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Western Barred Bandicoot (Parameles bougainville bougainville)

What does it look like?

Western barred bandicoot
Western barred bandicoot distribution map
The western barred bandicoot is a small marsupial, measuring no more than 24 cm long and weighing just 190–250 g. Also called a marl, it has light brownish-grey fur with two or three indistinct, alternating pale and dark bands striped across its hindquarters. Its underbelly and feet are pale. It has large, erect and pointed ears, a tapering snout and a short tapered tail. But its delicate appearance belies its pugnacious temperament! Some bandicoots have an injured tail or no tail at all, having lost it in a fight with another bandicoot.

Where does it live?

Before European settlement the western barred bandicoot was widespread throughout the southern arid zone of Australia, from the west coast of Western Australia across the Nullarbor to central South Australia, New South Wales and north-western Victoria. But land clearing for agriculture and competition for food with rabbits, feral goats and grazing animals took their toll. The bandicoot was also an easy target for introduced predators such as foxes, cats and feral pigs.

By the 1940s, the western barred bandicoot was extinct in mainland Australia. It is now found in the wild only on Bernier and Dorre Islands in the Shark Bay World Heritage Area. There it prefers to live in the scrub on the sand dunes behind the beaches, although it is also found further inland. Bandicoots bred in captivity have recently been introduced to Heirisson Prong and Faure Island (predator-free conservation reserves also in Shark Bay), and to Roxby Downs in South Australia.

The western barred bandicoot is nocturnal, hunting and digging for invertebrates, other small animals, seeds, roots and herbs by night and sheltering each day in a grassy nest hidden in a hollow or leaf litter under a shrub. It can run very quickly, sometimes jumping straight into the air and changing directions to snatch fast-moving prey.

How does it breed?

On Bernier and Dorre Islands, the western barred bandicoot breeds continually during the cooler months, from April to October. The female carries her two or three young in her pouch until they have grown fur. The pouch faces backwards so the young don’t get soil kicked in their face while their mother is digging for a meal! When they are older, she leaves them in her nest at night while she goes out foraging.

Any threats to its survival?

The western barred bandicoot is an endangered species. Its small population and restricted habitat make it especially vulnerable to bushfires or the introduction of foxes, cats and rabbits. Plans to release captive-bred bandicoots onto Peron Peninsula as part of the Project Eden program have been delayed due to difficulty in removing feral cats from the peninsula. The discovery of a wart-like disease in wild and captive-bred animals has further stalled attempts for reintroduction. Wart-free western barred bandicoots from Dorre Island have been introduced to Faure Island and it is hoped that they will re-establish on Dirk Hartog Island as part of the ecological restoration project for the island. For more information about this project see Return to 1616.

For more information about Western Australian wildlife check out the WA Museum Fauna Base website.

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