What do they look like?
Often confused with rodents, bandicoots are small, omnivorous marsupials. They are about the size of a rabbit, and have a pointy snout , humped back, thin tail and large hind feet. There are around 20 species of bandicoots, three of which live in NSW:
The long-nosed bandicoot is around 31 - 43 cm in size, and weighs up to 1.5 kg. It has pointed ears, a short tail, grey-brown fur, a white underbelly, and a long snout. Its coat is bristly and rough.
Northern brown bandicoot
The northern brown bandicoot is around 30 - 47 cm in size, and weighs up to 2.1 kg. It has small, rounded ears, an elongated snout, and a speckled brown-black coat with a pale to white underbelly.
Southern brown bandicoot
The endangered southern brown bandicoot is around 28 - 36 cm in size, and weighs up to 1.5 kg. It has small, rounded ears, a longish conical snout, a short, tapered tail and a yellow-brown or dark grey coat with a cream-white underbelly.
What do they sound like?
Bandicoots have at least four distinct vocalisations:
a high-pitched, bird-like noise used to locate one another
when irritated, they will make make a "whuff, whuff" noise
when feeling threatened or alarmed, they will make a loud "chuff, chuff" noise and loud whistling squeak at the same time
when in pain or experiencing fear, they make a loud shriek
Where do they live?
Bandicoots are found throughout Australia, and can be common in coastal areas of NSW. They can live in a wide variety of habitats, from rainforests to wet and dry woodlands to heath. During the day they nest in shallow holes in the ground, lined with leaf litter and built under dense vegetation or debris, hiding them from predators and protecting them from rain and sun.
The long-nosed bandicoot is common and widespread throughout NSW, particularly in coastal areas and either side of the Great Dividing Range. This species is the most common species of bandicoot in the Sydney area and is known to visit suburban backyards.
The northern brown bandicoot is common north of the Hawkesbury River, in coastal areas and on the eastern slopes of the Great Dividing Range.
The endangered southern brown bandicoot is patchily distributed, and occurs south from the Hawkesbury River to the Victorian border and east of the Great Dividing Range. There are two main populations. One lives in Garigal and Ku-ring-gai Chase national parks in northern Sydney. The other lives around Ben Boyd National Park and Nadgee Nature Reserve in the far south-eastern corner of the state. They are smaller and shyer than other species, and do not stray far from their preferred shelter of dense heath vegetation. Find out more about the endangered southern brown bandicoot and what is being done to save this species.
What do they eat?
Bandicoots mainly forage at night, consuming insects, earthworms, insect larvae and spiders. They also feed on plant tubers, roots and truffle-like fungi to supplement their diet. Bandicoot foraging performs an important role in keeping bushland ecosystems healthy. They can be useful in gardens due to their appetite for grubs and garden pests. They are perhaps best known for the snout-shaped holes they leave in suburban lawns.
Breeding and life cycle
Bandicoots generally live for 2-4 years in the wild. They are territorial and usually solitary. The female stays in a relatively small area to forage and mate, but males have a bigger territory and mark and defend their territory by fighting off other males. They do this by standing on their back legs and clawing at each other's shoulders and backs, often leaving scars.
Bandicoots are multi-oestrus, meaning they breed several times during the year. Females can give birth to as many as five babies, but usually only one or two survive.
Their gestation period is very short, about 11 days, the shortest of any marsupial. The young are born very tiny and under-developed. They travel through a cord attached to their mother's womb to reach the pouch. Here they drink milk from the mother's teats and grow until they are large enough to leave the pouch. At about three months they can begin to live independently.
Bandicoot pouches are open at the back, to stop dirt entering the pouch when the mother digs.
Bandicoots, like many of the small to medium-sized marsupials of Australia, have undergone several species extinctions and significant contractions in distribution since European settlement because of land clearing and the introduction of predators (foxes, dogs and cats). Of the estimated 12 species of bandicoot in Australia, approximately half are now extinct, threatened with extinction or extremely rare.
The relationship between native animals and fire (wildfires and planned hazard reduction burns) is complex, and like all native animals, bandicoots have evolved with fire as a natural part of their environment. Habitat requirements are considered when planning hazard reduction burns and predator control can be important after fire when bandicoots have less shelter to hide in.
Housing, roads and other forms of urban development have displaced and severely fragmented bandicoot populations, making them vulnerable to the threats of predators and motor vehicles. Road signs displaying a bandicoot pictograph can be seen where roads intersect important bandicoot habitat. The signs alert motorists to drive with care especially at night when bandicoots are active.
Very few native animals prey on bandicoots. Owls, quolls and dingoes are their only significant natural predators. However, introduced animals such as feral and domestic cats, dogs and foxes pose a significant threat to the future of bandicoots. The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) manages the threat of introduced foxes to native animals by undertaking control programs specifically aimed at protecting threatened species and endangered populations. Read more about the NSW Fox Threat Abatement Plan.
The long-term viability of the endangered southern brown bandicoot in the wild is made more tenuous by its patchy distribution and there is potential for localised population extinction of this species.
Once abundant in the backyards of some Sydney suburbs, long-nosed bandicoots have been declining in numbers. Now, the northern beaches from Manly to Palm Beach are one of the last strongholds for long-nosed bandicoots in the Sydney region. There are two significant populations: at Pittwater, and on the coast near Newport. Because it is cut off from other bandicoot populations by houses, a population of long-nosed bandicoots at North Head in Sydney Harbour National Park at Manly has been listed as endangered under the ThreateThreatened Species Conservation Act 1995 - one of the first endangered population listings in NSW.
Similarly there is an endangered population of long-nosed bandicoots in Sydney’s inner west where they live in urban parklands and backyards.
Reporting fox sightings
Foxes remain an active threat to the endangered population of long-nosed bandicoots at North Head. NPWS runs a continuous baiting program in Sydney Harbour National Park to control foxes and better protect the endangered population of long-nosed bandicoots. Further emergency baiting and other predator control activities are implemented as soon as fox presence on the headland is detected. A mortality register of bandicoots killed by foxes or on roads in Manly is also maintained. Members of the community are asked to report any fox sightings and any dead bandicoots in the Manly area, particularly at North Head, to the Harbour North Area (Parks and Wildlife Group) by phoning 02 9960 6266.
Join a bandicoot survey
NPWS closely monitors the southern brown bandicoot to measure its response to fox control and other management actions. All sightings of southern brown bandicoots should be reported to NPWS, noting the location, date, what the bandicoot was doing and any other information which may help. Even dead southern brown bandicoots should be reported and where possible specimens submitted to a museum; bone, hair and DNA samples can all be used by researchers to help inform us about this species. (Remember they can be distinguished from the common species by their small round ears.)
Volunteers are invited to assist NPWS staff with bandicoot monitoring surveys in Garigal and Ku-ring-gai Chase national parks. Email NPWS.MetroNorthEast@environment.nsw.gov.au to join the volunteer program. This species is so rare that only a few are found each year and there are none in zoos in NSW. Seeing or catching one is a unique experience.
Bandicoots and ticks
A wide range of native and introduced animals are hosts for the paralysis tick, which can also afflict humans. Highly mobile animals, such as foxes, dogs, and domestic and feral cats, are particularly susceptible to picking up ticks as they wander long distances through bushland areas and backyards. Ticks increase in response to weather and climatic conditions and where fire has been absent from an ecosystem for a long time.
Bandicoots act as hosts for ticks; their hind feet have a syndactayls (joined) toe, like a comb, evolved for effective grooming and tick removal. However, because they tend to roam over a comparatively small range, often staying within half a hectare of their nests they don't spread ticks as far as many other animals. Although some people associate bandicoots with ticks, this may be because humans tend to pick up ticks most easily in long grass or thick scrub - which happens to be the type of habitat favoured by bandicoots.
You can help to reduce the spread of ticks in your area by:
- Regularly maintaining your garden to control tall grass and weeds, particularly the noxious weed lantana.
- Spraying yard areas with a malathion-based spray, which lasts for about two days. A natural alternative to chemical sprays is a mixture of chilli (cayenne pepper), garlic and vinegar. After being left to brew for a few days, the mixture will discourage most pests if sprayed around the garden. However, remember that any such treatment will also harm beneficial garden invertebrates.
- Regularly grooming and inspecting pets.
- Encouraging small tick-eating birds into gardens.
Bandicoots and Salmonella Java
In May 2014 NSW Health issued a Public Health Unit Alert regarding a small number of locally acquired human Salmonella Java infections. During the past few years several young children on Sydney’s northern beaches have been diagnosed with the condition after ingesting sand from public parks and child care centres. At this stage there have been no other links reported.
Salmonella Java can be caused by accidentally ingesting material containing the bacterium. Long-nosed bandicoot droppings taken from the area at this time tested positive for the bacterium which is known to transfer from animals to humans.
Experts believe it may be a complicated transfer path and it is still unclear where bandicoots are in the cycle, which is why NSW Health, Taronga Zoo and NPWS are working together to find out more about how the Salmonella is being transferred.
Salmonella Java cases have mostly involve young children as they often put their fingers in their mouths and ingest the bacterium after they have touched a contaminated surface. It is important that parents follow the safety and hygiene advice which can be found on NSW Health website (PDF), and includes:
- making sure children wash their hands after playing outside
- discouraging children from putting toys or hands in their mouths while playing outside
- regularly clearing animal droppings from areas where children play
- considering short term measures by keeping bandicoots out of their backyards (see below).
Living with bandicoots
Bandicoots are protected in NSW, and it is illegal to trap or kill them without a licence. Because bandicoots are territorial but can also travel several kilometres in a night if motivated, killing or relocating a bandicoot is ineffective in the long term. A relocated bandicoot will try to travel back to its home range or other bandicoots will expand their territories and move in.
You can contribute to the conservation of bandicoots and other native species by keeping your pets locked up at night, and by not allowing your pets to enter national parks at any time. The strong scent left by cats and dogs in bushland areas may discourage native animals from going about their natural activities.
Native animals such as bandicoots may treat your garden as a sanctuary from time to time and you can live in harmony with them by accommodating them in purpose-designed areas. Away from the places that are used most by your family and pets you can establish a separate area in the garden that provides native birds and animals with shelter and food. You can then use a more formal, manicured area for entertaining and relaxing.
Bandicoots are known to dig small conical holes in lawns and gardens. Whilst bandicoot diggings can be unsightly bandicoots are often helping the home gardener control grubs and garden pests. They eat insects, earthworms, insect larvae, and spiders (including the poisonous funnel web spider) as well as tubers and fungi. Bandicoots are often attracted to forage on watered lawns and gardens where insect numbers are higher than in bushland, and these areas can sustain higher numbers of bandicoots.
Bandicoots may be discouraged from foraging in a garden by reducing the number of insects in the garden, by changing gardening practices or utilising commercially available insecticides. Sprays to control curl grub and other invertebrates in lawns are available at hardware stores and supermarkets and can be effective in removing bandicoots’ food source in lawns.
Alternatively, you can keep bandicoots out of your backyard by building bandicoot-proof fencing. Use fine galvanised wire mesh, or any other material with gaps no larger than 20mm. The foot of the mesh should be buried to a depth of at least 150 mm and the fence should rise at least 500mm above the ground.
Please note it is suggested that you contact your local council to determine if development consent is required for constructing a fence and that you obtain any necessary approvals prior to commencing any works. This is especially important in the vicinity of North Head where residents are encouraged to allow bandicoots to move across the landscape.
Helping a sick or injured bandicoot
Wildlife rescue organisations found throughout NSW can assist with sick or injured bandicoots.
Contact the Wildlife Information and Rescue (WIRES) organisation, phone 1300 094 737, which will connect you with your nearest WIRES group. In Sydney contact Sydney Wildlife, phone 02 9413 4300. Either organisation will find a volunteer to collect and care for the animal.
An injured bandicoot can also be taken to any vet without charge.
More information about helping sick and injured animals
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Page last updated: 26 June 2014