Numbat, Myrmecobius fasciatus

The numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus), also known as the marsupial anteater, banded anteater, or the walpurti, is a marsupial that can be found in Western Australia. This species once held a large range but it is now fragmented and limited to only a few small spots in Australia. It once resided in many habitats, but now it can only be found in eucalypt forests. Europeans first discovered this species in 1831, when Robert Dale led an expedition through the Avon Valley. George Robert Waterhouse formally described the species in 1836.

The numbat reaches an average body length between fourteen and eighteen inches and a weight between about ten ounces and twenty-five ounces. The long, bushy tail is about the same length of the body and its face holds a pointed nose. This species varies in color from reddish brown to light grey and it is distinguished by a red marking on its upper back and a black stripe extending from the eyes to the base of each ear. Four to eleven white stripes extend along the back in a horizontal pattern that fades as it reaches the hind end. The underbelly is cream or light grey in color and the tail holds grey hair with white speckles.

The numbat is active during the day, which is not typical to marsupials, most likely due to its specialized diet of termites. As is typical to animals that consume termites or ants, this species has an elongated tongue, but it also has ridges on its soft palate that help it swallow the termites. This species is able to retain water from its diet of termites, which it finds using its sense of smell. It has the best eyesight out of all the marsupial species, most likely due to its daytime activities.

Numbats are solitary in nature and will spend most of their time searching for termites, consuming up to twenty thousand in one day. Both males and females hold territories of about 370 acres and male’s territories overlap those of females. During the nighttime, numbats sleep in a nest that is located in tree hollow, in a log, or in a burrow. The breeding season of the numbat occurs between the months of February and March, after which the females have a pregnancy period of fifteen days. One litter is born per year, although another litter may be born if the first is lost. Females do not have pouches like other marsupials, although their young will attach themselves to her the teats after birth and remain there until July or August. By November, the young are weaned and completely independent, with females reaching sexual maturity the following summer and males reaching sexual maturity at over two years of age.

Before the European settlement of Australia, the numbat was common across the continent, but when settlers released the European fox in the 19th century, the populations in the Northern Territory, Victoria, and South Australia, and New South Wales were eradicated and almost all of the population in Western Australia was wiped out. By the end of the 1970’s, there were less than one thousand individuals remaining. It is thought that the two remaining populations were able to survive due to the abundance of hiding places and burrows within its current range, despite the abundance of natural predators including the brown goshawk and the carpet python. Conservation efforts enacted for this species include a reintroduction program conducted by Perth Zoo and other organizations. The numbat is currently listed as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List.

Image Caption: Numbat. Credit: Martybugs/Wikipedia (CC BY 3.0)