(Myrmecobius fasciatus)
The numbat is a highly distinctive carnivorous marsupial. It is not closely related to any living marsupial (one of its closest relatives is the now extinct thylacine or Tasmanian tiger), lacks a pouch, and is one of only two marsupials to be active exclusively during the day. It is also the only marsupial to feed strictly on social insects: individuals suck up around 20,000 termites a day with their long, sticky tongues. Once widespread across Australia, the species is now extinct in over 99% of its former range, primarily as a result of introduction of foxes by European settlers and changes in fire regimes. 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 areas of the numbat’s former range.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Continuation of existing conservation efforts.
Australia (Western Australia)
Associated Blog Posts
27th Jun 12
The numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus) is very different from other marsupials. It is the only living representative of the Myrmecobiidae family of carnivorous m...  Read

Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Dasyuromorphia
Family: Myrmecobiidae
The numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus) is extremely distinct from other marsupials. It is the only living representative of the Myrmecobiidae family; one of three families that make up the order Dasyuromorphia (marsupial carnivores). The other two families are the Dasyuridae (dasyurids, including an amazing array of mouse- to dog-sized insectivorous or carnivorous species) and Thylacinidae (containing the extinct thylacine or Tasmanian tiger). Dasyuromorphs are said to be modern representatives of a basal stock of australodelphian marsupials, from which other Australian families arose.
Head and body length: 175 - 290 mm
Weight: 300 - 752 g
The numbat is a small carnivorous marsupial. Its slender, graceful body, reddish-brown or grey-brown fur, and black and white bands across the back and rump give it a very distinctive appearance. Individuals can be identified by their unique pattern of bands. There is a striking white-bordered dark cheek stripe running stripe through each eye. Numbats have long, bushy tails which they sometimes erect, giving it the appearance of a bottle brush. The head is flat, and the snout narrow and pointed. The slender tongue can be extended at least 100 mm. The forefoot has five toes and the hind foot has four, all bearing strong claws.
Contrary to the feeding habits implied by its alternative common name – banded anteater – this species feeds almost exclusively on termites. It requires around 20,000 each day, which if sucks up from dead tree, logs and leaf litter with its long, thin tongue. Some ants may also be eaten but these are thought to be ingested incidentally when they swarm in to prey on the exposed termites. All species of termites are eaten, roughly in proportion to their abundance and availability, but the bulk of ants eaten are the small predatory species.

The numbat is one of only two diurnal marsupial species, and is the only Australian mammal that is solely active during the day, its diurnal behaviour reflecting that of its termite prey. Individuals spend most of the day foraging for food and shelter in hollow logs, tree hollows or burrows at night. Hollows were probably used less prior to the introduction of foxes which prey on numbats among other species. However, they are now thought to be of vital importance; indeed, the only surviving natural populations are in areas containing lots of hollow logs and trees. Numbats are solitary for most of the year, each individual occupying a territory of up to 150 ha. During the cooler months males and females may share the same territory, but they are rarely seen together.

Like other dasyurid marsupials, numbats use torpor (a kind of hibernation) to help balance their energy budgets. Torpor in numbats is spontaneous, occurring when food is freely available and so appears to be part of the daily cycle in colder months to reduce energy expenditure rather than a response to acute energy stress. There are also anecdotal reports of numbats sun basking, especially on cold winter mornings.

The female gives birth to four young between January and May, which each attach themselves to one of her four nipples, as she does not have a pouch like other Australian marsupials. The female does, however, have longer underbelly hairs to keep the young warm and protected while nursing. By July or August the female deposits the young in a burrow, sucking them at night. By October, the young are half grown and are feeding on termites while remaining in their parents’ area. They disperse in early summer (December).
Prior to European settlement, numbats occurred in semi-arid and arid woodlands (Eucalyptus and Acacia) and grasslands (Triodia and Plectrachne). Today, they are restricted to eucalypt woodlands in the wettest periphery of the former range. The heartwood of the majority of trees in this habitat is eaten out by termites and the hollows are thought to provide an important form of shelter to the numbats.
The numbat formerly occurred across much of southern Australia. However, since European colonization it has experienced a dramatic decline and is now extinct in more than 99% of its former range. By the late 1970s the species had collapsed to just a few isolated populations in the southwest of Western Australia and even some of these have since disappeared. Only two original populations still survive, one at Dryandra Woodland and the other at Perup Nature Reserve. These two sites are separated by 150 km of unsuitable habitat.

There are reintroduced populations in Dragon Rocks Nature Reserve, Batalling State Forest, Tutanning Nature Reserve, and Boyagin Nature Reserve (all Western Australia). There are two fenced, reintroduced populations; Yookamurra Sanctuary (South Australia) and Scotia Sanctuary (New South Wales).
Population Estimate
The population is estimated to be fewer than 1,000 individuals. The population at Dryandra has declined drastically, from an estimated 600 in 1992 to 50 today. The population appears to be stable or possibly even increasing at Perup. The reintroduced population totals approximately 500-600, but none of these are yet considered secure.
Population Trend
Classified as Endangered (EN C1+2a(i)) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The introduction of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) to Australia is the primary factor contributing to the decline of the numbat. Population declines were recorded in association with the spread of foxes which prey on numbats and other native species. Predation by foxes continues to be a major threat today, along with introduced rabbits and raptors (native species whose numbers are overly elevated in fragmented woodlands). Altered fire regimes have also had a negative impact, with frequent fires reducing the number of hollow logs, which the numbats use as shelter, making them more vulnerable to predators. Extensive conversion of woodland habitats to agricultural land has also contributed to declines.

The causes of the declines at Dryandra are unknown. Measures to control the population of foxes may have resulted in an increased number of feral cats in the region. Raptors may also be a problem.
Conservation Underway
The numbat is Western Australia’s mammal emblem and is listed as a threatened species under the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). All areas in which it occurs are protected. The Australian Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) produced a species recovery plan in 1994 and a Numbat Recovery Team was formed to implement recommended conservation actions.

Key conservation actions include monitoring of existing populations, captive breeding and reintroduction, and predator control programmes. In 1985 the species was only known from Dryandra and Perup, but captive breeding and reintroduction programmes have resulted in the establishment of six reintroduced populations, greatly helping to reduce the risk to this species. For example, Perth Zoo, as part of its Native Species Breeding Program, is breeding numbats for release into protected habitats. To date, over 100 numbats have been bred for release into the wild. Five of the six reintroduced populations are stable (although probably not yet self-sustaining) while the Dryandra population is in decline.
Conservation Proposed
Existing conservation efforts should continue in order to achieve the key recovery objectives of increasing the number of self-sustaining populations to at least nine and the number of animals to over 4,000. In addition, the cause of decline in the Dryandra population needs to be identified and addressed.
Calaby, J. H. 1960. Observations on the Banded ant-eater Myrmecobius fasciatus Waterhouse (Marsupialia). Journal of zoology 135 (2): 183 – 207.

Cooper, C. E., Walsberg, G. E., & Withers, P. C. 2003. Biophysical Properties of the Pelt of a Diurnal Marsupial, the Numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus), and its Role in Thermoregulation. The Journal of Experimental Biology 206: 2771-2777.

Cooper, C. E. & Withers, P. C. 2004. Patterns of Body Temperature Variation and Torpor in the Numbat, Myrmecobius fasciatus (Marsupialia: Myrmecobiidae) Journal of Thermal Biology 29: 277–284.

Friend, T. & Burbidge, A. 2008. Myrmecobius fasciatus. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 15 November 2010.

Friend, J. A. and Thomas, N. D. 2003. Conservation of the numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus). In Predators With Pouches: the Biology of Carnivorous Marsupials CSIRO, Collingwood. pp. 452–463

Fumagalli, L. et al. 1999. Short Communication. Mitochondrial DNA Sequence Variation within the Remnant Populations of the Endangered Numbat (Marsupialia: Myrmecobiidae: Myrmecobius fasciatus). Molecular Ecology 8: 1545–1549.

MacDonald, D. W. 2006. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press.

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