The Rufous Bettong
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Rufous Bettong (Aepyprymnus rufescens)
Rufous Bettong, or Rat-kangaroo as it always
used to be called, is the sole member of the
Genus Aepyprymnus. It is also the
largest of the Bettongs, being about the size of
a half grown Dama Wallaby (Macropus eugenii),
and one of the more readily available and
commonly kept in captivity, at least here in
The Rufous Bettong is a
personal favourite of mine – so much so that I
have kept this species almost continuously since
Individual animals can have great personalities
– being quite confiding at times. Some will
take food direct from your hands – though they
rarely ever appreciate being touched. If you
ever need to handle one, pick them up by the
base of the tail, but – Be Careful – they
can bite and kick violently!
These are active animals and, not being overly
social, need relatively large enclosures to be
able to behave and act naturally. They are
best kept as pairs or in small family groups of
one male and two or three females and their
progeny. They can climb wire fences easily, so
enclosures need solid walls or wire overhangs to
keep the animal safely enclosed. They are
also good diggers, and enclosures must be
designed accordingly. Dogs and cats are the
main problems in suburban areas, so ensure your
enclosures are safe from these predators.
Rufous Bettongs are generally inoffensive
to other animals and can be kept safely with a
variety of other native animals, such as
Potoroos, Wallabies etc.
Rufous Bettong (at
centre) shown with Long–nosed Potoroo (Potorous
tridactylus) and Southern Hairy-nosed
Wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons)
Rufous Bettongs make nests for sleeping in
during the daylight hours. These nests are
really just depressions in the ground, which
they then line and cover with straw, grasses or
hay. Only one animal uses any one nest at a
time – unless it is mother and joey. These
nests can be extremely well camouflaged and are
easy to step on if you’re not very careful.
Believe me, you’ll know soon enough though
– the animal will spring from its nest with a
growl and at great velocity and give you quite a
shock before it bounds away on its long,
spring-like legs. At night they become active
and spend their time foraging for food,
collecting new nesting materials for their
nests, etc. Individual animals have several
nest sites on the go at any one time and will
regularly move camp from one night to the next.
I suspect they spend much of the night
collecting materials to renovate their nests.
To collect nesting materials they use their
teeth to cut grasses to size and their forearms
to scrape together pieces of grass and straw
into a small pile in front of themselves.
Then they lean forward on their forepaws
and, using their tail as a counter balance at
the other end, bring their hind feet forward and
quickly scrape the bundle of grass back beneath
themselves to end up wrapped it in their tail,
which is partly prehensile. The result is
that the tail ends up curled around the grass
and, surprisingly, they can carry quite large
quantities this way.
Breeding times are a noisy and active period –
the females growling quite loudly almost the
entire time a male is in pursuit. He will also
make a nasal sound with practically every hop!
Rufous Bettong nest
When she finally stops running, the male will
catch up and thump his hind feet on the ground,
seemingly trying to hold her tail down (as this
way she cannot kick him with her hind feet),
till she accepts his advances and mating takes
place. A single joey is the usual result.
It grows rapidly and once it becomes too big
for the pouch is left alone in the nest for
several days before it is old enough to follow
Mum around. In captivity it is not unusual
to get 2 joeys per female per year.
the best breeding only one male should be kept
per enclosure, but more than one female can be
kept if the enclosure is large enough. The
breeding group is territorial and new animals
are not usually tolerated well – so be
warned. New animals need to be introduced
slowly – e.g. by placing them in a smaller
enclosure within the breeding enclosure for some
weeks to get everyone used to each other with a
you ever need to move an animal, this is perhaps
best done in hessian bags or pet-packs filled
with straw. Put some food in too to give the
animals something to eat during the journey.
Rufous Bettongs are simple to feed – they will
eat small quantities of fresh green grass, most
fruits (such as apples, pears), vegetables
(particularly root ones such as carrots,
potatoes, etc but also cabbage, sweet corn),
various grains (such as rolled oats, sunflower
seed), nuts (almonds, peanuts), commercial
kangaroo pellets, mushrooms and even live food
(such as longicorn larva, and other insects).
I regularly feed my animals dog pellets and
dried bread also. Naturally fresh water must be
available at all times.