The Easter Bilby

12 April, 2009

An adult bilby, <I>Macrotis lagotis</I>
An adult bilby, Macrotis lagotis
Source: Museum Victoria

Question: I’ve noticed that there are a lot of chocolate bilbies for sale at Easter. What exactly is a bilby? Is it a type of rabbit? If not, what do bilbies have to do with Easter?

Answer: The bilby is a native Australian marsupial. Marsupials are animals with pouches, such as kangaroos and koalas, which give birth to underdeveloped young. However, bilbies are often referred to as “native rabbits” because they have large “rabbit-like” ears, move by “bunny hopping” and live in burrows.

The European Rabbit was introduced into the wild in Australia in 1858. It spread across the continent at an alarming rate: a single female can have up to 25 babies a year (over several litters) and the young can begin breeding themselves at 3-4 months old. Bilbies have quite a high reproductive rate compared to other marsupials, but they can’t compete with rabbits: in ideal conditions they can produce up to 4 litters a year, but only have 1-3 babies at a time.

Rabbits are now one of the most abundant and widespread mammals in Australia and are considered to be our most destructive environmental and agricultural pest. They compete with native animals and livestock for both food and shelter, inflict significant damage to vegetation and cause serious soil erosion

Historically bilbies were common across all of Australia’s arid and semi-arid regions. There were two species: the Greater Bilby (Macrotis lagotis) and the Lesser Bilby (Macrotis leucura). In the early 1900s bilbies suffered a massive decline as a result of intense competition and predation by introduced species – rabbits, livestock, cats and foxes had all begun to spread into desert areas. Sadly, the Lesser Bilby is now extinct (the last confirmed sighting of a live individual was in 1931) and the Greater Bilby is now restricted to a few small populations in central Australia.

The concept of the Easter Bilby first appeared in the early 1990s. Several Australian chocolate manufacturers began to make chocolate bilbies to increase awareness of this unique animal’s plight and most donate a portion of their profits to organisations working to save the bilby. Australians have embraced the concept and sales of chocolate bilbies have been increasing every year.

Comments (3)

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rose-Marie Dusting 24 May, 2010 11:45
G'day, I would like to say that the Easter Bilby was created by myself in March 1968, when I was a 9 year old child. I first created "BILLY THE AUSSIE EASTER BILBY'' in a small Western Queensland town called Richmond. I again published it in 1979. The teacher who taught me has contacted me and told me that I had in fact wrote about Billy The Aussie Easter Bilby in March 1968. Cheers, Rose-Marie Dusting.
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Discovery Centre 24 April, 2009 08:32
Hi Bruce, Thank you for your comment. The Invasive Animal Cooperative Research Centre, (IA CRC) is studying why rabbit haemorrhagic disease, (formerly known as the calicivirus) has had varying success in different regions of Australia. They aim to improve the success rate of this weapon against the rabbit, please see a link to their website. http://www.invasiveanimals.com/invasive-animals/rabbits/index.html The Department of Primary Industries in Victoria also provide valuable advice for landholders to continue to try and reduce the numbers of this damaging pest. http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/dpi/nreninf.nsf/v/37B0A155D51887A4CA25740F007C4965/$file/Rabbits_Using_Integrated_Rabbit_Control.pdf
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Bruce Treasure 18 April, 2009 20:40
The rabbit is Aust agricultural enemy No.1 so why isn't our govt doing something about this evil pest?
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