Numbat: the Marsupial who Loves Termites

By Gabriella Munoz

Whenever this marsupial sticks its tongue, all termites run.

It’s relatively easy to imagine a 24-cm, reddish-brown numbat running along eucalyptus trees, following the scent of a scrumptious termite nest. It must take the little creature a few minutes, probably less than half an hour to find its meal—and the best part is that it doesn’t have to dig a huge hole to get a taste of those sweet, sweet termites.

Once a numbat finds a termite nest, it will remove dirt to uncover the passageway and will stick its long, sticky tongue and insert it down the nest. Dozens of termites will get trapped and will be devoured in just one go. On average, researchers say, numbats, the mammal emblem of Western Australia, will eat 20,000 termites per day.

Contrary to other marsupials, such as the wombat or the Tasmanian devil, numbats are diurnal, meaning they like to strut their stuff in the mornings. Their colouration and the white stripes on their backs provide camouflage against predators, but the one thing that usually gives them away is their bushy, long tail, which can reach up to 17 cm in length.

Foxes, feral cats, land clearing and fire regimes have taken a toll on the numbat population. In the 1980s there were only 300 individuals left in the wild; today there are about 1,000 and six conservation areas as well as fenced sanctuaries have been built in Western Australian to protect them.

Did you know…
Numbats don’t drink water because they get all they need from termites.