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Pig-footed Bandicoot - Chaeropus spp.
Pig-footed Bandicoot - Chaeropus spp.

[Image: 640px-Mus_Nat_Hist_Nat_25022013_Chaeropus_ecaudatus.jpg]

Scientific classification
Kingdom:  Animalia
Phylum:  Chordata
Class:  Mammalia
Infraclass:  Marsupialia
Order:  Peramelemorphia
Family:  †Chaeropodidae  Gill, 1872
Genus:  †Chaeropus  Ogilby, 1838
  • C. ecaudatus 
  • C. yirratji
The pig-footed bandicoots (genus Chaeropus) are two very similar species of small marsupials that inhabited the arid and semi-arid plains of Australia. The distribution range of the genus was later reduced to an inland desert region, where it was last recorded in the 1950s; it is now presumed to be extinct.


This genus was previously placed in the family Peramelidae, along with the bilbies, as the subfamily Chaeropodinae by McKenna and Bell (1997). However, its form is quite distinct from the Peramelidae and bilbies, and recent molecular evidence supports this distinction. It is believed to be the sister group of the rest of the Peramelmorphia and has been assigned to its own family Chaeropodidae.
Until 2019, both species were grouped under C. ecaudatus as the pig-footed bandicoot; however, a 2019 study split the genus into two species: the northern pig-footed bandicoot (C. yirratji) and the southern pig-footed bandicoot (C. ecaudatus).

The pig-footed bandicoots had a body size of 23–26 cm and a 10–15 cm long tail. In form, they were almost bilby-like on first sight, having long, slender limbs, large, pointed ears, and a long tail. On closer examination, however, it became apparent that the pig-footed bandicoots were very unusual for marsupials. The forefeet had two functional toes with hooves, rather similar to a pig or deer; this is possibly due to juveniles being deposited in the pouch through external stalks, thus relieving them of using the forelimbs while as joeys. The hind feet had an enlarged fourth toe with a heavy claw shaped like a tiny horse's hoof, with the other toes being vestigial:only the fused second and third toes being useful, and that not for locomotion but for grooming.
They had broad heads, and a long yet slender snout. Their fur was coarse and straight, but not spiny. In color they varied from grizzled grey through fawn to orange-brown, the belly and underparts were white with the fur on the ears being of chestnut color.
The genus had five pairs of upper and three pairs of lower incisor teeth; the tooth shape differed between the two species. The females of the genus had eight nipples and the opening of the pouch was faced backwards, not forwards as is the case with kangaroos. According to Indigenous Australian trackers, the pig-footed bandicoot was known as "Landwang" and "Tubaija" in their culture.

Distribution and habitat
The pig-footed bandicoot was native to western New South Wales and Victoria, the southern part of the Northern Territory as well as South Australia and Western Australia. C. ecaudatus populated arid areas ranging from southern Australia to western Australia, while C. yirratji populated sandy environments from western Australia to the deserts in central Australia. They inhabited a wide range of habitat types: from grassy woodland and grassland plains to the spinifex country and arid flats of central Australia. Despite its wide range, the genus had a sparse distribution and was never abundant.

[Image: 220px-Pig-footed_Bandicoot_Distribution_Map.png]
Historic pig-footed bandicoot range in orange

Behaviour and ecology
Few scientists had the opportunity to observe a live pig-footed bandicoot, with the only existing account of its behaviour suggesting that it moved "like a broken-down hack in a canter, apparently dragging the hind quarters after it". This is contradicted by the Aboriginal people of central Australia, who knew it well and reported that if disturbed, it was capable of running with considerable speed by breaking into a smooth, galloping sprint.
They were solitary, nocturnal animals that would sleep in their shelter during the day and emerge in the evening to feed, using its keen sense of smell to find food. Depending on the habitat, pig-footed bandicoots used a variety of shelters to hide from predators and for sleeping. In wooded areas and grasslands these ranged from hollow logs and nests made out of grass, while in arid treeless country this animal used to dig short, straight burrows with a nest at the end.
From surviving eyewitness reports and analyses of gut contents, dentition, and gut structure of museum specimens, it appears that pig-footed bandicoots were the most herbivorous of bandicoots; although captive specimens were fond of meat and Aborigines reported that they ate grasshoppers, ants and termites, the bulk of their diet was almost certainly leaves, roots and grasses. In captivity it was observed that they drank "a good deal of water".
Tim Flannery suggests that breeding occurred between May and June and that twins may have been the norm for this species. From the size of its pouch and comparison with other marsupials of this size, it can be inferred that pig-footed bandicoots did not carry more than four young per litter.

[Image: 640px-PigFootedBandicoot.jpg]

According to Indigenous Australian oral tradition, pig-footed bandicoots were rare even before the arrival of Europeans on the continent and were in a serious decline even as it first came to scientific notice in the middle years of the 19th century. Two specimens of pig-footed bandicoot were obtained by local people in 1857 for Gerard Krefft, who accompanied the Blandowski Expedition. Despite the trouble taken in gaining living specimens, Krefft recorded his observations with an apology for eating one of them. Only a handful of specimens were collected through the second part of the 19th century, mostly from northwestern Victoria, but also from arid country in South Australia, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory. By the start of the 20th century, they had become extinct in Victoria and the south-west of Western Australia. The last certain specimen was collected in 1901. By 1945, C. ecaudatus was extinct, having vanished from South Australia, and C. yirratji was reported to be limited to "a slight foothold in central Australia". Nevertheless, Aboriginal people report that C. yirratji survived as late as the 1950s in the Gibson Desert and the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia.
The cause of the extinction remains uncertain: neither of the two most destructive introduced exterminator species, the fox and the rabbit, had yet arrived in south-west Western Australia when the pig-footed bandicoots disappeared from that area. Feral cats were already common, which may offer an explanation; it is perhaps more likely that the decline was caused by a double habitat change. Firstly, the end of many thousands of years of Aboriginal burning which, being confined to a patchwork of small areas at any one time, had ensured both fresh new growth in the recently burnt areas and adjacent older growth for shelter and as a base for recolonisation. However, Australia's Aboriginal population had declined by around 90% during the 19th century, largely because of the introduction of European diseases, and the remaining Aborigines were often no longer permitted to carry on their traditional land-management and hunting practices. Secondly, following on the heels of the near-extermination of the Aborigines, came the introduction of vast numbers of sheep and cattle, leading to significant changes in soil structure, plant growth, and food availability.

Researchers discover new species of extinct Australian mammal

March 25, 2019, Natural History Museum

[Image: researchersd.png]
Chaeropus yirratji, a newly discovered species of pig-footed bandicoot. Credit: Peter Schouten/WA Museum

A team of researchers at the Natural History Museum in London and the Western Australian Museum have discovered a new species of very small, incredibly fast, extinct Australian Pigfooted Bandicoot.

The pig-footed bandicoot was unique, and unlike any other mammal due to its ability to walk on two toes on its front legs, and one toe on its hind legs. They are believed to be amongst the smallest grazing mammals that ever lived, and their speed for their size was remarkable.

The new species was discovered during research into the 29 specimens of pig-footed bandicoot held in museums across the world. Scientists had thought all the specimens were of the same species, Chaeropus ecaudatus. By using a combination of traditional morphology, morphometrics, palaeontology and molecular phylogenetics, they discovered there were in fact two different species. DNA from specimens collected by Sir Thomas Mitchell in 1946 confirmed the existence of two species not only morphologically, but genetically.

Roberto Portela Miguez, senior curator in charge of mammals at the Museum, said, "This study demonstrates the importance of museum collections. Using a combination of historical research, new techniques and museum specimens from around the world has allowed us to identify and learn more about this recently extinct species. Collections like that of the Natural History Museum are fundamental to increase our understanding of present and past biodiversity on Earth. While knowledge of this new species arrived too late to save it from extinction, hopefully the lesson learnt demonstrates the urgency and importance of supporting biodiversity research."

Researchers also used fossil records and Aboriginal oral accounts recorded in the 1980s to trace the two species' distribution. Chaeropus yirratji was thought to have lived in sandy environments in central Australia and Chaeropus ecaudatus lived in the southern peripheral areas of the arid zone of Australia. Both species were thought to inhabit areas of Western Australia.

Dr. Kenny Travouillon, Curator of Mammalogy at the WA Museum, believes the discovery of Chaeropus yirratji is a breakthrough for science as little was known about the mammal previously. "pig-footed bandicoots were extinct by the 1950s, therefore there was very little chance for scientists to study the species. More so, there are only 29 specimens of Pigfooted Bandicoots in existence."

The first species of pig-footed bandicoot described, Chaeropus ecaudatus, is an aridadapted bandicoot which evolved along with bilbies and other bandicoots more than 20 million years ago. The species was named in 1838 based on a specimen found without a tail from the Murray River in New South Wales.

The paper "Hidden in Plain Sight: Reassessment of the pig-footed bandicoot, Chaeropus ecaudatus (Peramelemorphia, Chaeropodidae)," was published in Zootaxa.

Journal Reference:
Kenny J. Travouillon et al. Hidden in plain sight: reassessment of the pig-footed bandicoot, Chaeropus ecaudatus (Peramelemorphia, Chaeropodidae), with a description of a new species from central australia, and use of the fossil record to trace its past distribution, Zootaxa (2019). DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.4566.1.1

The Pig-footed Bandicoot, Chaeropus ecaudatus, an extinct arid-adapted bandicoot, was named in 1838 based on a specimen without a tail from the Murray River in New South Wales. Two additional species were later named, C. castanotis and C. occidentalis, which have since been synonymised with C. ecaudatus. Taxonomic research on the genus is rather difficult because of the limited material available for study. Aside from the types of C. castanotisand C. occidentalis housed at the Natural History Museum in London, and the type of C. ecaudatus at the Australian Museum in Sydney, there are fewer than 30 other modern specimens in other collections scattered around the world. Examining skeletal and dental characters for several specimens, and using a combination of traditional morphology, morphometrics, palaeontology and molecular phylogenetics, we have identified two distinct species, C. ecaudatus and C. yirratji sp. nov., with C. ecaudatus having two distinct subspecies, C. e. ecaudatus and C. e. occidentalis. We use palaeontological data to reconstruct the pre-European distribution of the two species, and review the ecological information known about these extinct taxa.
[Image: wildcat10-CougarHuntingDeer.jpg]
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