I'm a biologist with interests in genetics, conservation, ecology, invasive species, and wildlife management.
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Bandicoots are fascinating creatures, but I suspect few people outside Australia and New Guinea have ever heard of them, well, unless you count Crash Bandicoot…
They are probably best known in suburban Australia for infuriating gardeners with the conical pits, or “snout-pokes”, they dig whilst foraging for their food, which varies a little among species but usually includes fungi, plants and invertebrates. All Australian bandicoots are diggers, and a recent study estimated that a single southern brown bandicoot could dig as many as 45 foraging pits each day, meaning it has the potential to excavate around 3.9 tonnes of soil each year! That’s not bad for an animal that weighs less than 2 kilograms.
In the not too distant past, bandicoots and their relatives could be found across almost the entire Australian continent, but theirs has been a sad story of extinction and decline since Europeans arrived. Today, thanks to habitat loss, competition from introduced rabbits, and predation by introduced cats and foxes (check out this camera trap photo, captured by Guy Ballard, of a feral cat with a bandicoot), many populations have diminished or disappeared. This may have real implications for the ecology of Australia: digging mammals seem to have important roles in soil turnover, water and nutrient cycling, and seedling recruitment, and the decline of these little diggers may have caused a deterioration in ecosystem function across the Australian continent.
There is an awful lot more I could share about bandicoot ecology and evolution, but for now I want to concentrate on explaining what a bandicoot is, how many species there are, and where in the world they are found. I hope you’ll agree with me that as well as being amazingly cute (the official term is “bandicute”) they are also amazingly interesting...