Bandicoots are medium-sized, terrestrial marsupials, which live only in the Australia – New Guinea region. There are approximately 20 species of bandicoot. Because they are prey for many animals, they usually stay hidden during the day, and become active only at night. Read on to learn more about the bandicoot.
Description of the Bandicoot
Bandicoots have the body shape of a large rat, though they have a much longer, pointed nose, larger ears, and a long, thin tail. They are about the size of a rabbit, and have long, powerful hind legs, which they use to hop around in a rabbit-like way. At other times, they walk on all four legs. Male bandicoots are often twice the size of females. Their bodies are covered with fur that, depending on the species, can be black, brown, gray, golden, or white.
Bandicoots can be vocal animals, making snuffling sounds while they are searching for food, and grunting like pigs when they detect food. If disturbed, they produce high-pitched sounds.
Interesting Facts About the Bandicoot
- Short Pregnancy – Bandicoots have one of the shortest pregnancies (gestation period) of all mammals, as the babies are born after just 12 days.
- Fused Toes – The second and third toes on each hind foot, which they use for grooming like a comb, are fused together.
- Pouch – Unlike other marsupials, the pouch opens backwards. This helps keep dirt from getting into the pouch with the babies.
- Babies – The babies, called “joeys,” are only 0.5 in (13 mm) long when they are born.
- Pig-Rat – The name “bandicoot” comes from the Telugu language word “pandikokku,” which means “pig-rat.”
Habitat of the Bandicoot
Because of their small size, bandicoots are hunted by many predators. To increase their chances of escape when being chased, they often live within thick vegetation in forests, swamps, thickets, and dense grasslands.
Distribution of the Bandicoot
Bandicoots are now limited to the Australia – New Guinea region.
Diet of the Bandicoot
Most bandicoots are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plants and animals. They primarily feed on insects (e.g. wasps, ants, spiders, flies, millipedes, worms, beetles, moths, butterflies) in the leaf-litter, or just below the surface soil. Bandicoots also eat berries, fruits, seeds, nuts, eggs, and sometimes small rodents. The diet of bandicoots varies between the species. The short-legged bandicoots are mostly herbivorous whereas the longer-legged species are nearly carnivorous.
Bandicoot and Human Interaction
Bandicoots can be hosts to the bacteria Coxiella burnetiid which, in humans, causes Q fever. It is initially transmitted to bandicoots by ticks. The bacteria are then transmitted to domestic animals, such as sheep, cattle, and poultry. It is transmitted to humans by inhalation of airborne particles released from the body parts of these animals.
Bandicoot numbers are decreasing. This is largely the result of habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and the introduction of small carnivores, such as domestic cats, dogs, and foxes, by European settlers. They are also killed by brush-fires and road accidents.
The bandicoot’s appetite for grubs and garden pests means they can be useful in gardens, being especially helpful in aerating lawns. Indigenous Australians sometimes hunt bandicoots for food.
Bandicoots have not been domesticated.
Does the Bandicoot Make a Good Pet
Bandicoots are an endangered species native to Australia, and it is illegal to trap or kill them. Legislation on keeping captive-born bandicoots as pets varies between States. Their nocturnal and shy nature means they are not particularly exciting to keep as pets.
Bandicoots can have a highly excitable nature; a quiet individual might suddenly explode into activity if handling is attempted. They should never be held by the tail as, like gerbils, this can peel the skin off. They are easily stressed, and should be protected from loud or unusual noises, or unusual odors (e.g. dogs, cats, cigarette smoke). Veterinarians caring for injured bandicoots sometimes keep them temporarily in rabbit hutches.
Behavior of the Bandicoot
Bandicoots are strictly terrestrial, which means they live on the ground, never in trees. They are also territorial, and males defend an area of approximately 17 acres (7 hectares). When defending their territory, males stand on their hind legs and scratch at each other. Both males and females live solitary lives, only interacting with others for mating. Bandicoots rest during the day in a nest they build from leaves, twigs, and soil in a shallow dip they create. These nests are sometimes built in rabbit warrens.
The bandicoot’s keen sense of smell and hearing means it is able to detect prey under the surface, which it quickly digs up with its strong front paws, and pointy snout.
Reproduction of the Bandicoot
Both males and females become sexually mature at approximately 5 months of age. Females can have a new litter every 7 to 8 weeks, but usually produce only 2 to 3 litters each year. Breeding usually occurs between June and December. Bandicoots have a very short pregnancy (gestation) period; the young being born after just 12 days.
A litter usually contains 3-6 young. Bandicoots are marsupials, which means that the female has a pouch (marsupium) on her belly, which contains up to 8 teats. Her young are born very small (0.51 in / 13 mm), naked, and poorly developed (altrichial); but they manage to crawl to the pouch, where they live and drink their mother’s milk. The young continue to develop in the pouch for the next 54 days, until they are strong enough to leave and begin foraging for themselves.