Southern long-nosed bandicoot: icon of olfactory prowess and eco-engineering abilities

Name(s): Southern long-nosed bandicoot (Perameles nasuta)

Size: Range from around 300-420mm in head and body length. Tail length can vary from 120-155mm. Weigh 850-1100 grams.

Diet: Omnivore. Digs and forages for invertebrates, fungi, and tubers.

Habitat/range: Found in a variety of habitats including rainforests and woodlands, all along the east coast of Australia, from far north Queensland to Victoria.

Conservation status: IUCN Least Concern; population at North Head, NSW, classified as ‘Endangered’.

Superpower: An enviable lightning speed pregnancy of only 12-13 days – one of the shortest known gestation periods of any mammal!

Long-nosed bandicoot  adult walking on forest floor
Long-nosed bandicoot adult walking on forest floor in the D’Aguilar Range, Queensland. Credit: neilbowman/Getty Images.

Of the many dreadful names that European taxonomists foisted upon Australian marsupials, ‘pouched badger with a big nose’ might be a contender for the worst! However, that is exactly how Perameles nasuta, the binomial name for the long-nosed bandicoot, translates.

The long-nosed bandicoot is the largest member of the genus Perameles, the so-called ‘pouched badgers’. It is also, for now, one of the least threatened of a group that includes a depressingly long list of extinct species, including the Desert, Liverpool Plains striped, south-eastern striped, and Nullarbor barred bandicoots, and the endangered eastern and western barred bandicoots.

The persistence of the long-nosed bandicoot, in comparison to its more unfortunate extinct and endangered relations, perhaps lies in its adaptability. This species is at home in a variety of habitats and climates, from the tropical rainforests of far north Queensland to open shrub land, temperate coastal heath, and even the urban fringe. It also takes a rather eclectic approach to its diet, consuming invertebrates, fungi and other plant material, and human scraps around urban areas. Foraging and digging in the soil with their front feet, long-nosed bandicoots leave conspicuous conical holes that are big enough to house that infamous big snout – all the better to sniff out delicious grubs and fungi!

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Along with other digging marsupials such as echidnas, potoroos and bettongs, bandicoots are known to be important ecosystem engineers. This method of moving soil is called biopedturbation – defined as the mixing or disturbance of soil by living organisms. Research has shown that biopedturbation by digging marsupials such as the long-nosed bandicoot can turnover nearly 4 tonnes of soil each year, significantly contributing to improving ecosystem health through altering the chemical and structural properties of soil.

Long-nosed bandicoots can also breed like…well…rabbits, producing up to four litters per year with an average of two or three offspring per litter. This high reproductive output is undoubtedly aided by the incredibly short gestation period of only 12 to 13 days, an inter-litter interval of around 53 days, and sexual maturity for females at just three months of age.

Long-nosed bandicoot
Long-nosed bandicoot. © Ricardo Simao, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-ND)

Despite its impressive reproductive antics, flexible approach to food and, of course, legendary schnozz, the long-nosed bandicoot is experiencing population declines throughout its range. Threats to this species are those that have impacted its relatives, including predation by introduced foxes and cats, and habitat loss. Urban dwelling bandicoots are also impacted by car collision. A combination of these factors, and a general decline in the occurrence of the species around the Sydney area, has resulted in a small colony at North Head, Manly, being classified as an ‘endangered population’. 

To conclude my case to make the humble long-nosed bandicoot the 2023 Australian Mammal of the Year, I ask you to consider both the unfortunate origins of its name, over which it had no control, and its incredibly adaptive ecology and biology – which have allowed it to persist in the face of the multiple threats that wiped out its relatives. And, finally, long-nosed bandicoots are also undeniably adorable!

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