Bilbies are marsupial omnivores. They are members of the Peramelemorphia biological order and the largest of the bandicoots. Before European colonization of Australia there were two species. One became extinct in the 1950s. The other survives but remains endangered.
The term bilby is a loan word from the Yuwaalaraay Aboriginal language of northern New South Wales, meaning long-nosed rat. It is known as Dalgite in Western Australia and Pinkie in South Australia. The Wiradjuri of New South Wales also names it Bilby.
Bilbies have the characteristic long bandicoot muzzle and very long ears. As compared with other bandicoots, they have a longer tail. They also have bigger ears and softer, silky fur. They are nocturnal omnivores that do not need to drink water. They get all the moisture they need from their food. This includes insects and their larvae. They also eat, seeds, spiders, bulbs, fruit, fungi and very small animals. They find food by digging or scratching in the soil and using their very long tongues.
They are excellent burrowers and build extensive tunnel systems with their strong forelimbs and well-developed claws. A bilby typically makes a number of burrows within its home range, up to about a dozen. It moves between them, using them for shelter both from predators and the heat of the day. To prevent her pouch from getting filled with dirt while she is digging, the female Bilby’s pouch faces backwards.
There have been reasonably successful moves to popularize the Bilby as a native alternative to the Easter Bunny, by selling chocolate Easter Bilbies. Reintroduction efforts have also begun into the Arid Recovery Reserve in South Australia in 2000. Plans are underway for a reintroduction into Currawinya National Park in Queensland. There has been a recent success with 6 Bilbies released into the feral-free sanctuary in early February 2006.
Successful reintroductions have also occurred onto Peron Peninsula in Western Australia. Successful re-introductions have also occurred on other conservation lands, also including islands, and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s (AWC) Scotia and Yookamurra Santuraries. There is a highly successful Bilby breeding program at Kanyana Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre (Inc.), near Perth, Western Australia.