Eastern barred bandicoot: the back-from-the-brink bandicoot

Name: Eastern barred bandicoot (Perameles gunnii)

Size: Length 30cm, weight (mainland subspecies) 750g

Diet: Omnivore

Habitat: Grassy woodlands of the south-west Victorian volcanic plains stretching into South Australia. The mainland subspecies was deemed “extinct in the wild” until 2021 but has been reintroduced into four fenced reserves (Woodlands Historic Park, Hamilton Community Parklands, Mt Rothwell and Tiverton) and introduced onto three islands (Churchill, Phillip and French). A different subspecies occurs in Tasmania.

Conservation status: Endangered

Superpower: Mini earth-moving machines and masters of disguise.

Eastern barred bandicoot
Eastern barred bandicoot. Credit: Zoos Victoria

Eastern barred bandicoots (EBBs) are not only super cute with their pointy noses, bulging eyes and stripey bums, they also have some amazing abilities.

For starters, their conical-shaped head is used in conjunction with some powerful front legs to dig crater-shaped holes in the dirt, aptly called “snout pokes”. This is their favourite pastime. They dig to find juicy morsels of food, such as worms or beetle grub larvae. In the process of foraging, they can turn over a whopping 13kg of soil a night! They are mini earth-moving machines, great for improving soil health and seed germination.

Eastern barred bandicoots will eat most things they come across – worms, crickets, plant material and even crabs. They can also leap up to 1.2m into the air to catch an unsuspecting moth flying past. Pretty impressive for an animal that’s only 15cm tall.

EBBs don’t usually like the company of other bandicoots, but they will make an exception for making babies, and they don’t restrict this activity to any particular time of the year. Whilst young can be born year-round, most are born over the cooler months when soils are easier to dig and food more readily available.

Young eastern barred bandicoot
Young eastern barred bandicoot. Credit: Zoos Victoria

Pregnancy in EBBs lasts just 12.5 days, the second shortest of any mammal! Being marsupials, small, underdeveloped young are born, usually one-to-four, and crawl into the backwards-facing pouch to attach to a teat. They remain there for 35 days at which point they are fully furred and start to jump in and out of the pouch. They are weaned around 50 days old. The young are taught how to forage and build a grass nest before they are left to fend for themselves at around 75 days old. It sounds a bit harsh, but when you only live two-to-three years, you have to learn fast. And fast is what EBBs do. They can start breeding from three months of age and have up to five litters a year. In no time at all you can have a healthy population of bandicoots, but only if their biggest threat, the red fox, is not around.

Whilst EBBs prefer to forage in open grasslands and nest in areas containing shrubs and trees, they can find nesting and foraging spots in a variety of habitats. Nests are shallow and usually lined with grass, but they’ve also been known to use leaf litter or prickly hedge wattle – ouch!

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Eastern barred bandicoots are masters of disguise with magical bums. Up close they don’t really look like they have any pattern on their bum at all. But the stripes become more defined the further away they get – then all of a sudden, poof, they disappear, perfectly camouflaged in their grassy habitat.

How could anyone not love the eastern barred bandicoot?

But if that wasn’t enough, how about this? In an Australian first, the mainland eastern barred bandicoot was reclassified from Extinct in the Wild to Endangered in 2021, and the 33-year captive breeding program ended as it was no longer needed. Now that is a winning mammal!

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