Myrmecobius fasciatus 

Scope: Global

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Dasyuromorphia Myrmecobiidae

Scientific Name: Myrmecobius fasciatus
Species Authority: Waterhouse, 1836
Common Name(s):
English Numbat, Banded Anteater
French Fourmilier Marsupial Rayé
Spanish Hormiguero Marsupial
Taxonomic Notes:

No Subspecies are recognised. The Numbat is the sole member of the Family Myrmecobiidae. Two subspecies have been described: Myrmecobius f. fasciatus from south-western Australia M. f. rufus from central Australia, the latter, if valid, being extinct. As the former distribution was more or less continuous the subspecies are unlikely to be valid and  M. f. rufus was not evaluated  in the 2012 Action Plan for Australian mammals.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered C2a(i) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2015-06-15
Assessor(s): Woinarski, J. & Burbidge, A.A.
Reviewer(s): Johnson, C.N. & Hawkins, C.
Contributor(s): Friend, T.

The Numbat is evaluated as Endangered because it has an estimated <1,000 mature individuals and there is an ongoing decline, despite translocations. It also qualifies as Vulnerable under category B, because it has a highly restricted and fragmented Area of Occupancy where there are known threats.

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

The Numbat once occurred over much of southern semi-arid and arid Australia from the west coast of south-western Australia eastwards though the western deserts (Calaby 1960, Finlayson 1961, Burbidge and Fuller 1978, Friend et al. 1982, Burbidge et al. 1988, Peacock 2006) into southern Northern Territory (Woinarski et al. 2007), much of South Australia, western New South Wales and north-western Victoria (Friend 2008). It was apparently absent from the Karri Eucalyptus diversicolor forest of south-western Australia and from the Nullarbor Plain, although there is a late Pleistocene fossil record from Madura Cave (Lundelius and Turnbull 1978, cited in Friend 1989). Burbidge et al. (2009), using modern, historical and subfossil data, found that Numbats occurred in 11 of Australia’s 85 bioregions and that they became extinct in all but one.

By the 1970s, Numbats had disappeared from most of their range, surviving only in small areas of south-western Australia (in the northern jarrah forest, Swan coastal plain, Dryandra near Narrogin, Boyagin near Brookton, Tutanning near Pingelly, bushland south of Hyden, and Perup, east of Manjimup). By the 1980s, many subpopulations were lost (Friend 2010), leaving only the Dryandra and Perup subpopulations. In the mid-1980s, experimental fox control at Dryandra demonstrated that the near removal of foxes resulted in a rapid increase in Numbat numbers (Friend 1990). At that time, some Numbats were taken into captivity at the Department of Environment and Conservation’s Western Australian Wildlife Research Centre where they bred successfully (Friend and Whitford 1986, 1993). Some of these animals were transferred to Perth Zoo, which has maintained a captive colony since, and supplied many Numbats for reintroductions (Power et al. 2009).

Numbats have since been reintroduced to several sites in south-western Australia. They survive at Boyagin Nature Reserve (reintroduced 1985) and Batalling State Forest (1992). Initially successful reintroductions to Tutanning Nature Reserve (1989), Dragon Rocks Nature Reserve (1995), and Stirling Range National Park (1998) are currently under assessment since serious declines have been recorded. The most recent new translocation has been to Cocanarup Timber Reserve (near Ravensthorpe) commencing in 2006. Translocations to Karroun Hill Nature Reserve (1986), Dale Conservation Park (1996) and a fenced area, Karakamia Sanctuary (1994), were unsuccessful (Friend and Thomas 1994, 2003). Numbats have been translocated to two fenced mainland islands in eastern Australia from which Red Foxes and Cats have been removed: Yookamurra Sanctuary (South Australia, 1994) and Scotia Sanctuary (New South Wales, 1999, Viera et al. 2007).

During a trial translocation of five Numbats to the ‘Arid Recovery’ mainland island (Roxby Downs, South Australia) in 2005, three were taken by raptors, with two surviving 18 months after release (Bester and Rusten 2009). A further translocation is proposed (Friend 2010).
Countries occurrence:
Australia (New South Wales - Reintroduced, South Australia - Reintroduced, Western Australia)
Additional data:
Estimated area of occupancy (AOO) - km2:1200
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):No
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):YesExtreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO):No
Number of Locations:6
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations:No
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]


Numbats occur at low density and numbers fluctuate. Numbats were fairly common in the south-west of Western Australia in the 1950s (Calaby 1960) but numbers were very low by the late 1970s, probably only c. 300 individuals in total (Friend 2010). Numbers increased in Dryandra after foxes were controlled, to an estimated 600 in 1992, but again declined to c. 50 in 2007 (Friend and Burbidge 2008). Research carried out in 2011-12 showed that feral cats are now the main predator of Numbats in Dryandra (J. Friend pers. comm.). At Perup, Numbats also declined in the 1970s (Christensen et al. 1984, Friend 1990) but the population recovered under fox control and the distribution expanded, with a current local area of occupancy of >1,000 km2 (J. Friend pers. comm.). Translocations have met varying success, with some failing (e.g. Karroun Hill Nature Reserve, Dale Conservation Park, Karakamia Sanctuary) and others resulting in self-sustaining populations (Boyagin, Batalling, Yookamurra, Scotia). Friend (2010) estimated that there are <1,000 mature Numbats in the wild and <250 mature individuals in the largest subpopulation.

Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:800Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Extreme fluctuations:NoPopulation severely fragmented:No
No. of subpopulations:6
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:NoAll individuals in one subpopulation:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

The Numbat’s original habitat was variable ranging from Mulga (Acacia aneura) woodland and sand plain and sand dune areas dominated by spinifex Triodia spp. hummock grassland in the arid zone (Friend et al. 1982, Burbidge et al. 1988) to eucalypt woodlands and forests in south-west Western Australia (Friend 1989). Unusually for an Australian marsupial, it is diurnal and this exposes it to predation by raptors such as Wedge-tailed Eagles Aquila audax, Brown Falcons Falco berigora, Little Eagles Hieraaetus morphnoides and Brown Goshawks Accipiter fasciatus, as well as reptiles such as the monitor Varanus gouldii and the Carpet Python Morelia spilota (Calaby 1960, Friend 1986). Introduced predators, Red Fox Vulpes vulpes and feral cat Felis catus, coupled with widespread land clearing in southern parts of its range, are the major causes of its decline.

The Numbat’s diet is primarily termites, with some ants, apparently ingested accidentally (Friend 1989). Subsurface termite galleries are located by smell and dug out with both front feet. The long tongue is then flicked in and out gathering the exposed termites (Calaby 1960). Observations on a captive specimen by Fleay (1942) indicate that 15 000 to 20 000 termites are required by an adult animal each day.

Numbats seek overnight refuge in hollow logs, tree hollows and burrows, which provide protection from predators. Cooper and Withers (2005) found that occupied night refuges were on average 5°C warmer than ambient temperature, which would result in considerable energy savings, and that burrows had higher insulation than logs or tree hollows, and had more constant night temperatures and higher minimum temperatures.
Generation Length (years):2
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The introduction of the predatory Red Fox and feral cats has had a profound impact and continues to be a major threat today (Friend 2008). Changed fire regimes, especially in arid grasslands and habitat destruction in some areas is a concern (Maxwell et al. 1996). Raptors (native species whose numbers are often elevated in fragmented woodlands) are a known threat. Frequent fires can be a threat due to the reduction in the number of logs, which the species uses as shelter.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The Numbat is listed as a threatened species under Australian law. Areas where the species occurs naturally as well as the reintroduction sites are protected areas. A recovery plan was prepared and is being implemented (Friend 1994).

Numbat conservation is guided by the Numbat Recovery Team. A revised recovery plan is currently being drafted. Most of the actions in the previous recovery plan (Friend 1994) have been substantially completed. 

·         Management of existing populations and habitat.

·         Genetic survey of existing populations.

·         Translocations to establish at least six further self-sustaining populations

·         Disease survey and health monitoring of all populations. Several research projects have examined aspects of numbat health but no all-encompassing disease survey has yet been carried out.

·         Captive breeding to provide animals for display and to supplement the translocation program if necessary.

·         Establishment and support of public awareness and sponsorship programs.

Fox control (or exclusion of Red Foxes and cats by fencing) is in place at all known Numbat sites. Fire management to minimise widespread wildfire is also carried out, and silviculture guidelines for Numbat habitat are under development. Genetic variability within and between the Dryandra and Perup populations was studied by Fumagalli et al. (1994). Tissue samples are collected from all Numbats handled for comparison of subpopulations. Since the 1994 plan was written, translocations have been carried out or continued to Karroun Hill, Tutanning, Batalling, Yookamurra, Karakamia, Dragon Rocks, Dale Conservation Park, Stirling Range National Park, Scotia and Cocanarup, as well as a trial translocation to the Arid Recovery mainland island at Roxby Downs, South Australia. At least four of these translocations have resulted in self-sustaining populations, with three more yet to be thoroughly assessed. A captive colony was established at Perth Zoo in 1986 and reliable output of young commenced in 1993 (Power et al. 2009). Until then all translocations had sourced animals from Dryandra but in that year the subpopulation there crashed due to resource limitation, disease and possibly Cat predation. Subsequent translocations have relied significantly on captive-bred stock, with supplementation from wild populations (Boyagin, Yookamurra and Scotia). A raptor awareness program has been instituted at Perth Zoo to prepare captive-bred young for release. A community action group, Project Numbat, has been established in Perth and works with the recovery team to increase awareness of the Numbat and its plight, as well as raising significant funding to support Numbat recovery.

The Numbat is Western Australia’s mammal emblem and has been the subject of intensive research and management since c. 1980. The Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW) and its predecessors have conducted research into Numbat ecology and the effect of introduced predators, managed sites where Numbats occur and conducted several translocations. Most areas in which Numbats occur in Western Australia are conservation estate managed by DPaW, which conducts regular fox control by aerial and ground baiting on >3,000,000 ha of land it manages in the south west. The Australian Wildlife Conservancy manages Yookamurra and Scotia Sanctuaries and has continued translocations into Scotia.

Citation: Woinarski, J. & Burbidge, A.A. 2016. Myrmecobius fasciatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T14222A21949380. . Downloaded on 28 October 2016.
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