Earlier this week, we talked about koalas. Today, we’re going to focus on another Australian marsupial, the numbat. While the name numbat sounds similar to the name wombat, they actually don’t look very alike at all. Numbats, who are also known as banded anteaters or marsupial anteaters, have black and white striping on their backs and a long tail.
They also have a long sticky tongue which they use to eat termites, which comprise the majority of the numbats’ diet. This tongue can be as long as 11 cm, which is a third the length of their bodies. Their pointed nose also helps them get into small crevices to look for termites. They sense the termites through smell and it is possible that they sense the vibrations in the ground caused by the termites’ movements. Despite being called an anteaters, numbats don’t actually eat ants, except by accident. They exclusively eat termites. They eat so many termites (up to 20,000 a day) that they don’t need to drink water. They get all the hydration they need from the termites themselves.
Like other carnivorous marsupials, the numbats do not have a full pouch like koalas or kangaroos do. They instead have a fold of skin which covers and protects the baby, and long hair surrounding the area to keep them warm. Unlike other carnivores, though, numbats have eyes on the sides of their heads, which helps them spot danger (usually in the form of predators such as snakes and cats) better than if their eyes were forward facing. Aside from mating or a mother with her young, it is uncommon to see two numbats together. They are very solitary animals because they can’t afford to share their termites with anyone else, given as they are hard to find and numbats need to eat so many.
Numbats like to live in woodland areas where there are plenty of fallen down logs and sheltered areas to forage in. The places where numbats live in entirely determined by where the termites live and are active in. Their habitats tend to be throughout Southern Australia, although conservation efforts have brought them into Western Australia, too, where there are nature reserves and sanctuaries.
It isn’t only the places where they live that are determined by the termites. The times when they are awake mirror the termites’ most active times, too. During the warmer months, numbats rise with the sun to be able to forage when the termites are first active. The numbat is a small animal and can’t break through termite mounds like other anteaters, and so they rely on the termites being easy to reach. When the midday gets too warm for the termites, the numbats also take naps until the evening, when the termites are active again. During the winter, the numbat rises late with the termites and is active for only the few hours during which the ground is warm enough for the termites.
Numbats are an endangered species, with around 1,000 individuals remaining in the wild. Conservation efforts are promising, and numbats bred in zoos are sometimes released into the wild to boost the population. Merely protecting the numbats from predators isn’t enough, though. Farming, mining, and building projects also put them at risk because it drives away the termites upon which they are so clearly reliant and destroys places for the numbat to shelter. Forest fires can also be devastating to their habitats.
If you would like to learn more, consider visiting numbat.org.au where you can find more information on this unique animals. I hope you enjoyed this blog post, thank you for reading and, until next time, goodbye!