File:Easter Bilby.jpg
Greater bilby at Monarto Zoo
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Infraclass: Marsupialia
Order: Peramelemorphia
Family: Thylacomyidae
Bensley, 1903
Genus: Macrotis
Reid, 1837
Type species
Perameles lagotis
Reid, 1837

Macrotis lagotis
Macrotis leucura
Ischnodon australis
Liyamayi dayi


Paragalia Gray, 1841
Peragale Lydekker, 1887
Phalacomys anon., 1854
Thalaconus Richardson, Dallas, Cobbold, Baird and White, 1862
Thylacomys Blyth, 1840[1]

Bilbies, or rabbit-bandicoots,[2] are desert-dwelling marsupial omnivores; they are members of the order Peramelemorphia. Before European colonisation of Australia, there were two species. The lesser bilby became extinct in the 1950s; the greater bilby survives but remains endangered.


Macrotis means ‘big-earred’ (Template:Transl + Template:Transl ‘ear’) in Greek, referring to the animal's large, long ears.[3]

The family's current name Thylacomyidae is derived from an invalid synonym Thylacomys, meaning ‘pouched mouse’, from the Ancient Greek Template:Transl (θύλακος, ‘pouch, sack’) and Template:Transl (μῦς, ‘pouch, sack’),[2] sometimes misspelt Thalacomys.[4][5]

The term bilby is a loanword from the Yuwaalaraay Aboriginal language of northern New South Wales, meaning long-nosed rat. It is known as dalgite in Western Australia, and the nickname pinkie is sometimes used in South Australia.[6] The Wiradjuri of New South Wales also call it "bilby".[7]


Bilbies have the characteristic long bandicoot muzzle and very long ears. They are about 29–55 cm in length. Compared to bandicoots, they have a longer tail, bigger ears, and softer, silky fur. The size of their ears allows them to have better hearing as well. They are nocturnal omnivores that do not need to drink water, as they get all the moisture they need from their food, which includes insects and their larvae, seeds, spiders, bulbs, fruit, fungi, and very small animals. Most food is found by digging or scratching in the soil, and using their very long tongues.

Unlike bandicoots, they are excellent burrowers and build extensive tunnel systems with their strong forelimbs and well-developed claws. A bilby typically makes a number of burrows within its home range, up to about a dozen; and moves between them, using them for shelter both from predators and the heat of the day. The female bilby's pouch faces backwards, which prevents her pouch from getting filled with dirt while she is digging.

Bilbies have a very short gestation period of about 12 – 14 days, one of the shortest among mammals.[8]


File:Bilby at Sydney Wildlife World.jpg

Greater bilby at Sydney Wildlife World

Bilbies are slowly becoming endangered because of habitat loss and change as well as the competition with other animals. There is a national recovery plan being developed for saving these animals: this program includes breeding in captivity, monitoring populations, and reestablishing bilbies where they once lived. There have been reasonably successful moves to popularise the bilby as a native alternative to the Easter Bunny by selling chocolate Easter Bilbies (sometimes with a portion of the profits going to bilby protection and research). Reintroduction efforts have also begun, with a successful reintroduction into the Arid Recovery Reserve in South Australia in 2000,[9] and plans underway for a reintroduction into Currawinya National Park in Queensland,[10] with a recent success with six bilbies released into the feral-free sanctuary in early February 2006.

Successful reintroductions have also occurred onto Peron Peninsula in Western Australia as a part of [11] Western Shield. Successful reintroductions have also occurred on other conservation lands, including islands and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy's[12] Scotia[13] and Yookamurra Sanctuaries.[14] There is a highly successful bilby breeding program at Kanyana Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre,[15] near Perth, Western Australia.


The placement of bilbies within the Peramelemorphia has changed in recent years. Vaughan (1978) and Groves and Flannery (1990) both placed this family within the Peramelidae family. Kirsch et al. (1997) found them to be distinct from the species in Peroryctidae (which is now a subfamily in Peramelidae). McKenna and Bell (1997) also placed it in Peramelidae, but as the sister of Chaeropus in the subfamily Chaeropodinae.[16]


The bilby lineage extends back 15 million years.[17] In 2014 scientists found part of a fossilised jaw of a bilby which had shorter teeth likely used for eating forest fruit. Prior to this discovery, the oldest bilby fossil on record was 5 million years old. Modern bilbies have evolved to have long teeth used to dig holes in the desert to eat worms and insects.

It is thought the bilby diverged from its closest relative, an originally-carnivorous bandicoot, 20 million years ago.[18]


  • Genus †Ischnodon
    • Ischnodon australis[19]
  • Genus †Liyamayi
    • Liyamayi dayi[20]

See also


  1. ^ Wilson & Reeder. "Genus Macrotis". Mammal Species of the World. 
  2. ^ a b Template:MerriamWebsterDictionary Unabridged Template:Paywall
  3. ^ Turner, Jim (2004). Mammals of Australia. Pensoft Publishers. p. 39. ISBN 978-954-642-198-2. 
  4. ^ "Thalacomys". Nomenclator Zoologicus Record. The Marine Biological Laboratory. err. pro Thyl- Owen 1838 
  5. ^ Waite, Edgar R. (1900). "The generic name Thylacomys". Annals and Magazine of Natural History: Series 7. 5 (26): 222–223. 
  6. ^ "Home - Australian National Dictionary Centre". ANU. Retrieved 2014-04-22. 
  7. ^ [1]This link is dead.
  8. ^ Gordon, Greg (1984). Macdonald, D., ed. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. pp. 846–849. ISBN 0-87196-871-1. 
  9. ^ Moseby K. E. and O'Donnell E. O. (2003) Reintroduction of the greater bilby, Macrotis lagotis (Reid) (Marsupialia: Thylacomyidae), to northern South Australia: survival, ecology and notes on reintroduction protocols Wildlife Research 30, 15-27.
  10. ^ Queensland Government (2004) Save The Bilby Appeal
  11. ^ "Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation 'Project Eden'". Retrieved 2014-04-22. 
  12. ^ "Australian Wildlife Conservancy". Retrieved 2014-04-22. 
  13. ^ Australian Wildlife Conservancy Scotia Sanctuary
  14. ^ Australian Wildlife Conservancy Yookamurra Sanctuary
  15. ^ "Kanyana Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre (Inc.)". Retrieved 2014-04-22. 
  16. ^ Groves, C. (2005). Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M, eds. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 38. OCLC 62265494. ISBN 0-801-88221-4. 
  17. ^ 15-million-year-old bilby fossil found in Qld, Australian Geographic.
  18. ^ Carnivorous bilby fossil unearthed, Australian Geographic.
  19. ^ Stirton, R.A., 1955. Late tertiary marsupials from South Australia. Records of the South Australian Museum 11, 247-268.
  20. ^ Travouillon, K.J., Hand, S. J., Archer, M., and Black, K. H., 2014. Earliest modern bandicoot and bilby (Marsupialia, Peramelidae and Thylacomyidae) from the Miocene of the Riversleigh World Heritage Area, northwestern Queensland, Australia. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 34:375-382.

External links


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