The Southern Brown Bandicoot is also known by its scientific name, "Isoodon obesulus", which means something like 'fat creature with equal-sized teeth' in Latin, and in Western Australia by its Nyungar name, "Quenda".
Bandicoots are small marsupial mammals that live in parts of Australia. The male is much bigger than the female. Males can weigh up to 1500 grams (About three pounds) but females weigh only about 700 grams. The males measure about 360mm long (about 14 inches) and the females about 300mm. The tail adds another 100 millimetres, but is often shorter due to injury. (These figures change depending on which scientific study you read; bandicoots in different areas can vary in size and weight considerably. The three dead male bandicoots I have found and measured over the years all weighed in within 20 grams of 1500 grams.)
The females usually roam around in a small area, such as a back yard or a small part of the forest. The males have a much larger territory. A male bandicoot may travel around an area as big as seven hectares (about 18 acres) and visit several different females in their own areas.
Some studies tell you that bandicoots are solitary creatures; however it is not unusual to find several at once at a food source such as a back-yard feeding station. Chicken pens and aviaries are favourite foraging sites, and you will often find both bandicoots and brush-tailed possums eating from a bowl of cracked corn or wheat after the chickens have gone to bed.
When two male bandicoots meet, they sometimes fight. This involves standing on the hind legs and clawing at each other's shoulders and backs, often twining around each other and then throwing the opponent over the shoulder in a sort of bandicoot jujitsu. Sometimes these fights are totally silent; at other times the males snort and bark. Quite horrific injuries can result from these fights, but I have not witnessed or discovered any fatalities. The fighting males are single-minded in their determination to win, and humans can approach the scene of the battle very closely, often within a few feet before the combatants are aware of the observers.
Bandicoots are multi-oestrus, meaning they breed at several times during the year, not just in one short season. Female bandicoots have very tiny babies, which are born after only 12 1/2 days' gestation. This is believed to be the shortest gestation period of any mammal. The babies climb into the mother's pouch the same way baby kangaroos do. They drink milk and grow, until they are big enough to come out of the pouch. When they are about three months old they can begin to live by themselves. Female bandicoots can have as many as five babies, but usually only one or two survive.
Bandicoot pouches are open at the back, not at the top like kangaroo pouches. Bandicoots spend most of their time on all four feet. They do a lot of digging. If the pouch opened at the top, it would get full of dirt, which wouldn't be very nice for the baby bandicoots -- also the extra cargo would slow down the bandicoot when she was running from a predator.
Bandicoots have three big toes on each front foot and two other tiny toes that haven't developed. There are long curved nails on the toes, which help the bandicoots to dig holes and find food. Two of the four toes on the back foot have joined together to make a double-clawed tool like a comb for cleaning the fur and getting rid of ticks and other parasites.
Southern Brown bandicoots get their name from the colour of their fur. They can easily shake the dirt out of this fur, which is quite coarse on the back and sides. The fur on the belly is light grey and much finer and softer. There are other kinds of bandicoots, including the Golden Bandicoot and the Bilby, but they are very rare.
Bandicoots have very good hearing. Their ears are very soft and flexible, and they can twitch them towards any noise. They have bright, dark eyes, but their eyesight does not seem to be as good as their hearing and smelling senses. If you put a peanut on the ground for a bandicoot, he will find it by smelling for it.
Bandicoots eat many different things. They will eat beetles, worms and grubs, which they dig out of the ground, as well as wild mushrooms and fungus. They will eat cat or dog food if they can find it. Among the favourite treats that humans give them are peanuts and raisins. They are very partial to cooked chicken, and will reduce the carcase of the Sunday roast chicken to almost nothing within a matter of minutes. Bandicoots do not need much water and have some been known to go for weeks without drinking.
Bandicoots were in danger of becoming extinct in Western Australia in many areas, because foxes and feral cats hunted them. Since the Department of Environment and Conservation has started programs to get rid of these predators, the bandicoot populations have increased. Bandicoots now live in many suburbs. Their natural enemies are owls, hawks, snakes and large lizards like monitors.
Some books tell you that bandicoots are nocturnal animals that only come out at night. In fact, you can see bandicoots any time of the day. If they know where there is food to be found, they will come for it even at midday.
Bandicoots are very curious. They will nose around anything that interests them. They don't seem recognize potential danger, and will come right up to your feet and sniff your shoes if you stand still for a few minutes. They will accept food from your hand, often sitting up on their haunches and supporting themselves by holding onto your fingers with their front claws while they feed. They are also not very street smart, and get run over on the roads very frequently.
Driving home by a back road recently, I saw a tiny bandicoot, possibly less than two months’ old, sitting at the side of the road nuzzling something a few centimetres from the edge. This was high noon on a bright and sunny day, once again giving the lie to the statements that bandicoots are nocturnal or crepuscular creatures. I was unable to stop due to traffic, but I drove on with fingers crossed hoping that the tiny beast would not become another road fatality.
Bandicoots make warm nests with grass and leaves and sometimes things they find around, such as yarn and string and bits of paper. They like to be snug and safe under a woodpile or some other place that protects them from the weather. Sometimes they will tunnel into a thick bush and drag leaves and grass into the centre of it for their nests.
Bandicoots are normally silent, but they can and do make a variety of noises when they need to. Baby bandicoots give a high-pitched whistle, rather like a bird, which seems to be how they keep in touch with their mothers. Male bandicoots can make a sort of barking sound when they are feeling aggressive. Bandicoots of both sexes will make a 'whuff-whuff' noise from time to time.
If you live in Australia and would like to know if there are bandicoots in your neighbourhood, put some peanuts under a bush in the garden and check to see if they are still there every day. If they are gone, and if you find little holes in your yard that look as if someone has been digging with a teaspoon and piling up the dirt in one small cone-shaped pile, you probably have a bandicoot living nearby.
Bandicoots have at least four distinct vocalisations.
When out in the long grass, they have a high pitched whistle that seems to be a way of keeping track of each other. I first noticed this when Bounce and Pounce were first going out away from the nest and playing in the grass. The noise is very like a bird call, not loud, but high-pitched.
They also make a "Whuff, whuff" noise which seems to indicate irritation. Old Scabby often said it when I patted him. He also said it to other bandicoots who tried to share the food dish.
Related to this noise is an alarm call, a fairly loud 'Chuff,Chuff" noise that is uttered at the same time as a loud whistling squeak. It's rather like a two-part call: "Chuff-Squeak". I heard it clearly when one of the less-tame younger bandicoots ran out of the cat door the other night as I entered the porch.
Finally, there is a loud shriek of fear or pain. When one of the adult females chased off a small bandicoot he gave this cry., and I have since heard it on a number of occasions. I suspect the adult bandicoots nip the youngsters to drive home the message "you're on your own now, I'm not feeding you any longer."
Male bandicoots fight by sitting up on their haunches and grappling with each other. They wrestle and twine around rather like mating snakes. A strong musk smell and a sort of growling accompanies this behaviour. The loser apparently is banished: at least, we have not seen Old Scabby since the Great Back Porch Fight last September. When they are fighting, males are oblivious to their surroundings; we have on several occasions stood within a few feet of a pair of battling males.
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