It was somewhat of a shock for me to have found out years ago that the Tasmanian Devil was in fact a bona fide living, breathing organism. Popularised and trademarked as the over-exuberant, devious Loony Tunes character, the Tassie Devil is in fact one of the many beautiful oddities that reside on our homeland, and is, now that you can only spot the Tasmanian Tiger on Cascade labels, the only surviving marsupial carnivore on the planet. On top of the many mammalian extinctions on the Australian mainland which has forced the Devil to its corner sanctuary of Tasmania, this fact is doubly disconcerting due to the disarming facial tumor that has rapidly been depleting population numbers for the last 20 years. This belligerent national icon is now very much threatened, and fighting for its life. Luckily, a consortium of people vested in the future survival of the animal is pulling out all stops to prevent its extinction.
At Concord Vet Pet Blog we thought we’d divert our gaze from our domestic critters and instead shine a light on the unique fauna produced by the Australian wilderness. We have all heard of Australia’s internationally prized and protected species, some of which like the koala and platypus are virtually synonymous with Australia. I’m sure many of you have at some point on your travels been asked if you had them as pets. Depending on your penchant for mischief, you may have, like myself, replied in the affirmative, and feigned a call back home to ask your partner how your “pet” was going.
Yet how many of us really know the extent of our natural patrimony, or have witnessed the abundant biodiversity of our country? Given the impossibility of seeing all of them first hand, each week we’ll showcase an animal you may have never even heard of, to help acquaint you with Australia’s other citizens. This week: the Bandicoot, a marvellous marsupial that inspired a best-selling computer games series.
Around 21 species of Bandicoot are known to exist exclusively in Australia. Perhaps the two most recognisable ones are the bilby, and the long-nosed bandicoot, the long nose being an evolutionary adaptation and not the outcome of a life of mythomania. The bandicoot is classified as a marsupial, a specific kind of mammal that carries its young in pouches. However it is distinguished from other marsupials by having:
· incisor teeth to munch on insects and flesh
· second and third toes that grow together, a homologous structure shared by the kangaroo
That is not all they share with the kangaroo. Although Bandicoots are much smaller than their evolutionary cousins, ranging from 6 to 22 inches in length, they too move around their environment by hopping on their larger hind legs. Bandicoots are nocturnal creatures, meaning they only surface at night-time after a day of residing in logs, tunnels or whatever crevices they find. Their fur varies across species from orange to grey, brown to striped.
The long-nosed species is probably the most well known. Its name is derived from its most conspicuous characteristic: its long and pointed muzzle. Its coat is composed of rough bristles. The long nose is employed to reach insects and other invertebrates after the paws have dug holes in the forest floor, however as an omnivore, it can also munch on plant roots. The drive to find food results in patented night-time whistles and grunts.
Long-nosed bandicoots reside across the entirety of the East Coast of Australia, principally in rainforests where they soak up the moisture. They breed all year round, although winter is generally avoided. A young bandicoot independently roams its habitat after 8 weeks of suckling the mother’s teets. It’s adaptability to many habitats means the population is regarded as largely stable and not endangered.
“Dingo ate my baby” is probably the most hackneyed line used in popular culture to spoof Australia and Aussies. It has the honours of being recycled in 3 of the biggest shows of the last 20 years: Seinfeld, The Simpsons and Family Guy. That’s a pretty impressive, inter-generational reverberation. Woe unto Lindy Chamberlain who has been condemned to forever wear that tag and bear the brunt of tacky pub jokes, even though, ironically, she never in fact said it. Yet how many would know that as an apex predator, the dingo’s appetite has a preference for a diet other than your unsuspecting tot?