The Greater Bilby (Macrotis lagotis) plays an important role in traditional indigenous culture across the deserts of Central Australia. The large rabbit like ears of the Greater Bilby (often just called Bilby) have also made it a popular Australian icon at Easter.
They are members of a group of marsupials known as Bandicoots, and Bilbies have long pointed snouts and compact bodies. The Greater Bilby measures between 29 and 55cm (11 – 21 inches) in length and differ from other Bandicoots with their larger ears, longer tails and long silky fur.
The Greater Bilby is classified as ‘vulnerable’ and has gone from much of its former range. Sadly, through habitat loss, competition with feral cats and foxes, the reduction of Aboriginal burning practices the numbers have dramatically declined over the last 100 years. The Lesser Bilby (Macrotis leucura) is now believed to be extinct. More information is available on the Australian Government, Department of Environment Greater Bilby page.
The Greater Bilby lives in the sandy deserts areas among spinifex grasslands. I saw my first Bilby when working out in the Tanami Desert, but unfortunately it was dead, a casualty of our mechanized inland incursion.
Bilbies are nocturnal and have strong forelimbs and big claws for digging. While their sight is poor, their sense of smell and hearing are acute. The Bilby digs quite large burrows up to 2 metres (6.5 feet) deep in sand country, where they live by themselves or in pairs. The Greater Bilby likes freshly burnt country as this provides greater supplies of their preferred foods. They rarely need to drink and get moisture from insects and their larvae, seeds, spiders, bulbs, fruit, fungi and other very small animals. Males can weigh up to 2.5kg (5.5lb) and females grow up to 1.3kg (2.8lb). The female has a backward facing pouch so it does not get filled with sand when she is digging and are only pregnant for 12 – 14 days, one of the shortest pregnancies of all mammals.