Formally, southwest to southcentral Australia east to southwest New South Wales. Now restricted to the western portion of this range, southwestern West Australia.
Biogeographic Regions: australian (Native )
Body length is 175 to 275mm. Tail length is 130 to 170mm. Their weight ranges from 280 to 550 grams. The anterior end of the body is brownish/gray with traces of white. There is a black stripe along the head. Numbats have a pointed snout with a small mouth and a long, sticky tongue that can reach as far as 100mm from the mouth opening. The teeth are very small, numerous, and often asymmetrical. The palate extends far back along the skull, a modification seen in other "long-tongued" mammal species such as scaly anteaters (pangolins, mammalian order Pholidota) and armadillos (mammalian family Dasypodidae). The hair is short and thick, especially on the tail. Along the back numbats have 6 or 7 vertical white lines that are in contrast with a background of darker fur. The front legs are stout and all four feet have large, thick claws. Females have 4 mammae and lack a pouch. Numbats are considered to have a relatively large brain.
Range mass: 280 to 550 g.
Average basal metabolic rate: 0.907 W.
Habitat and Ecology
Numbats generally inhabit eucalypt forests and other dry, open woodlands where fallen, dead trees are present.
Terrestrial Biomes: forest
Numbats consume mainly ants and termites that are found in decaying tree material on the forest floor. They get to this food source by clawing through the dead logs and using their highly specialized tongue to probe the galleries of termite colonies. Numbats are the only marsupials that feed strictly on social insects.
Life History and Behavior
Status: captivity: 6.0 years.
Status: captivity: 5.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Numbats breed between December and April. They breed once yearly, the typical litter size is 2 to 4. During the time they are attached to the mothers mammae, around 4 months, they are exposed to the elements because the female lacks a pouch. They are protected only by her long hair. There is some evidence that the female digs a tunnel to give birth in. In July or August mother numbats leave their young in a burrow, leaving them to forage during the day and returning to suckle them at night. By October the young are typically beginning to forage for termites. The young stay with the mother for about 9 months, dispersing in December.
Average number of offspring: 4.
Evolution and Systematics
Sparse and shallow pelt of the numbat favours passive heat loss in the hot summer and radiative heat gain in the cooler winter
"Numbats are unusual marsupials in being exclusively diurnal and termitivorous. They have a sparse (1921·hairs/cm2) and shallow (1.19·mm) pelt compared with other Marsupials. Coat reflectivity is low (19%) for numbats compared with nocturnal marsupials, but absorptivity is similar to that of diurnal North American ground squirrels (72%), indicating that the coat of the numbat may be adapted for acquisition of solar heat. Numbat coat thermal resistance decreases significantly with wind speed from 45.9·s/m (at 0.5·m/s) to 29.8·s/m (at 3·m/s). Erecting the fur significantly increases pelt depth (6.5·mm) and coat resistance (79.2–64.2·s/m) at wind speeds between 0.5·m/s and 3·m/s. Numbat coat resistance is much lower than that of other marsupials, and wind speed has a greater influence on coat resistance for numbats than for other mammals, reflecting the low pelt density and thickness. Solar heat gain by numbats through the pelt to the level of the skin (60–63%) is similar to the highest value measured for any mammal. However the numbat’s high solar heat gain is not associated with the same degree of reduction in coat resistance as seen for other mammals, suggesting that its pelt has structural and spectral characteristics that enhance both solar heat acquisition and endogenous heat conservation. Maximum solar heat gain is estimated to be 0.5–3.6 times resting metabolic heat production for the numbat at ambient temperatures of 15–32.5°C, so radiative heat gain is probably an important aspect of thermoregulation for wild numbats." (Cooper et al. 2003: 2771)
Learn more about this functional adaptation.
- Cooper CE; Walsberg GE; Withers PC. 2003. Biophysical properties of the pelt of a diurnal marsupial, the numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus), and its role in thermoregulation. Journal of Experimental Biology. 206(16): 2771-2777.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Myrmecobius fasciatus
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Myrmecobius fasciatus
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1994Endangered(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Endangered(IUCN 1990)
- 1988Endangered(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
- 1986Endangered(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
- 1982Endangered(Thornback and Jenkins 1982)
Date Listed: 12/02/1970
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10)
Where Listed: Australia
Population location: Australia
Listing status: E
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Myrmecobius fasciatus , see its USFWS Species Profile
Numbat populations have declined severely since western colonization of Australia. They once occurred throughout much of southern arid and semi-arid Australia, from New South Wales through South Australia and southern Northern Territory to southwestern Western Australia. They are now restricted to several remnant populations in southwest Western Australia, including one population that is the result of a reintroduction effort.
Numbats have been severely affected by agriculture; clearing land eliminates the habitat (dead trees) of their food source (termites). They have also been affected by introduced predators such as foxes, cats, domestic dogs, and dingos. They may also have suffered from the suppression of Aboriginal fire regimes in arid grasslands, which made the habitat more suitable for them.
Numbats are considered vulnerable by the IUCN and endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
US Federal List: endangered
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered
In 1985 this species was only known from Dryandra and Perup, but captive breeding and reintroduction programs have greatly helped to reduce the risk to this species (Friend 2008). Fox control programs are seen as essential to the recovery of this species. Objectives for recovering listed by Maxwell et al. (1996) included increasing the number of self-sustaining populations to at least nine and the number of animals to over 4,000. This has not been achieved however, and with the current, mysterious decline at Dryandra, the Numbat is still highly threatened.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
No documented examples.
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
Numbats are unique and important members of the ecosystems in which they live, they act as important predators of social insects.
The Numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus), also known as the Banded Ant Eater, is a marsupial found in Western Australia. Its diet consists almost exclusively of termites. Once widespread across southern Australia, the range is now restricted to several small colonies and it is listed as an endangered species. The Numbat is an emblem of Western Australia and protected by conservation programs.
The Numbat genus Myrmecobius is the sole member of the family Myrmecobiidae; one of the three families that make up the order Dasyuromorphia, the generalised marsupial carnivores. The species is also known as the walpurti.
The Numbat is a small, colourful creature between 35 and 45 cm (13-18") long, with a finely pointed muzzle and a prominent, bushy tail about the same length as its body. Colour varies considerably, from soft grey to reddish-brown, often with an area of brick red on the upper back, and always with a conspicuous black stripe running from the tip of the muzzle through the eyes to the bases of the small, round-tipped ears. The underside is cream or light grey; weight varies between 280 and 550 grams.
Unlike most other marsupials, the Numbat is diurnal, largely because of the constraints of having a specialised diet without having the usual physical equipment for it. Most ecosystems with a generous supply of termites have a fairly large creature with a very long, thin, sticky tongue for penetrating termite colonies, and powerful forelimbs with heavy claws. Like other mammals that eat termites or ants, the Numbat has a degenerate jaw with non-functional teeth, and is unable to chew. Nonetheless, numbats do have a similar dental formula to many other marsupials:
The species is not closely related to other extant marsupials; the current arrangement in the Dasyuromorphia order places its monotypic family with the diverse and carnivorous species of Dasyuridae. A closer affinity with the extinct thylacine, contained in the same order, has been proposed.
Numbats are insectivores and eat an exclusive diet of termites. An adult Numbat requires up to 20,000 termites each day. The only marsupial that is fully active by day, the Numbat spends most of its time searching for termites. It digs up termites from loose earth with its front claws and captures them with its long sticky tongue. 
Ecology and behaviour
Adult Numbats are solitary and territorial; an individual male or female establishes a territory of up to 1.5 square kilometres (370 acres) early in life, and defends it from others of the same sex. The animal generally remains within that territory from that time on; male and female territories overlap, and in the breeding season males will venture outside their normal home range to find mates.
While the Numbat has relatively powerful claws for its size, it is not strong enough to get at termites inside their concrete-like mound, and so must wait until the termites are active. It uses a well-developed sense of smell to locate the shallow and unfortified underground galleries that termites construct between the nest and their feeding sites; these are usually only a short distance below the surface of the soil, and vulnerable to the Numbat's digging claws.
The Numbat synchronises its day with termite activity, which is temperature dependent: in winter, it feeds from mid-morning to mid-afternoon; in summer, it rises earlier, takes shelter during the heat of the day, and feeds again in the late afternoon. Despite its Banded Anteater name, ants are not a major component of their diet.
At night, the Numbat retreats to a nest, which can be in a hollow log or tree, or in a burrow, typically a narrow shaft 1-2 metres long which terminates in a spherical chamber lined with soft plant material: grass, leaves, flowers and shredded bark. The Numbat is able to block the opening of its nest, with the thick hide of its rump, to prevent a predator being able to access the burrow.
Until European colonisation, the Numbat was found across most of the area from the New South Wales and Victorian borders west to the Indian Ocean, and as far north as the southwest corner of the Northern Territory. It was at home in a wide range of woodland and semi-arid habitats. The deliberate release of the European red fox in the 19th century, however, wiped out the entire Numbat population in Victoria, NSW, South Australia and the Northern Territory, and almost all Numbats in Western Australia as well. By the late 1970s, the population was well under 1,000 individuals, concentrated in two small areas not far from Perth, Dryandra and Perup.
The first record of the species described it as beautiful; its appeal saw it selected as the faunal emblem of the state of Western Australia and initiated efforts to conserve it from extinction.
It appears that the reason the two small Western Australia populations were able to survive is that both areas have many hollow logs that may serve as refuge from predators. Being diurnal, the Numbat is much more vulnerable to predation than most other marsupials of a similar size: its natural predators include the Little Eagle, Brown Goshawk, Collared Sparrowhawk and Carpet Python. When the Western Australia government instituted an experimental program of fox baiting at Dryandra (one of the two remaining sites), Numbat sightings increased by a factor of 40.
An intensive research and conservation program since 1980 has succeeded in increasing the Numbat population substantially, and reintroductions to fox-free areas have begun. Perth Zoo is very closely involved in breeding this native species in captivity for release into the wild. Despite the encouraging degree of success so far, the Numbat remains at considerable risk of extinction and is classified as an endangered species.
The Numbat first became known to Europeans in 1831. It was discovered by an exploration party who were exploring the Avon Valley under the leadership of Robert Dale. George Fletcher Moore, who was a member of the expedition, recounted the discovery thus:
and the following day
"chased another little animal, such as had escaped from us yesterday, into a hollow tree, where we captured it; from the length of its tongue, and other circumstances, we conjecture that it is an ant-eater—its colour yellowish, barred with black and white streaks across the hinder part of the back; its length about twelve inches."
The first classification of specimens was published by George Robert Waterhouse, describing the species in 1836 and the family in 1841. Myrmecobius fasciatus was included in the first part of John Gould's The Mammals of Australia, issued in 1845, with a plate by H. C. Richter illustrating the species.
- ^ a b Friend, T. & Burbidge, A. (2008). Myrmecobius fasciatus. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 08 October 2008. Listed as Endangered(EN C1+2a(i) v3.1)
- ^ Ellis, Eric (2003). "Myrmecobius fasciatus". http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Myrmecobius_fasciatus.html. Retrieved 2006-09-01.
- ^ a b c Lee, A.K. (1984). Macdonald, D.. ed. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. pp. 844. ISBN 0-87196-871-1.
- ^ http://www.perthzoo.wa.gov.au/en/Animals--Plants/Australia/Australian-Bushwalk/Numbat/
- ^ a b "What is the fauna emblem of Western Australia?". NatureBase. Western Australia's Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC). http://www.naturebase.net/component/option,com_kb/page,articles/articleid,13/. Retrieved 2009-05-11.
- ^ a b Moore, George Fletcher (1884). Diary of ten years. London: M. Walbrook.
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