chap. i — meet the numbat

Numbat

Myrmecobius fasciatus

Animal Stats

OrderDasyuromorphia
FamilyMyrmecobiidae
PopulationLess than 1,000 worldwide
Weightfrom 280 and 700 g
Sizefrom 35-45 cm
Threat StatusEndangered

Where It Lives

chap. ii — Fascinating Facts

The only pouchless marsupial

Numbats are the only marsupial without a pouch, the only marsupial that feeds exclusively on social insects like termites, and one of only two marsupials that are active during the day.

chap. iii — a closer look

The Numbat's Story

The numbat is a highly distinctive carnivorous marsupial. Not closely related to any living marsupial, one of its closest relatives is the now extinct thylacine or Tasmanian tiger.  

Numbats were originally found in woodland, sand dunes and forests, but are now restricted to woodlands where only two original isolated populations still survive, one at Dryandra Woodland and the other at Perup Nature Reserve.

Numbats have evolved to feed exclusively on insects with a tube-shaped mouth and long sticky tongue. They eat 20,000 termites each day while trees hollowed out by termites act as important shelters. Numbats are active during the day, when termites are near the surface of the ground, which means they are very exposed to predators.

Once widespread across Australia, the species is now extinct in over 99% of its former habitat types, primarily as a result of the introduction of foxes and cats by European settlers two centuries ago. Millions of feral cats are the main culprits behind Australia's high rate of mammal extinction, wiping out native species populations and creating ‘marsupial ghost towns’ since being introduced.

Numbats have now disappeared from New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and the Northern Territory. They are also affected by inappropriate fire regimes reducing hollow logs available for shelter and the conversion of woodland to agriculture.

 

What’s being done?

Extensive conservation efforts are underway to save the two remaining natural populations, while conservation breeding and reintroduction programmes have succeeded in establishing six populations in parts of the numbat's former range. The Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) protects more than 50% of the global population of numbats, including the monitoring of a numbat population of 600 in Scotia. They also have an ambitious national translocation program that recently translocated ten numbats to its Newhaven Sanctuary. This was an historic moment as they were regionally extinct in central Australia for over 60 years. The AWC works to address the key drivers of native species loss, using predator-proof fences, tracking feral predator behaviour and movements, and running predator-control programmes, as well as engaging local stakeholders and indigenous communities and spearheading a programme to reinstate indigenous fire management practices that are beneficial to native marsupials.