Eastern Bettong

Scientific name: Bettongia gaimardi

IUCN Conservation Status: Eastern Bettong (Extinct) / Tasmanian Bettong (Near Threatened)

The Eastern Bettong is also known as the Tasmanian bettong (Bettongia cuniculus) or Eastern Rat-kangaroo. This small marsupial was once widespread across the East Coast of Australia but became extinct on the mainland in the 1920s due to the introduction of foxes and feral cats.

 

The Tasmanian subspecies is common in Tasmania, however the recent introduction of foxes is posing a significant risk to the species. This unique species is an ecosystem engineer, known for its contribution of dispersing plant seeds and fungal spores while their diggings also increase water filtration into soil while allowing seeds and organic matter to be trapped, facilitating plant growth resulting in a healthier ecosystem.

Description

A description of the Eastern bettong (mainland) is unavailable, however are based on the closely related Tasmanian bettong. It has a small, compact body, with an average total length of 65 cm. The tail tends to be slightly longer than its head-body measurement. Males are slightly longer and thinner than females and they weigh around 1–2 kg. It has the longest fur and the lightest coloration (light brown with white flecks) of all Bettongia.

 

Habitat

Eastern Bettongs are found in a wide range of grassland areas, heathlands and sclerophyll woodland that is usually open and on poor soils.

 

Distribution

The Eastern bettong mainland race disappeared around the 1920s from the Australian mainland where it was formerly distributed along the coastal areas of eastern Australia, from south-east Queensland to the south-east tip of South Australia. The Tasmanian race (cuniculus) is regarded as relatively secure although foxes are its main threat to population numbers.

 

Diet and Behaviour

The Eastern bettong is a nocturnal animal. During the day it sleeps in a nest it constructs out of grasses and leaves. They eat fungi, seeds, roots fruit, and bulbs in wet scelorphyll forestst. It builds a densely woven nest of dry grasses and bark under fallen timber or among small bushes and tussocks. Both sexes are territorial and lead solitary lives except during the mating season or when a female is with her young before weaning.

Reproduction

Like other bettongs, the Tasmanian (Eastern) bettong is a continuous breeder. It produces young all year, with a gestation period of only three weeks. Their lifespan is likely between three and six years. Like other bettongs, the Tasmanian bettong is a continuous breeder. It produces young all year, with a gestation period of only three weeks. Their lifespan is likely between three and six years.

Threats

  • Habitat loss and clearing for stock grazing
  • Predation by feral animals, such as foxes and cats
  • Competition from introduced species, such as rabbits and hares
  • Illegal poisoning by 1080

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