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Myrmecobius fasciatus [mur mih kO' bE uhs fah she' ah tuhs]
This distinctive-looking marsupial is up to 18 inches long, including a bushy tail up to 7 inches long; females are markedly smaller than males. Its stout body is flattened across the hindquarters. The long, pointed muzzle holds 52 teeth, more than any other mammal except some whales. Its short, stiff hair is reddish-yellow to chestnut-red in color, with white bands around the body and a white-bordered black line on each side of the face running from the ear through the eyeline to the tip of the nose.
Distribution and Habitat
The numbat is only found in southwestern Australia, where it lives in open woodland dominated by eucalyptus stands.
Habits and Behaviors
The numbat is the only Australian mammal that is solely active during the day. It spends its nights in a hollowed out eucalyptus log. To "tuck" itself in, the numbat points its head pointed toward the closed end, tucks its tail under its body, and closes the entrance with its rump, which is composed of solid muscle. If disturbed, the numbat will swell its body so it fits into the hollow like a cork, making it virtually impossible for a predator, even a snake, to get in or pull it out. Once asleep, a numbat will not budge for anything, even if its home is on fire. If danger presents itself in the open, the numbat runs for the nearest hollow log, where it will wedge itself until it feels safe.
The numbat usually spends its day looking for food, but is prone to sudden bursts of activity, running quickly in a series of bounds, and it readily climbs trees. It will also occasionally stand straight up on its hindlegs and look around, either out of curiosity or to look for potential danger.
Its tail is normally carried straight out behind or with a slight upward curve, but when excited the tail is curved upwards or over the back, much like squirrels do.
Numbats are solitary except for mating and mothers with young.
Numbats feed almost exclusively on termites, plucking them out of cavities in rotten wood with their long tongue or using their sharp claws to rip open shallow underground termite nests. A grown numbat can consume 10-20 thousand termites a day, as well as any ants that happen to be living in the termite colonies.
The courtship and mating behaviors of numbats have not been recorded.
Four young are born between January and May. Although it is a marsupial, the numbat does not have a pouch. Instead, the female has four teats surrounded by long crimped hairs. At first the babies simply cling to the teats with their mouths, but later they cling to the hairs with their forefeet. When they have grown to a certain size (at about 4-6 months) the mother digs a hole in the ground, in which she leaves them while she goes foraging. The young will be completely on their own by the end of their first year.
Once ranging from western New South Wales across south and central Australia into Western Australia, the numbat's population has declined due to introduced predators and habitat destruction. It is protected as the national emblem of Western Australia, and is listed as a vulnerable species.
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This page was last updated on June 14, 2017.