are desert-dwelling marsupial
omnivores; they are members of the order Peramelemorphia
and closely related to the bandicoots
. Before European colonisation
there were two species. One became extinct in the 1950s, the other survives but remains endangered.
The term bilby is a loan word from the Yuwaalaraay Aboriginal language of northern New South Wales, meaning long-nosed rat. It is known as dalgite in Western Australia and the nickname pinkie is sometimes used in South Australia. The Wiradjuri of New South Wales also call it bilby.
Bilbies have the characteristic long bandicoot muzzle and very long ears. They are about 29-55 cm in length. As compared with bandicoots, they have a longer tail, bigger ears, and softer, silky fur. The size of their ears allows them to have better hearing as well. They are nocturnal omnivores that do not need to drink water, as they get all the moisture they need from their food, which includes insects and their larvae, seeds, spiders, bulbs, fruit, fungi and very small animals. Most food is found by digging or scratching in the soil, and using their very long tongues.
Unlike bandicoots, they are excellent burrowers and build extensive tunnel systems with their strong forelimbs and well-developed claws. A bilby typically makes a number of burrows within its home range, up to about a dozen, and moves between them, using them for shelter both from predators and the heat of the day. To prevent her pouch from getting filled with dirt while she is digging, the female Bilby's pouch faces backwards.
Bilbies have a very short gestation period of about 12 - 14 days, one of the shortest among mammals.
Bilbies are slowly becoming endangered because of habitat loss and change as well as the competition between them and other animals. There is a national recovery plan being developed for the saving of these animals, this program includes breeding in captivity, monitoring populations, and reestablishing bilbies where they have once lived. There have been reasonably successful moves to popularise the bilby as a native alternative to the Easter Bunny
by selling chocolate
Easter Bilbies (sometimes with a portion of the profits going to Bilby protection and research). Reintroduction efforts have also begun, with a successful reintroduction into the Arid Recovery Reserve in South Australia
in 2000, and plans underway for a reintroduction into Currawinya National Park
, with a recent success with 6 bilbies released into the feral-free sanctuary in early February 2006.
Successful reintroductions have also occurred onto Peron Peninsula in Western Australia as a part of an initiative of the Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation as a part of Western Shield. Successful re-introductions have also occurred on other conservation lands, also including islands, and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy's Scotia and Yookamurra Sanctuaries There is a highly successful bilby breeding program at Kanyana Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre , near Perth, Western Australia.
The placement of the bilbies within the Peramelemorphia has changed in recent years. Vaughan (1978) and Groves and Flannery (1990) both placed this family within the Peramelidae
family. Kirsch et al. (1997) found them to be distinct from the species in Peroryctidae
(which is now a subfamily in Peramelidae). McKenna and Bell (1997) also placed it in Peramelidae, but as the sister of Chaeropus
in the subfamily Chaeropodinae