#ThreatenedSpecies of the Week: Myrmecobius fasciatus – Numbat

Photo Credit: Jessica Stingemore
Photo Credit: Jessica Stingemore

Myrmecobius fasciatus (also known as the numbat) is listed as Endangered under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and as Specially Protected Fauna under the Wildlife Conservation Act 1950.

 The main identified threats to the numbat are predation by foxes (Vulpes vulpes), predation by cats (Felis catus) and learning of bush for agriculture, especially in the wheatbelt region of southwest Western Australia.

The numbat is the only member of the family Myrmecobiidae and is a small, insectivorous marsupial with reddish-brown fur, measuring approximately 40 cm from head to tail and with an average weight of approximately 500 g. The limbs are approximately equal in length, all toes bear well-developed claws, and the tongue is slender, long, and protrusible. Other identifying features include a dark rump, with prominent white transverse bands, and a narrow, flat head with sharp snout, and dark horizontal eye-stripe.

The numbat is solitary and diurnal, and its diet consists largely of termites, which it searches for by scent and which adhere to the tongue after it is inserted into the shallow runways that radiate from the termites’ fortified nests. Daily activity is seasonal, and varies depending on termite activity. Numbats build nests in hollow logs or trees, or dig burrows comprising a narrow shaft 1-2 m deep, opening out into a chamber lined with vegetable matter such as grass, bark, leaves and flowers.

At the time of European settlement, the numbat’s distribution extended across arid and semiarid regions, from western NSW through South Australia and across much of the southern half of WA. This distribution lasted until at least the end of the 19th century; however, by 1985, only two isolated populations remained: at Dryandra and Perup in the southwest of Western Australia, approximately 160 km apart

The species’ habitat is generally dominated by eucalypts that provide hollow logs and branches for shelter and termites for food. Although its range has contracted to jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) forest and wandoo (Eucalyptus wandoo) woodland, the numbat was found in a wide range of woodland types, including York gum (Eucalyptus loxophleba) and mallee (Eucalyptus spp.) woodland in Western Australia, mulga woodland in central Australia, and mallee woodland in South Australia. At Dryandra, numbats inhabit brown mallet (Eucalyptus astringens) plantations.

Population  have been reintroduced by translocation to several localities in Western Australia: Boyagin Nature Reserve, Tutanning Nature Reserve, Karroun Hill Nature Reserve, Batalling Forest, Hills Forest, Dragon Rocks Nature Reserve, Stirling Range National Park, Cocanarup Timber Reserve, and Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary. A population has also been translocated to Yookamurra Sanctuary in South Australia, and another to Scotia Sanctuary in New South Wales.

Information Source: Government of Australia, Department of Environment and Department of Parks and Wildlife Western Australia


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