Bilby(Macrotis lagotis)

The Bilby is an important part of traditional indigenous culture in the deserts of Central Australia. The large rabbit-like ears of the Greater Bilby (referred to as Bilby) has also made it a popular Australian icon at Easter. Sadly, through habitat loss and competition with introduced animals, the number of these small mammals has dramatically reduced over the last 100 can find only in australia

Physical Description

Greater bilbies are known for their large, relatively hairless, rabbit-like ears, and long pointed snouts with sensory vibrissae and a hairless pink nose. Their fur is soft, silky and bluish-grey in colour with a mix of fawn over the majority of the body. The belly is covered in white or cream fur. The first part of the tail is the same bluish-grey as the body with the remainder of it being black and the final 40% being pure white. The pouch of females opens to the rear so as to avoid filling with soil when the animal is burrowing. The forelimbs are strong and consist of three clawed digits and two clawless digits. Greater bilby hind limbs are slender and similar to those of kangaroos. Rather than hopping, bilbies use their legs to gallop around the desert. Their tongues are long, sticky, and slender, making it easy to catch termites. Males and females are sexually dimorphic, with the male’s body mass being twice that of females (800 to 2500 g for males relative to 600 to 1100 g for females)

Biology and Behaviour

Bilbies are solitary, nocturnal animals, and they are the only bandicoot that digs and use burrows. The burrows
descend in a spiral up to 3m deep. Some can be complex systems with multiple entrances and interconnecting
burrows. Bilbies use the burrows for shelter during daylight and intermittently at night for refuge. Bilbies have been
recorded using up to 12 burrows within their home range. Short term home range size varies between 0.1-3km2
Bilbies emerge from their burrows after twilight, and they spend the majority of the night foraging. They are
omnivorous, eating a wide range of plant foods (grass and sedge seeds, bush onion bulbs) and invertebrates
(termites, ants, beetles, insect larvae, spiders). Like other bandicoots, bilbies dig holes in the soil to expose plant
roots, bulbs and fungi and penetrate termite galleries and ant nests.


While there are many threats contributing to the dramatic decline of Bilby populations, the most important of these are habitat loss and change, and competition with introduced animals. As agricultural activities extended over the more fertile regions of Australia the Bilby’s habitat has changed rapidly. changing fire patterns also affect the type and abundance of food plants. competition with introduced animals is a major threat as domestic stock like cattle and sheep eat the same plants. Rabbits compete with Bilbies for their food and burrows and foxes and feral cats also prey on them. having disappeared from the areas intensively grazed by livestock as well as those areas densely populated by Rabbits, Cats and Foxes, Bilbies now only survive in small isolated populations in the driest and least fertile regions of arid Australia.


Greater bilbies are commonly found in dry, hot areas including deserts, dunes, and grasslands. There are three main vegetation types commonly associated with bilby habitat. These are tussock grassland commonly found on the hills and uplands, mulga woodlands and shrublands, and hummock grasslands found on dunes and sandy plains. Greater bilbies are fossorial, found in areas of rocky and clayey soil.

Conservation Status

The bilby is recognised as a threatened species under State and Commonwealth legislation. In Western Australia the
species is listed as fauna that is ‘likely to become extinct’ in the wild (Specially Protected) under the Wildlife
Conservation Act 1950 and has been assigned the threat status ranking of Vulnerable using International Union for
Conservation of Nature (IUCN) criteria. Nationally the species is also listed as Vulnerable under the Commonwealth
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
The species has been declining dramatically across Australia since European settlement. Predation by foxes, feral cat
and wild dogs are considered to be the main cause of this ongoing decline. Other threats include:

Greater bilby (Macrotis lagotis) mother with babies, captive at Adelaide zoo, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia. Vulnerable species. Endemic.
  • Competition with and habitat degradation by introduced herbivores (rabbits, cattle, camel);
  • Inappropriate fire regimes;
  • Climate change leading to a drier climate;
  • Habitat loss and degradation due to mining and other developments;
  • Road mortality.


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