19.3 C
Byron Shire
March 27, 2023

The mysterious life and tragic death of bandicoots

Latest News

Janelle Saffin holds the seat of Lismore

Janelle Saffin is in the lead for the seat of Lismore after yesterday's state election. Although preroll and postal votes are yet to be counted, it’s hard to imagine Saffin’s position changing.

Other News

A bonanza for developers and land bankers?

The NSW Planning Rezoning Pathways Program will service the current agendas of developers and land bankers throughout Tweed Shire, particularly the State Significant Farmlands of Cudgen Plateau.

Residents of Cabbage Tree Island want to go home

Anger and frustration at not being able to go home saw a group of residents reclaim their properties yesterday on Cabbage Tree Island.

Geoff Provest talks SSF and hosptials in Tweed

A key issue in the seat of Tweed is around the preservation of State Significant Farmland that is currently under threat from developers like those behind the 'Cudgen Connection' development proposed for the site next to the current Tweed Valley Hospital.

Ballina independent booed over domestic violence survivor-blaming

The independent candidate for the seat of Ballina has attracted condemnation for comments he made over domestic violence at a public forum last week.

Swimmers take plunge for mental health

Swimmers took to Byron Bay pool and swam over 2000 laps to raise money to help improve services to...

Adam’s second bite at the Lismore apple

The Greens candidate for the seat of Lismore, Adam Guise has run this race once before in 2015, where he gained a notable swing toward the Greens in the primary vote.


Story & photo Mary Gardner

An oncoming car threatened me, so I stepped farther aside to the narrow verge and paused. The stink of exhaust streaming past me was strong but there was another stench in the air. I sniffed through the jumble of vegetation; there I found a dead bandicoot (Isoodon macrourus).

They’re nocturnal and shy, but living here inside town. Are bandicoots why the neighbour’s dog barks at the bushes every night? Unlike cats, these creatures will eat worms and grubs as well as small lizards and mice. Unlike rabbits, they dig and eat underground lily bulbs, tubers and fungi. They’re omnivores, like us humans.

The official family name is Peramelemorphia, which means ‘with the body shape of a badger’. But they are not badgers and do not dig burrows for homes. At best they nestle deep within grasses. If you build a small wood-stick cabin in a quiet part of your yard, they may adopt it.

The word ‘bandicoot’ is European slang dating from 1790. They were likened to ‘bandicota’, a word from the Telugu language in India for a type of rat. From the 1830s, bandicoot featured in unhappy new proverbs like ‘as miserable as a bandicoot’ or ‘as poor as a bandicoot’. There also arose the verb to bandicoot which means ‘to surreptitiously dig up potatoes without disturbing the green tops’.

Bandicoots remain a mystery. Marsupial mammals, both sexes have a pouch underneath that opens to the back. Their sharp front teeth are in multiple pairs, as with other carnivorous marsupials such as quolls. But their second and third toes are fused together, as are those of kangaroos and possums.

The adults are solitary. The female is pregnant for only twelve days, the shortest time for any mammal. Recently, a birthing was filmed. A female lies on her back, licking and wetting a one-centimetre trail from bum to pouch. In five minutes flat, a membrane sac wiggles along. The female licks it open. The blind, hairless young secure themselves each on a nearby teat. They are weaned at two months. A couple of days later, a new litter is born.

With their high birth rate, bandicoots can outbreed rabbits. So where are they all? In fact, where are all the small native mammals, ranging in size from rat to rabbit? Our quolls, bilbies, sugar gliders, potoroos and more?

Since 2011, a team of international specialists hosted by Australian Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis are collaborating on this very question. They report a wave of small mammal extinctions first hit southern Australia early in the last century. Since the 1970s, another wave appears to be underway throughout northern Australia, from the Kimberley to Kakadu.

Their final report is out soon. In the south the problem appears to be foxes. To the north it’s cats. These are making the best of European land uses to expand their ranges and take out small mammals. Paradoxically, one of the self-sustaining ways to halt them is re-establishing a strong dingo presence.

But how, from city to outback, are we to do that? This debate is to be streamed live on the internet on March 27. You can put your questions to the panel (visit http://bit.ly/wGQjIM).

Back in the Northern Rivers, another introduced killer is the car. In 2004, Taylor and Goldingay’s survey counted one road kill for every four kilometres per week. Bandicoots died at twice the rate of possums or magpies. Now what can we do about that?


More about this and other topics on Mary’s website www.tangleoflife.org. Join her on 7 March at Santos in Mullumbimby at 6pm for the latest in films and experiments about nature science.

Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Will Provest win the Tweed seat over Elliot?

It appears that Tweed MP Geoff Provest will retain the seat of Tweed but there are still plenty of votes to be counted.

Tamara Smith returned to Ballina’s Greens seat

Last night a packed Suffolk Park Hotel exploded with cheers at around 8pm when the ABC broadcast computer popped up a Green result for Ballina and the return of Tamara Smith to the seat she has held for the last eight years.

Rosebank’s Rainbow Temple referred to the Land & Environment Court

Lismore City Council say they have referred the Rainbow Temple in Rosebank to the Land & Environment Court after the owner repeatedly declined to submit a Development Application and associated documentation for the development.  

Solé’s on a mission to help local dingoes

A local advocate wants to tear down the myths about dingoes, and stop their treatment as wild dogs, which she says they are not.