Description and biology

The numbat, also known as the banded anteater, is a very unusual Australian marsupial. Marsupials are an order of mammals whose young continue to develop after birth in a pouch on the outside of the mother’s body.

Most marsupials are nocturnal (active at night). The numbat, however, does not have a true pouch in which its young develop and it is diurnal (pronounced die–ER–nal; active during the day).

Resembling a squirrel in size, an average numbat has a head and body length of 9 inches (23 centimeters) and a tail length of 7 inches (18 centimeters). It weighs between 14 and 21 ounces (397 and 595 grams).

The numbat’s coat is reddish brown with white flecks. A series of white stripes stretches across its back all the way to its bushy tail. A dark stripe runs across the animal’s eye from its ear to its long, flattened snout.

The numbat feeds chiefly on termites. It uses its sharpclawed forefeet to dig into termite colonies it finds in fallen branches. It then uses its long, sticky tongue to remove the termites, which it swallows whole.

The animal has a home range of 50 to 120 acres (20 to 48 hectares). At night, it builds a sheltering nest of leaves, grass, and bark in hollow logs or in burrows it digs for itself.

The normally solitary male and female numbat come together only to mate. A female numbat gives birth to four young, usually in January or February. Since she does not have a pouch, her young attach themselves to her nipples and cling to the surrounding hair.

They stay attached for six months. Afterward, the female places her young in various nests she has built, moving them between those nests by carrying them on her back. The young numbats eventually leave their mother’s home range by November or December.

Habitat and current distribution

Numbats prefer to live in forests dominated by eucalyptus trees that are prone to attack by termites. The animals are currently found only in southwestern Western Australia. Biologists (people who study living organisms) estimate that less than 2,000 numbats exist in the wild.

History and conservation measures

The numbat once ranged throughout southern Australia. Slowly it began to disappear from eastern areas until, by the 1960s, it was found only in the southwestern region of the country. The numbat population continued to decline until 1980, when the Australian government realized that red foxes that had been introduced into numbat habitat were preying on the animals.

Since then, the government has controlled the number of foxes in the region and the numbat population has recovered slightly. The Australian government is also trying to relocate numbats to their former eastern habitats.