their large ears.

Generally, their food sources are at ground level or just below ground, so the bilby uses its sharp claws to dig them up or its long sticky tongue to collect them. As a result, they consume a lot of sand along with their meals. This can often be seen in their faeces which can contain up to 90% sand! As many insects consumed by the bilby are still encased in hard exoskeletons when eaten, bilby faeces often glistens with tiny fragments of iridescent aspects of the insects they've consumed. The bilby finds most of its water needs from its meals.

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.

Bilby Predators & Threats What Kills Bilbies?

The primary reason for the catastrophic decline and near extinction of the bilby is predation by introduced animals, such as foxes, feral cats, and dingoes and competition from introduced herbivores, such as camels, rabbits and cattle. 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

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.