The Greater bilby (Macrotis lagotis), usually just called a bilby since the lesser bilby (Macrotis leucura) became extinct in the 1950s. This is a species of the order Peramelemorphia that is nocturnal and bears a close resemblance to bandicoots. The term bilby is a loan word from the Yuwaalaraay Aboriginal language of northern New South Wales, meaning long-nosed rat.
The bilby looks like a cross between a rabbit, a bandicoot and a small rat kangaroo. Described by a bilby conservationist, Tony Friend , thus: “They look like they’ve been stuck together by a committee. Huge ears that belong to a rabbit, soft grey fur, a tail that’s stuck out the back like a tufted pencil, and they gallop around like a rocking horse. They’re so different from any other animal.”
That maybe so, but they are uniquely adapted to their desert environment possessing a keen smell and hearing. They do not need to drink water as they get all the moisture from the food they eat: plants, insects and juicy worms.
Bilbies are very good diggers and they routinely construct spiral-shaped burrows up to three metres long and almost two metres deep. Their burrows need to be this deep because bilbies are desert-dwellers, keeping cool underground during the day and foraging for food after dark. This digging helps the environment by burying plant and animal matter in the ground to produce litter that acts as a seedbed for various species of plants to germinate.
They are struggling in Australia due to the predation of foxes and cats and loss of habitat. Although the total population numbers could be about 10,000 but local populations are quite vulnerable.
Two hundred years ago, the greater bilby, occupied more than 70% of mainland Australia. Since then, it’s disappeared from 80% of its former range, with a few remaining populations scattered in arid and semi-arid areas in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and Queensland. To help get attention to this creature’s plight, Australians have come up with Easter Bilbies instead of bunnies. Some parts of the proceeds of chocolate bilbies go conservation efforts.
Here is a little fact sheet on this cute little animal. You can help by contributing to the following organizations working for Bilby conservation.