Peramelemorphia

(Bandicoots and bilbies)

Class Mammalia

Order Peramelemorphia

Number of families 2 or 3

Number of genera, species 8 genera; 21

species (18 extant)

Photo: An endangered western barred bandicoot (Perameles bougainville). (Photo by © Jiri Lochman/ Lochman Transparencies. Reproduced by permis-

Class Mammalia

Order Peramelemorphia

Number of families 2 or 3

Number of genera, species 8 genera; 21

species (18 extant)

Photo: An endangered western barred bandicoot (Perameles bougainville). (Photo by © Jiri Lochman/ Lochman Transparencies. Reproduced by permis-

No order of marsupials has suffered so badly as a result of European settlement as the Peramelemorphia. Before the arrival of Europeans, bandicoots were plentiful, revered by the aboriginal peoples of Australia, and valued as a source of food by both the aborigines and the native peoples of New Guinea. By the twentieth century, their fortunes in Australia were in steep decline; three species became extinct and at the beginning of the twenty first century, others are still under serious threat of the same fate.

The first Europeans viewed bandicoots with some disdain, purely because of their appearance. Writing in 1805, naturalist Geoffroy wrote "their muzzle, which is much too long, gives them an air exceedingly stupid." Their rat-like shape led to the erroneous name of bandicoot—the Indian word meaning "pig-rat," originally given to the greater bandicoot rat Bandicota indica, of Southeast Asia. Disparaging attitudes have continued into modern times. The word "bandicoot" is still used in the Australian vernacular as a mild term of abuse.

Dismissive attitudes have traditionally been accompanied by scientific neglect. In the classic volume Bandicoots and Bilbies (1990), Lyne noted that of 400 references to bandicoots in scientific journals between 1797 and 1984, more than half were within the final 20 years. Knowledge of this family is still patchy, with the New Guinea species in particular woefully little understood.

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