The Numbat, Myrmecobius fasciatus (photo by Morland Smith)

The numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus) is a small marsupial termite eater with lovely banded fur and an incredibly long sticky tongue.   These animals are also known as walpurtis. Although the creature’s claws are not strong enough to break into termite mounds, the numbat digs where termites are traveling between their mounds and their feeding grounds.  It then rapidly gathers them up with its amazing tongue.  Numbats are at most 45 centimeters long (about 18 inches) half of which is bushy tail.  Large individuals only weigh half a kilogram (a bit more than a pound).  They were discovered to Europeans in 1831 by an English naturalist who was delighted by their delicate appearance.

Goodness!

Numbats are not closely related to other marsupials and it is speculated that their nearest relative might be the thylacine, a marsupial predator extinct since 1936.  Although once widespread, numbats had a near brush with extinction themselves: their population dipped below 1,000 during the late seventies.  Foxes (which were introduced to provide sport to landowners before becoming deadly invaders) and other introduced predators were to blame for the near obliteration of the species.  Even though they are now protected, numbats remain extremely endangered. Today they can only be found in miniscule protected habitats and in zoos.  Speaking of zoos, the zooborns website features this ridiculously endearing clip of Australian zookeepers hand-rearing baby numbats.

A Baby Numbat