SPECIES: Macrotis leucura — Lesser Bilby


In the leadup to the Easter break, this week we profile our beloved Bilby. There were in fact two species of Bilby - sadly - one is now extinct. The Lesser Bilby, (lesser meaning smaller) was thought to be endemic across arid central Australia, north east SA and southeast NT.

What's not to love about the Bilby? An immensely adapted species - they have long, sharp claws for digging burrows in the harshest of terrains, they have large ears and impeccable hearing and can go without drinking water, relying on the moisture obtained from eating fruit and seeds. In addition, the pouch of a female Bilby opens downwards and backwards (so as to not fill her pouch with dirt if she is carrying a joey). The adaptability of the Bilby even extends to the way it sleeps - and they can even sleep sitting up. They squat on their hind legs, tuck their muzzle between their legs and fold their long ears over their eyes to sleep - oh so cute!

The Lesser Bilby is thought to have gone extinct by the 1960's, most likely from a combination of predation by cats and foxes, competition with rabbits for food, degradation of habitat and fire.

As a side note: while researching Lesser Bilby, there was a report that of the two Bilby species, the Lesser Bilby was the more aggressive, ferocious of the two. Can you imagine a small, silky furred marsupial hissing and inflicting savage snapping bites when under threat or attack? Then again, the species is no longer around to defend itself.

Photo: Lesser Bilby specimens (NT Gov).

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