Bettongia lesueurburrowing bettong

Geographic Range

Bettongia lesueur was once one of the most widespread mammals inhabiting the Australian mainland. It could be found in all suitable habitats throughout mainland Australia, yet by the early 1960’s had become extinct on the mainland and could only be found on the Australian islands of Bernier and Dorre in Shark Bay, and Boodie Island and Barrow Island near the Pilbara coast. Burrowing bettongs used to live on Dirk Hartog Island, but have gone extinct from there as well. (Government of Western Australia, 2006)

Habitat

When burrowing bettongs were still thriving on the mainland, their habitat was diverse, including open eucalypt woodland with grass and shrub under story to sand ridge desert. On the islands where they currently exist, they are found in a variety of habitats including areas consisting of shrubs, grasses and herbs. On Bernier and Barrow islands they show no habitat preference. On Dorre Island they prefer coastal dunes and habitats dominated by Triodia. Burrowing bettongs build extensive burrows in areas with stony soils throughout their current distribution, but used to build burrows in sandy soils on the Australian mainland. (Sander, et al., 1997)

  • Range elevation
    50 (high) m
    164.04 (high) ft

Physical Description

Burrowing bettongs are small, stocky animals similar to kangaroos. They have weakly prehensile tails that can be used for gathering nest materials. They are the only member of the family Potoroidae to inhabit burrows year round. They are light yellow to grey above, have a grey underbelly, short, rounded ears and thick, lightly haired tails, much like those of kangaroos. Bettongia lesueur has a body length ranging from 370 mm to 400 mm with a 300 mm mean tail length. Body mass is 0.4 to 1.8 kg for males and 0.5 to 1.7 kg for females. Males tend to be larger in mass and other body measurements than females. They move strictly using their hind limbs and only use their fore limbs and tail for support when stationary. (Massicot, 2004; Strahan, 1983)

Burrowing bettongs can be distinguished from other bettongs mainly by their behavior, but also by their coloration. They often have a light yellow coloration on top while other species have a light grey coloration. Woylies (Bettongia penicillata), which are similar in appearance to Bettongia lesueur, do not inhabit burrows and are not gregarious. The same is true of northern bettongs (Bettongia tropica). Food habits also differ between Bettongia species. The dental formula of potoroids is 3/1, 1-0/0 2/2, 4/4 = 32-34. (Meyers, 2001)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    0.4 to 1.8 kg
    0.88 to 3.96 lb
  • Range length
    370 to 440 mm
    14.57 to 17.32 in

Reproduction

Mating in B. lesueur is polygynous, with males mating with several females and maintaining harems within their warrens. Both sexes become sexually mature after about five months. Males are aggressive toward one another in defense of females. Females tend to be non-aggressive, but have been observed being aggressive towards females outside of their warrens. (Massicot, 2004)

Bettongs exhibit embryonic diapause. Lactation causes implantation to be delayed. While one young is still in the pouch, another will not be born until the pouch young has either been weaned after 115 days or has been lost. This allows the mother to have three young relying on her at one time: one weaned but still under care, one in her pouch, and one still in development. Oestrous lasts approximately 23 days. (Government of Western Australia, 2006)

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding occurs throughout the year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs throughout the year.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2
  • Average number of offspring
    1
  • Average number of offspring
    1
    AnAge
  • Average gestation period
    21 days
  • Average gestation period
    21 days
    AnAge
  • Average weaning age
    115 days
  • Average time to independence
    180 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    5 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    218 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    5 months

Males invest in their young only to the point of protecting their harems. Females carry young in the pouch and care for them until they are weaned, after about 115 days. Joeys accompany their mother in foraging until their independence, near 180 days. (Massicot, 2004)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

There is little information on the lifespan of B. lesueur, but it is known to usually live three years in the wild. (Government of Western Australia, 2006)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    3 (low) years

Behavior

Bettongia lesueur is a highly social and nocturnal species. Burrowing bettongs are active exclusively after sunset and return to their burrows before sunrise. Burrowing bettongs are the only gregarious member of their family and lives year round in burrows. Burrows are made in stony soils and nests are constructed in burrows with grasses. Grasses are carried in with the aid of their long, muscular tails. These burrows can be simple to complex, with some having as many as 91 or as few as two entrances. For every two entrances to a warren there are estimated to be two individuals. Burrows are complex underground and have many interconnected passages. Burrowing bettongs dig with the aid of their forefeet. (Sander, et al., 1997; Strahan, 1983)

Burrowing bettongs forage alone, rather than in feeding aggregations even though they live together in their warrens. They commonly travel from 60 meters to 2 kilometers in search of food, but have been known to travel farther when food is scarce (Strahan, 1983)

Males can be aggressive toward other males in protecting their harems, while females are generally docile. Both sexes are very vocal, using a variety of grunts, hisses, and squeaks to communicate. (Sander, et al., 1997; Strahan, 1983)

Home Range

Home ranges extend anywhere from 60 meters to 2 kilometers surrounding denning sites. Some individuals have been known to travel farther in search of food but such occurrences are rare. (Massicot, 2004)

Communication and Perception

Burrowing bettongs locate food using their keen sense of smell. They are also a tactile species, and often dig for food. Bettongia lesueur is a highly vocal species, yet the range of noises or what they mean in a social or defensive context has not yet been determined. They often make grunts, squeaks, and hisses to communicate. (Menkhorst, 2001)

Food Habits

Burrowing bettongs are generally herbivorous but have been known to eat termites and marine animal carcasses. They concentrate on the green parts of plants, seeds, fruits, nuts, tubers, bulbs, flowers, and fungi. This species is partial to figs when available. They are able to find food using their sense of smell. (Strahan, 1983)

  • Plant Foods
  • roots and tubers
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • flowers
  • Other Foods
  • fungus

Predation

Predation on Bettongia lesueur is extensive and is thought to be the cause of the extinction of the species from the mainland and one island population. Introduced foxes (Vulpes vulpes) were the primary mainland predator of burrowing bettongs. Feral cats are the primary reason for extinction of B. lesueur on Dirk Hartog Island. There is little information on native predators of burrowing bettongs. (Strahan, 1983)

Ecosystem Roles

Burrowing bettongs are thought to compete with both black rats (Rattus rattus) and European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), although recent studies cast doubt on the importance of rabbits in the decline of B. lesueur. Burrows of B. lesueur may be used by western quolls (Dasyurus geoffroii), greater bilbies (Macrotis lagotis), and silver-tail brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula). (Robley, et al., 2001; Robley, et al., 2002; Strahan, 1983)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Burrowing bettongs may be an ecotourism draw because of their rarity.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Burrowing bettong are often thought of as a pest species in areas where crops are present. Humans have hunted them to reduce their impact on crops and are one of the causes for population declines. (Massicot, 2004)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Due to extinction from the mainland of Australia Bettongia leseur has been listed under the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable. Numbers on Barrow island are near 5,000. The species is listed in Appendix I of CITES. It is considered endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Srevice. (Government of Western Australia, 2006)

Reasons for the decline of burrowing bettongs have been attributed to predation by introduced foxes and feral cats. Competition from rabbits and black rats is also one reason for population declines due to reduced food availability. Fire regimes that reduced vegetation of lowland shrubs, which is the primary food source of this species, along with human hunts to reduce crop predation have contributed to the decline of populations. (Massicot, 2004; Strahan, 1983)

Other Comments

This species is sometimes called Bettongia lesueuri. (Strahan, 1983)

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Jeffery Mayfield (author), University of Alaska Fairbanks, Link Olson (editor, instructor), University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Glossary

Australian

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

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

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.

carrion

flesh of dead animals.

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.

ecotourism

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.

embryonic diapause

At about the time a female gives birth (e.g. in most kangaroo species), she also becomes receptive and mates. Embryos produced at this mating develop only as far as a hollow ball of cells (the blastocyst) and then become quiescent, entering a state of suspended animation or embryonic diapause. The hormonal signal (prolactin) which blocks further development of the blastocyst is produced in response to the sucking stimulus from the young in the pouch. When sucking decreases as the young begins to eat other food and to leave the pouch, or if the young is lost from the pouch, the quiescent blastocyst resumes development, the embryo is born, and the cycle begins again. (Macdonald 1984)

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.

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

fossorial

Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.

frugivore

an animal that mainly eats fruit

granivore

an animal that mainly eats seeds

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

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.

nocturnal

active during the night

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

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

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

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.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

References

Government of Western Australia, 2006. "Burrowing Bettong (Boodie)" (On-line). Department of Conservation and Land Management. Accessed November 14, 2006 at http://www.calm.wa.gov.au/plants_animals/pdf_files/sp_boodie.pdf.

Massicot, P. 2004. "Burrowing Bettong" (On-line). Animal Info. Accessed November 14, 2006 at www.animalinfo.org/species/bettlesu.htm.

Menkhorst, P. 2001. A field guide to the mammals of Australia. New York: Oxford University Press.

Meyers, P. 2001. "Potoroidae" (On-line). Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 14, 2006 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Potoroidae.html.

Robley, A., J. Short, S. Bradley. 2001. Dietary overlap between the burrowing bettong (Bettongia lesueur) and European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in semi-arid coastal Western Australia. Wildlife Research, 28: 341-349.

Robley, A., J. Short, S. Bradley. 2002. Do European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) influence the population ecology of the burrowing bettong (Bettongia lesueur)?. Wildlife Research, 29: 423-429.

Sander, U., J. Short, B. Turner. 1997. Social organisation and warren use of the burrowing bettong, Bettongia lesueur, (Macropodoidea: Potoroidae). Wildlife Research, 24: 143-157.

Strahan, R. 1983. The Australian Museum Complete Book of Australian Mammals. London: Angus & Robertson Publishers.