Critter of the Week: Numbat



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Infraclass: Marsupialia
Order: Dasyuromorphia
Family: Myrmecobiidae
Genus: Myrmecobius
Species: M. fasciatus


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Numbats are one of the rare marsupials that do not have a pouch. Instead, they have skinfolds that cover the babies. They used to be found all over southern Australia, but now they are restricted to several small colonies usually in eucalyptus forests and grasslands. On average, numbats can reach a length of 13–18 inches long, and weigh 0.5–1.20 pounds.





Several things make the numbat an odd marsupial. Besides the obvious that it doesn’t have a pouch, numbats are not nocturnal. Numbats are active during the day so they can match when termites are active, which is the numbat’s main source of food. Marsupials are also known for having more teeth than other animals. Numbats have about 50 teeth but their jaw isn’t fully developed, and they rarely use their teeth for anything.





Numbats hunting during the day is much more impressive than simply being awake earlier. In places that are abundant in termites, predators usually have big claws to dig the termites out. However, numbats don’t have such equipment and instead use the time of year and their mouths to catch termites. Numbats have a long, sticky tongue that sucks the termites up, and the ridges on the top of the mouth scrape the bugs off to be swallowed. Numbats can consume around 20,000 termites a day!





Numbats usually will use their sense of smell to find termite mounds, however, its sight also plays a role. In fact, the numbat has the highest visual perception of any other marsupial! Once the termite mound is found, a numbat’s claws are not strong enough to penetrate the concrete-like structure. Instead, they wait until the termites are active and going between the mound and feeding sites, to suck them up with their tongue.





Numbats usually will have only one litter a year. Instead of a pouch, this marsupial’s babies visibly hang from the mother’s stomach covered by a patch of golden hair. They will hang from the mother, drinking her milk, for about 6-7 months, which is when it becomes too difficult for the mother to carry them around. Once they start venturing out and eating termites, the babies’ snouts become long and pointy like the adult numbats.