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Australian Marsupials - The Short-Nosed Bandicoots

By Edited May 4, 2014 0 0

Southern, Northern and Golden Short-Nosed Bandicoots

The three species of short-nosed bandicoots all belong to the genus Isoodon. The species are the Golden Bandicoot (Isoodon auratus) which is the smallest of its genus, the Northern Brown Bandicoot (Isoodon marcrourus) and the Southern Brown Bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus).

Bandicoots are marsupials. They differ from the long-nosed bandicoot by having a shorter nose (which is no surprise considering the name), shorter, more rounded ears, coarser hair and by being more stoutly built. Marsupials give birth to a very underdeveloped baby or joey which usually develops further in a pouch.

Bandicoots like areas with low ground cover. They also like areas that are regenerating after a fire as there will be plenty of insects available for food. They are nocturnal and live solitary lives and build simple, non-permanent 'nests' of grass and twigs, in which they hide during the day. These are well camouflaged and waterproof. Sometimes they will nest in hollowed tree trunks or deserted rabbit warrens. The golden bandicoot may sleep during the day in the shade of spinifex, in crevices in the limestone rocks or they may burrow into the sand to escape the heat.

Short-nosed bandicoots are classed as polyprotodont meaning they have four or more upper incisors on either side of the jaw. The middle two toes of the hind feet are fused thus forming a claw which is used for grooming. The grooming claw and number of upper incisors differentiate them from other marsupials. Three long central claws on the forefeet are used to dig for food. A bandicoot leaves small conical holes when he has been searching for food. Bandicoots are macropods and the hind legs are well developed and used for hopping.

Bandicoots breed all year round if the rainfall is sufficient. All three species have rear-opening pouches so they don't fill with dirt when the animal is digging. The gestation period of around 12 days is the shortest of any mammal and a litter of two to four is usual. The offspring are weaned at two months of age. The joey is born with three claws on each forelimb, all with nails. Once the baby has clambered his way into the pouch and attached itself to a nipple, the nails are shed. As the pouch opens to the rear, babies occasionally tumble out and are left behind to die. On average, two young will survive to weaning age.

At 44 to 48 days, the eyes open. The babies begin to grow fur which, in a matter of weeks, is similar to that of an adult. At around 2 months of age, the joeys can regulate their own body temperature and are weaned. The male makes no contribution to the raising of the young. Eight to eleven litters may be reared in the two- to three-year life span of the female.

Bandicoots are omnivorous and eat seeds, fungi, insects, plant bulbs, turtle eggs, small reptiles, earthworms and even mice. Succulents supply much of their moisture requirements.

The golden bandicoots frequent the mining camps and will readily enter buildings in their quest for food. At separator stations, they warm themselves on the hot pipes that carry oil and water to various locations.

Predators include feral cats, foxes, dingoes and owls. Domestic livestock and rabbits compete for food. It is relatively common in Tasmania largely due to the absence of foxes and dingoes.

Northern Brown Bandicoot

The Northern Brown bandicoot is endemic to the northern and eastern coasts of Australia. They are also found on Papua New Guinea and other nearby islands. In dry times, they frequent thick vegetation consisting of small, dense trees, shrubs and tall grasses. When the rains come and food is more plentiful, they move out into open grasslands.

It is a very territorial animal and marks its area with scent from the glands on the ears, pouch, mouth and cloaca. It has a keen sense of smell. When threatened, it will take flight in a zigzag pattern.

The northern brown bandicoot has a body length of 40cm and weighs about 1200 grams. The tail adds another 15cm to the length. The males are slightly longer and heavier than the female.

Both the northern and southern brown bandicoot are a stocky little creatures with a hunched appearance. They have a coarse, grizzled coat varies from dark grey to yellow-brown with the ventral surfaces a creamy white. The tapered, short tail and back feet are dark brown. The snout is conical but quite short. The ears are short and rounded.

Southern Brown Bandicoot

The Southern Brown bandicoot could easily be mistaken for the northern brown. They vary slightly in size and in their localities.

Local aborigines of the Noongar tribe also call this little creature the quenda. It is found mainly in southern coastal Australia from central New South Wales to eastern South Australia. There are also populations in south west Western Australia and Tasmania.

Adult males are about 33cm long with a tail of 12 cm. Average weight is 0.9kg. Females are shorter and slightly lighter.

The Golden bandicoot is the smallest of its genus with the other two species being almost twice its size.

The Golden Bandicoot is now confined to Augustus, Barrow and Middle Islands (off Western Australia). There are also populations in the Kimberly region of Western Australia and on Marchinbar Island off the Northern Territory coast. The Barrow Island golden bandicoot is considered a subspecies (Isoodon auratur barrowensis).

Aborigines called the golden bandicoot 'old people's food' as it is slow-moving.

As may be expected, the coat is a golden colour easing to a light rust on the sides and face. The belly is a pale amber as are the feet.. There are some black streaks on the back.

It has a hunched appearance and looks rather like a rat. It is about 35cm long and has a pointed snout, small, rounded ears and dark eyes. The hind limbs large and muscular, the tail is long and the forelimbs short with three toes on each foot.

The largest population of golden bandicoots is found on Barrow Island which is located north of Onslow and to the west of Karratha off Western Australia's coast. The island is also home to Australia's largest onshore oilfield. Thanks to stringent environmental policies, mining coexists with the native wildlife. The bandicoot is a protected species.

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