Nature conservation

Threatened species

Numbat - profile

Indicative distribution


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The areas shown in pink and/purple are the sub-regions where the species or community is known or predicted to occur. They may not occur thoughout the sub-region but may be restricted to certain areas. ( click here to see geographic restrictions). The information presented in this map is only indicative and may contain errors and omissions.
Scientific name: Myrmecobius fasciatus
Conservation status in NSW: Presumed Extinct
Commonwealth status: Vulnerable
Profile last updated: 05 Aug 2019

Description

The Numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus), also known as the Banded Anteater, or Walpurti, is a marsupial found in Western Australia. Its diet consists almost exclusively of termites. The Numbat is a small, colourful creature between 35 and 45 cm long, including the tail, with a finely pointed muzzle and a prominent, bushy tail about the same length as its body. Colour varies considerably, from soft grey to reddish-brown, often with an area of brick red on the upper back, and always with a conspicuous black stripe running from the tip of the muzzle, through the eyes, to the bases of the small, round-tipped ears. There are between four and eleven white stripes across the animal's hindquarters, which gradually become fainter towards the mid-back. The underside is cream or light grey, while the tail is covered with long grey hair flecked with white. Weight varies between 280 and 700 grams.

Distribution

Numbats were formerly distributed across southern Australia from Western Australia across as far as northwestern New South Wales. However, their range has declined significantly since European settlement, and is presumed extinct in the wild in NSW. The species has survived only in two small patches of land in the Dryandra Woodland and the Perup Nature Reserve, both in Western Australia. In recent years, it has, however, been successfully reintroduced into a few fenced reserves, including some in South Australia (Yookamurra Sanctuary) and New South Wales (Scotia Sanctuary).

Habitat and ecology

  • The remaining populations of the Numbat are found in Eucalypt forests and woodlands dominated by Eucalyptus marginata, Eucalyptus calophylla and Eucalyptus wandoo.
  • Numbats are insectivores and eat an exclusive diet of termites. An adult numbat requires up to 20,000 termites each day. The Numbat is the only marsupial that is fully active by day- spending most of its time searching for termites. It digs up termites from loose earth with its front claws and captures them with its long sticky tongue. Despite its 'Banded Anteater' name, the remains of ants have only occasionally been found in Numbat dung. The ants belong to species that themselves prey on termites, and so were presumably eaten accidentally, along with the main food.
  • Adult Numbats are solitary and territorial; an individual male or female establishes a territory of up to 1.5 square kilometres (370 acres) early in life, and defends it from others of the same sex. The animal generally remains within that territory from that time on. Male and female territories overlap, and in the breeding season males will venture outside their normal home range to find mates.
  • While the Numbat has relatively powerful claws for its size, it is not strong enough to access at termites inside their concrete-like mound, and so must wait until the termites are active. It uses a well-developed sense of smell to locate the shallow and unfortified underground galleries that termites construct between the nest and their feeding sites; these are usually only a short distance below the surface of the soil, and vulnerable to the Numbat's digging claws.
  • The Numbat synchronises its day with termite activity, which is temperature dependent. In winter, it feeds from mid-morning to mid-afternoon; in summer, it rises earlier, takes shelter during the heat of the day, and feeds again in the late afternoon.
  • At night, the Numbat retreats to a nest, which can be in a hollow log or tree, or in a burrow- typically a narrow shaft 1-2 metres long which terminates in a spherical chamber lined with soft plant material such as grass, leaves, flowers and shredded bark. The Numbat is able to block the opening of its nest, with the thick hide of its rump, to prevent a predator being able to access the burrow. Numbats have relatively few vocalisations, but have been reported to hiss, growl, or make a repetitive 'tut' sound when disturbed.
  • Numbats breed in February and March, normally producing one litter a year, although they can produce a second if the first is lost. Gestation lasts 15 days, and results in the birth of four young. Unusually among marsupials, female numbats have no pouch, although the four teats are protected by a patch of crimped, golden hair and by the swelling of the surrounding abdomen and thighs during lactation.
  • The young are 2 cm long at birth. They crawl to the teats, and remain attached until late July or early August, by which time they have grown to 7.5 cm. They develop fur at 3 cm, and the adult coat pattern begins to appear once they reach 5.5 cm. After weaning, the young are initially left in a nest, or carried about on the mother's back, and they are fully independent by November. Females are sexually mature by the following summer, but males do not reach maturity for another year.


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