Bettong Fact Sheet
The Eastern Bettong is the largest of all 5 bettong species. They weigh 1.7kg on average, and can grow up to 2.2 kilograms (as heavy as a two-liter bottle of milk). They are members of the Potoroidae family, meaning they are closely related to potoroos and other macropods (big-footed marsupials) such as kangaroos and wallabies. Bettongs are set apart from other macropods in their nesting habits.
Bettongs are nocturnal and spend their days in their nests. These nests are well-camouflaged spherical structures with a side entrance, constructed using material such as grass and dead bark. The bettong collects and transports this material in bundles wrapped up in their semi-prehensile tails.
The Eastern Bettong is an “ecosystem engineer”; their very presence in an environment provides important services to the environment.
Like other bettongs, and potoroos, this bettong digs for its food. This results in small cylindrical holes which, over time, promote the regeneration of some important native plants. Bettong diggings also contribute to loosening and turnover of soil. This improves soil condition and water filtration and promotes the breakdown of organic matter.
The Eastern Bettong is a lover of roots, tubers and fungi. Most of the fungi eaten by the Eastern Bettong are mycorrhiza-forming species known as truffles. After feeding on the fruiting bodies of the truffle, bettongs disperse the spores in its faeces.
Once a common sight across eastern Australia, the Eastern Bettong was driven to extinction on the mainland a century ago.
When Europeans settled, they brought with them predators – among them the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) and the cat (Felis catus). Bettongs had never experienced cats or foxes before and were unprepared for predation by such smart hunters.
In addition to this, white settlers grew vegetable gardens full of potatoes which the bettong found delicious. Overnight, the tuber-loving bettongs would destroy the veggie patches, which resulted in a bounty being placed on them by frustrated farmers.
Since then, the surviving Eastern Bettongs have thrived happily in Tasmania and are now often known as Tasmanian Bettongs. However, with Tasmanian Devils in decline and increasing numbers of cats and foxes, the Eastern Bettong again faces an uncertain future.
In 2012, The Woodlands and Wetlands Trust along with the Australian National University and the ACT Government traveled to Tasmania and brought back 35 individuals as part of a translocation project. These were released into the cat- and fox-free Mulligans Flat.
The bettong population exploded thanks to an abundance of food and no feral predators. Nowadays, over 100 bettongs can be seen bouncing around footloose and fancy-free in Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary.