Chaeropus ecaudatuspig-footed bandicoot

Geographic Range

Chaeropus ecaudatus was found throughout central and south Australia and in Victoria. No specimens have been seen since the early 20th century.

Habitat

Chaeropus ecaudatus resided in a variety of habitats. In the central deserts it occupied sand dunes and sand plains. In Victoria, it lived in the grassy plains. In other areas, the pig-footed bandicoot favored open woodland containing shrubs and grass.

Physical Description

Detailed measurements of the pig-footed bandicoot may not be completely reliable; however, the body length has been estimated at 230-260 mm, with a tail length of approximately 100-150 mm. Chaeropus ecaudatus had course, orange-brown fur on the dorsal side of its body, and a lighter fawn color on its underside. Its rather long orange-brown tail ended in a black tuft. It had a compact body and pointed head, similar to other bandicoots, with long "rabbity" ears. The pig-footed bandicoot's legs and feet, however, were much different than other species in its family. Both its forelegs and hindlegs were long and thin, ending in particularly unique feet. Chaeropus ecaudatus was syndactylus, its forefeet having only two functional toes with hoof-like nails, markedly resembling those of a pig. On its hindfeet, the second and third toes were fused, and only the fourth was used in locomotion. The pig-footed bandicoot had about 46-48 teeth inside its long jaws. The incisors were flattened and polyprotodont, and the cheek teeth were selenodont. Its exact dental formula is not reported (Strahan, 1995).

Reproduction

Not much is known about the specifics of C. ecaudatus reproduction, but a pattern can be inferred from the reproduction of other bandicoots. The pig-footed bandicoot possessed 8 teats, but did not carry more than four young per litter. Females had a well developed pouch which opened posteriorly. Bandicoots, in general, have a very short gestation period, around 12 days from conception to paturation. Birth is also very short, probably lasting less than 10 minutes, with the young weighing only about 0.5 grams. Another mating most likely occurred about 50 days after parturation, shortly after the weaning of the first litter. The new litter is born approximately 10 days later. In bandicoots, every suckling has its own teat, and receives the same amount of milk. Towards the end of the pouch period, the young are left in the nest, and approximately 8-10 days later they go foraging or hunting with their mother (Grzimek, 1990).

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual

Behavior

Chaeropus ecaudatus is believed to have been a solitary animal that was not as fully nocturnal as other bandicoots. Depending on which environment it lived in, the pig-footed bandicoot may have built grass-lined nests, or dug short burrows with a nest at the end (Seebeck, 1990). These bandicoots were ground-living and probably used their sense of smell to find food on the ground, or in the holes they dug. The most notable behavior of the pig-footed bandicoot was its locomotion. Chaeropus ecaudatus' movement was extremely varied, depending on which gait it took. A slow gait looked similar to a bunny-hop, with the weight of the body taken by the forelimbs while the hindlimbs were brought forwards together. The intermediate gait was an awkward quadrepedal run with the hindlimbs moving alternately. In contrast to this, the Aborigines reported that the pig-footed bandicoot could reach great speeds upon being pursued by breaking into a smooth, galloping gait (Grzimek, 1990). Unfortunately, not much is recorded about C. ecaudatus' social or mating behavior.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

There are many conflicting reports about the diet of C. ecaudatus. Its tooth and intestinal structures imply a more herbivorous diet than most bandicoots. In contrast, the Aborigines report that it ate termites and ants, and may have even been partial to flesh (Strahan, 1995). However, in captivity it ate grass, lettuce, roots, and grasshoppers, confirming a more herbivorous, rather than omnivorous diet (Grzimek, 1990).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The pig-footed bandicoot did not possess any great economic value for humans. However, Australian natives did enjoy its meat as a delicacy, and used its tail tuft as an ornament.

Conservation Status

Much controversy exisits over when C. ecaudatus was last seen. The last reliably dated museum specimen was from 1901. However, the Pintupi people in the central deserts report that it survived there until the 1950's. The collapse of the species seems to have been rapid once the Europeans began settling the continent. Before European settlement, the natives burned small grass areas which soon regenerated, providing a fresh supply of food and shelter for bandicoots. Invasion by Europeans stopped this burning, and consequently, completely changed the pig-footed bandicoot's habitat. The beginning of livestock ranching and the intense grazing of sheep and cattle throughout this species' favored habitats also altered plant composition important to the bandicoot. Although Europeans eventually introduced rabbits, foxes, and cats (which are all competitors for the pig-footed bandicoot), this was not an immediate cause of their extinction; the decline of the pig-footed bandicoot began before these new fauna were introduced (Seebeck, 1990).

Other Comments

There is some disagreement over the taxonomic classification of pig-footed bandicoots. Chaeropus ecaudatus is listed under the subfamily Peramelinae, which includes all of the non-spiny bandicoots. However, some scientists feel that the pig-footed bandicoot deserves a separate subfamilial or even familial status, due to the uniqueness of its physical characteristics. The origination of the name, Chaeropus ecaudatus, is an interesting story. The pig-footed bandicoot received its name from the discovery of a specimen that had lost its tail in a mishap during its life. The describer of this animal assumed it was tailless, when, in fact, C. ecaudatus had the longest tail of all bandicoots. The error was not recognized until it was too late to rename it. Now, with its Latin name, Chaeropus ecaudatus will forever be called a "tailless pig-foot"!

Contributors

Rebecca V. Normile (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

tactile

uses touch to communicate

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5? N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

References

Grzimek, B. 1990. Encyclopedia of Mammals. McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, NY.

Seebeck, S.; Brown, P.R.; Wallis, R.L. & Kemper, C.M. 1990. Bandicoots & Bilbies. 1st edition. Surrey Beatty & Sons Pty Limited, Australia.

Strahan, R. 1995. The Mammals of Australia. Reed Books, Australia