The numbat in its natural habitat
The numbat in its natural habitat
Robert A.


Numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus)

Also known as the banded anteater, marsupial anteater, or walpurti

Physical description

Among the many marsupials found in Australia, the numbat is a small furry mammal whose size averages around 40 centimeters, or approximately 15.75 inches. Normally, a number of white stripes are found going across its back; usually they number at six or seven. Though the front of its body takes on a light brownish color, as the stripes begin its fur begins to darken. At the tail, coloration is very dark. A consistent light shade of fur can be found on the belly of the numbat. In order to facilitate its diet of termites, the head of the numbat tapers off to a slight point, with alert ears and constantly perked ears. Inside its mouth is found a very long tongue, reported to reach nearly one half of its body length. As noted above, the the staple of a numbat's diet is termites; anything else is uncommon for day to day feeding. On any given day, one numbat can consume as many as 10,000 to 20,000 termites. Mating occurs during the summer of the Southern Hemisphere, which makes up the months from December to February. It is normal for numbats to be born four at a time, and although these animals are marsupials, they do not have pouches. After birth, infant numbats simply cling to the fur of the mother's underside and feed at will.


The numbat is only found in Australia, and is currently occupying a very samll range found in the coastal southwest corner of West Australia. It is commonly found in the forests that occupy these areas, and has become something of a symbol for West Australia, especially since it became rare and endangered. Even historically, its range was never large or widespread; it relies on very specific environmental conditions for its survival. In a more localized sense, numbats will be found in any area where eucalyptus trees as present, since these areas usually populated with termites. For shelter and sleeping, hollow logs and trees are common, because the numbat is not a fast-moving animal and therefore needs much nighttime protection. Their predators are many, and include feral cats and dogs, various birds of prey, such as eagles and hawks, and carpet pythons. The young must stay in their shelters throughout the day, with the mother returning in the evening to care for and feed them.


Because of the many foreign species introduced to this part of Australia, including feral and domestic cats and dogs, predation of the numbat has increased considerably. Other factors that have contributed to the tragic demise of the numbat to a total population reported as low as 2,000 are:
  • Habitat loss- many forested areas in West Australia have been cleared for agriculture, but this removes all food prospects for termites, and in effect, numbats.
  • Brush fires- probably because of the increased exposure of forested areas to the human-populated world, fires have become more common and are partly responsible for the population crisis of numbats.
  • Genetic separation- because of the physical separation of numbat communities from one another, they are evolving separately, which will either cause numbats to be more adaptable in the future, or could cause the extinction of the species by reducing the number of possible breeding partners due to the genetic drift that would be bound to occur.


Various techniques are currently being used in order to recover the damaged numbat population. For instance, specialized poisons traps are used containing natural, plant-generated toxins that do not harm native species, but take a large toll on foreign invasive species such as the feral cats and dogs as well as foxes that are predating the numbat excessively. In addition to this, special radio receivers are being placed on a select few numbats to better understand their population patterns, as well as day-to-day activity. It is also common for numbats to be brought up by humans in captivity, and then placed in special repopulation areas which are monitored by humans to ensure a smooth transition to the "wild."