10 Incredible Numbat Facts

Written by Jennifer Gaeng
Published: September 16, 2022
Image Credit Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock.com
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Numbat (Myrmecobius Fasciatus) - walking through bushes
Numbats eat termites.

EQRoy/Shutterstock.com

The numbat, or Myrmecobius fasciatus, is the scientific name for the numbat (also known as the walpurti), a species of marsupial that feeds primarily on insects. A diurnal creature, practically all its diet consists of termites. Once widespread over southern Australia, the species is now confined to a few isolated colonies throughout Western Australia. So, there are conservation efforts in place to ensure its safety as an endangered species. New South Wales and Southern Australian numbats have recently returned to their respective fenced reserves. The numbat is Western Australia’s official faunal emblem. Keep reading to learn 10 incredible Numbat facts!

1. They Are Sometimes Known by Another Name

What kind of animal is it most comparable to, an anteater or a squirrel? The fact that it looks so much like a raccoon and a squirrel has led many people to mistake it for one of those animals, even though it has a different name. It is even referred to as the banded anteater on occasion. The numbat is a species of marsupial native to Australia that is in a state of critical endangerment.

2. They Have Sharp Claws for Digging

Numbat (Myrmecobius Fasciatus) - sitting on rock
Numbats drill holes in the ground to access termites.

Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock.com

The numbat drills very small holes in the ground to obtain access to the galleries in the termite colony, which are the entrance and exit points for the termites. Unfortunately, unlike many other creatures, numbats do not have jaws or teeth that are as robust as those of other species. A cool numbat fact is that instead of teeth they have “pegs” that are not as sharp since they do not chew their food but rather swallow it whole.

3. Numbats Are Actually Fairly Fast

Numbats can avoid danger thanks to their quick reflexes and ability to climb trees while clinging to the bark with their sharp claws. In fact, when time is of importance, numbats are capable of speeds of up to 20 miles per hour.

4. Numbats Are the Only One Left in Their Genus

Numbat in a forest.
Numbats vary in color, from soft gray to reddish brown.

Gnangarra…commons.wikimedia.org / Creative Commons

The numbat is the only member of its genus that is still alive; it is a mammal that belongs to the family Myrmecobiidae and is the only living representative of its family. Regarding the ancestral lineage of this family, our knowledge is extremely limited. Cave deposits dating back to the Pleistocene Epoch can be found in Western Australia and New South Wales. These caves are home to the only living species of numbat.

5. Their Ancestors Are From Millions of Years Ago

Although it was related to other extinct marsupials through a common ancestor, its monotypic family is now placed in the order Dasyuromorphia, which is comprised of a vast range of carnivorous mammals belonging to the family Dasyuridae. Genomic research has revealed that the ancestors of numbats became distinct from those of other marsupials somewhere between 32 and 42 million years ago, during the late Eocene Period.

6. Unfortunately, They Are an Endangered Species

Numbat walking.
An adult numbat eats 20,000 termites a day.

Martybugs at en.wikipedia / Creative Commons

The Dryandra Woodland and the Perup Nature Reserve in Western Australia are the only areas in the wild where this species has managed to maintain a viable population. However, since Europeans began to live in the region, there has been a significant reduction in the variety.

Because of this, the species is now regarded as being in a state of critical endangerment. It is estimated that there may be fewer than one thousand mature individuals left. Both the massive destruction of their habitat and the hunting of these animals by wild carnivores have played significant factors in the species’ dwindling numbers.

7. They Are Insectivores

Numbats, which are classified as insectivores, obtain all the necessary nutrients from their diet of termites. To satisfy their nutritional requirements, they can swallow as many as 20,000 termites in a single day. After excavating its victim from the ground with its front claws, the animal seizes its meal with its long, sticky tongue to complete the kill.

8. They Are Fully Active by Day

Numbat by log.
Adult numbats are territorial and tend to live alone.

Stephane Bortzmeyer / Creative Commons

The only species of marsupial that is known to be active during the day is the numbat. During the day it spends most of its time searching for termites. Australia recognizes it as a special and endangered species due to its rarity. In fact, the numbat was given official recognition as the representative mammal species of Western Australia in the year 1973.

9. Numbats Have Long, Sticky Tongues

Because of the length and stickiness of their tongues, it is simple for them to pick up termites and consume them in their entirety. The tongues of numbats are approximately 10 to 11 centimeters in length, making it easy for them to flick into holes and into tight locations such as fallen leaves and logs.

10. Numbats Have Small, Blunt Teeth

Numbat at zoo.
Numbats have surprisingly strong claws for their size.

Gnangarra…commons.wikimedia.org / Creative Commons

Even though numbats’ teeth are rather little and may give the impression of being degenerated, they are in fact polyprotodont, having three lower and four upper incisors on each side of their jaws. The numbat, much like many other mammals, has an abnormally small number of teeth that are not fully functional.

Up Next:

Animals that Eat Insects – numbat
Numbats eat termites exclusively.
Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock.com
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About the Author

A substantial part of my life has been spent as a writer and artist, with great respect to observing nature with an analytical and metaphysical eye. Upon close investigation, the natural world exposes truths far beyond the obvious. For me, the source of all that we are is embodied in our planet; and the process of writing and creating art around this topic is an attempt to communicate its wonders.

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Sources
  1. Project Numbat, Available here: http://www.numbat.org.au/thenumbat