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Another cryptic Australian critter


 
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Associate Professor Peter Banks, from Sydney University, uncovers the world of another unique Australian animal - the bandicoot. Bandicoots are classified by ecologists as critical weight range mammals (between 35g and 5.5kg) which have really suffered since Europeans arrived in Australia, the rabbit-sized bandicoots suffering the worst from fox predation.
Bandicoots hold a special taxonomic place. They are marsupials but are in between the carnivorous marsupials (same type of teeth) and the macropod marsupials because they have macropod fused toes. Bandicoots also have the shortest gestation period of any mammal, conception to birth only lasting 12.5days. They can breed twice a year, some breeding three times if conditions are right. The babies are born in a very immature state, suckling at a nipple for a number of months before emerging from the pouch (much like a second birth) and starting to become independent. Female long-nose bandicoots have four nipples so they can give birth to four babies but generally have only two or three.
 

 
Bandicoots forage in the soil, looking for soil invertebrates and the fruiting bodies of fungi which they find using their noses. They love lawn, its moist softness being ideal for foraging, especially given that lawn watering promotes the soil invertebrates.
This has harmed their reputation as has their perceived association with ticks. Early tick studies had a focus on bandicoots and that association stuck but the paralysis tick is not a specialist species so there needs to be more research into the roles different sorts of mammals play in hosting ticks.
Bandicoots rest and nest in dense vegetation areas during the day but they like open areas for their night foraging, so they like recently burnt areas. They do not make burrows or use fallen logs but they will move nests if disturbed. Goannas, snakes and owls are among their native predators, the smaller juveniles being most at risk, which is how most of them die. Those juvenile bandicoots that do survive will generally live for less than a year, some lasting up to three.

 
Introduced predators like foxes and cats are also a problem, especially since they also target burnt areas. Fox baiting does improve their numbers as was proved in a baiting program carried out in Jervis Bay.Some bandicoots species do quite well in urban and peri urban areas as long as they have access to food.
Sydney has a large long-nosed bandicoot population at North Head, Brisbane has the northern brown bandicoot, Melbourne is home to the southern brown bandicoot and Hobart has the eastern barred bandicoot.
They are subject to road kill which also lessens their numbers.
Understanding the population biology of bandicoots is the key to their survival since they face a whole range of urban development. At the moment they do have the ability to hang on in a small fragment of that landscape and the population can bounce back from episodes of fox predation probably because of their amazing breeding capacity.
They have unusual social interactions. Although polygamous (mating with many females) male bandicoots tend to hang out together in different locations to the females, even during the breeding season. Much more research needs to be done on this unique Australian animal, one that is essentially a cryptic critter.
Professor Peter Banks was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent. Image of Long nosed Bandicoot from Peter Banks. Summary text by Victor Barry, August 2015 and revisited September 2017.

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