The numbat is a small, colourful creature between 35-45 cms (14-18ins) long, including the tail, with a finely pointed muzzle and a prominent, bushy tail about the same length as its body. Colour varies considerably from soft grey to reddish-brown, often with an area of brick red on the upper back, and always with a conspicuous black stripe running from the tip of the muzzle through the eyes to the bases of the small, round-tipped ears. Between four and eleven white strips cross the animal's hindquarters, which gradually become fainter towards the midback. The underside is cream or light grey, while the tail is covered with long, grey hair flecked with white. Weight varies between 280 700 gms
(9.9-25ozs.) With their unique look they are a very popular creature.
A numbat among a field of cape weed (we call these dandelions in Western Australia)
Although the numbat finds termite mounds primarily using scent, it has the highest visual acuity of any marsupial, and, unusually for marsupials, has a high proportion of cone cells in the retina. These are both likely adaptations for its diurnal habits, and vision does appear to be the primary sense used to detect potential predators. Numbats regularly enter a state of torpor, which may last up to fifteen hours a day during the winter months.
Numbats are insectivores and eat an exclusive diet of termites. An adult numbat requires up to 20,000 termites each day. The only marsupial fully active by day, the numbat spends most of its time searching for termites. It digs them up from loose earth with its front claws and captures them with its long, sticky tongue. Despite its banded anteater name, it does not intentionally eat ants; although the remains of ants have occasionally been found in numbat dung, these belong to species that themselves prey on termites, so were presumably eaten accidentally, along with the main food. Known predators of numbars include carpet pythons, introduced red foxes and various falcons, hawks and eagles.
Adult numbats are solitary and territorial; an individual male or female establishes a territory of up to 1.5 square kilometres (370 acres) early in life and defends it from others of the same sex. It generally remains within that territory from then on; male and female territories overlap, and in the breeding season, males will venture outside their normal home ranges to find mates. At night the numbat retreats to a nest, which can be in a hollow log or tree, or in a burrow. The numbat is able to block the opening of its nest, with the thick hide of its rump, to prevent a predator being able to access the burrow. Numbats make few sounds but have been reported to hiss, growl, or make a repetitive 'tut' sound when disturbed.
Numbats breed in February and March, normally producing one litter a year, although they can produce a second litter if the first is lost. Gestation lasts 15 days and results in the birth of four young. The young are 2cm (0.79in) long at birth and crawl to the teats (the numbat has no pouch) which are protected by a patch of crimped, golden hair and the swelling of the surrounding abdomen of the mother during lactation. They remain attached to the teats until late July or early August, by which time they have grown to 7.5cm (3 ins). They first develop fur at ccm (1.2in) and the adult coat pattern begins to apepar once they reach 5.5 cms (3.3in). After weaning the young are initially left in a nest, or carried about on the mother's back, and they are fully independent by November. Females are sexually mature by the following summer, but males do not reach maturity for another year.
When I worked at the Forests Department many years ago a booklet was published for children featuring the numbat and in that book he was given the name 'Nifty Numbat'. I still have a copy of it.