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What is a Bandicoot?

Early travelers to Australia used the name 'bandicoot' to refer to totally unrelated marsupials, and the name ended up sticking.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2014
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The term “bandicoot” is actually used to refer to two entirely different groups of animals. The Bandicoot Rat is native to India and Southeast Asia, and is largely viewed as an unattractive pest. Early travelers to Australia used the name to refer to totally unrelated marsupials, and the name ended up sticking. In general, when bandicoots are under discussion, it is assumed that the marsupials are the topic, with people adding “rat” to clarify when talking about the creature which roams the Asian mainland.

The marsupials comprise 19 different species in two families, Peramelidae and Peroryctidae. They can be found in Australia and New Guinea, primarily, and they fill the ecological niche which would be taken by rats and mice on the mainland. Over the course of evolution in Australia, many marsupial species developed in parallel to other animals on the mainland; at one point there were even marsupial bears and tigers. In some regions of Australia, bandicoots are under threat due to habitat destruction and invasive animal species such as rabbits and dogs, as are many other native Australian animals and plants.

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As a general rule, the bandicoots have brown to gray upper bodies, creamy bellies, powerful hind legs, and long tails. The long-nosed bandicoot is one of the most well known bandicoot species, and it has a long, highly mobile nose to go along with its lanky tail. Short-nosed bandicoots and bilbies can also be found in many parts of Australia, in addition to several other species in isolated areas. The animals range in size, with some species getting as big as rabbits. Many people think of bandicoots as rather cute, with their large ears, gentle hopping motion, and alert eyes.

Many bandicoot species are omnivorous, although some are strictly herbivorous. They are relatively solitary animals, only meeting briefly during the mating season, and most bandicoots are also nocturnal. After mating, it takes around 12 days for the gestation period to complete, and bandicoot young mature in three to four months, with an ultimate lifespan which is usually well under five years. A female bandicoot can bear up to five young, although two to three are more common.

Keeping bandicoots in captivity can be challenging, since the animals generally prefer to be alone, and males will fight viciously if they are confined in the same area. Visitors to Australia who are interested in seeing the shy animals should plan on evening walks in the woods or in spacious urban gardens. The animals can sometimes also be seen along the side of the road at night.

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