Greater bilby at a burrow

Burrowing marsupials known as bilbies tunnel deep into the ground to escape the Australian desert’s searing heat. Credit: Roland Seitre/NPL

Zoology

‘Australia’s Easter bunnies’ provide shelter to wildlife in need

The burrows made by the rabbit-eared bilby serve as ‘outback oases’ for birds, reptiles and more.

The long-tailed Australian marsupials called bilbies are master engineers, capable of excavating multiple deep burrows within hours. Now cameras have caught a wide array of birds, reptiles and mammals taking advantage of the bilby’s earth-moving skills.

Stuart Dawson at Murdoch University in Australia and his colleagues mounted cameras near the burrows of greater bilbies (Macrotis lagotis), whose long ears have earned them the nickname ‘Australia’s Easter bunnies’. The team catalogued at least 45 species that spent time either in the burrow or at its entrance. After a wildfire, animals such as the dwarf bearded dragon (Pogona minor) were observed at burrows more often than before the fire.

The authors say that bilby burrows and their entrances can be an important source of shelter in arid regions, especially after wildfires, which rob small animals of a safe refuge by destroying plant cover. The ongoing decline in the bilby population is therefore threatening a broad range of species with the loss of essential sanctuary.