Southern brown bandicoot: cute as a button and increasingly rare

Name: Southern brown bandicoot, or short-nosed bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus). Indigenous names include bung (Woiwurrung) and marti (Kaurna).

Size: Length 30–33 cm, females up to ~1.2 kg and males can be up to ~1.9kg.

Diet: Omnivore.

Habitat/range: In their now limited distribution area across south-eastern Australia, southern brown bandicoots inhabit a range of habitats including open forest, scrub, and heathland, particularly places where shrubs (including some invasive plants such as blackberry) or rushes (e.g. Lomandra) provide extensive ground cover.

Conservation status: There are three formally recognised subspecies of I. obesulus, each with geographically distinct distribution: I. obesulus obesulus (is found in NSW, Vic. and SA; it’s listed as endangered under the EPBC Act.); I. o. nauticus (islands in Nuyts Island Archipelago Conservation Park, SA; listed as vulnerable under the EPBC Act); and I. o. affinus (throughout Tasmania and Bruny, Maria and Bass Strait islands, Tas).

Superpower: Like many of their bandicoot kin, they’re super gardeners, digging in search of their invertebrate prey and other desired tasty treats such as fungi and plant roots. Like other bandicoot species their enthusiastic digging assists plant distribution and growth and soil health.

Photo of a southern brown bandicoot eating a piece of fruit with an australian mammal of the year banner
Southern brown bandicoot eating a piece of fruit. Credit: ozflash/Getty Images

No doubt about it: bandicoots as a group pass the cute test by a marsupial mile, and southern browns are no exception. These ground dwellers are neat and compact with shortish tails (about a third of body length), small, rounded ears and bright black eyes. Their handsome tapering snouts are perfectly finished with naked noses.

When they were more common across their range – and there’s been much decline over the past decade or so – they were either loved or hated by suburban gardeners. Those in favour knew bandicoots as a gardener’s best friend. Those against were driven crazy by the distinctive conical holes that bandicoot foraging left in their lawns. The truth is that nocturnal bandicoot foraging likely did nothing but good for human gardens, and especially lawns. In the act of taking a tasty meal from soil-dwelling invertebrates such as earthworms, crickets, spiders, beetles and others, bandicoots got rid of some destructive insects and helped aerate the lawn for improved growth.

But these entrancing animals are shockingly susceptible to predation by introduced mammals, especially foxes and cats. The absence of foxes from Tasmania is one reason, it’s believed, that bandicoot populations remain fairly strong there. Other threats to the species include land clearing and habitat fragmentation and fires.

Southern brown bandicoots are solitary animals – could this be a reason to give them your loooove and votes? – and live on small home ranges (of about 1–5 hectares).

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