Once widely distributed and common throughout Australia, numbats are currently classified as endangered, occurring in small and scattered populations. This unusual marsupial lacks a pouch. Numbat is a diurnal animal, which plays an important role in the ecosystem of its habitat. In addition, this magnificent and charming animal serves as the emblem of Western Australia.
By the time of European settlement, this species was widely distributed throughout Australia, occurring in southern semi-arid and arid Australia as well as most of the southern half of Western Australia. Currently, numbats are represented by 2 survived populations in the south-western Australia, namely, at Perup and Dryandra. In addition, there are 6 self-sustaining re-introduced populations of this species, 4 of which are found in Western Australia, one in South Australia, and another one in New South Wales. Preferred habitat of numbats is eucalyptus forest and woodland with an abundance of wandoo or jarrah trees. Presence of hollow wandoo logs on the ground is an important life condition for these animals, since these logs provide them with reliable shelter and constant source of food (they eat termites, found on wandoo trees).
Numbats are generally solitary animals, socializing only when raising their offspring and during the mating seaosn, when a breeding pair lives in a nest. The main source of their food - termites - are active during the daytime hours. For this reason, numbats are also diurnal in order to be able to feed upon termites in the shallow galleries. They typically spend mid-morning and late afternoon feeding and wandering. Meanwhile, in summer and spring, numbats are known to be active for longer periods of time during the day, taking only a short rest during mid-day in their shelters. During autumn and winter, their routine moves slightly: in this period, they are usually active later in the morning, returning to their shelters earlier in the afternoon and then remaining active during mid-day. This flexibility of their habits suggests that numbats try to minimize thermoregulatory costs and derive maximum benefit from the daylight, consuming as many termites as possible.
Numbats have a polygynous mating system, where one male mates with multiple females. They breed in December - January. Gestation period lasts for 14 days, yielding 4 babies, which live attached to their mother's body for the first 6 months of their lives. And when young are so heavy and large, that the female cannot walk with them on her body, she removes the babies, after which they start living in a in a log or burrow, where the mother regularly visits them, continuing to protect and suckle her offspring, until they are 8 - 9 months old. They spend the following 2 months exploring the environment, coming out of their nest to eat termites and experiencing their first encounters with predators. Finally, at 10 - 11 months old, young numbats are weaned from maternal milk. They leave their mother at 1 year old in order to find territories of their own, forage and breed. Sexual maturity is reached at 1 year old in females and at 2 years old - in males.
One of the biggest threats to the population of these endangered animals is increased predation by cats, foxes and other feral predators. Numbats are also exposed to changes in fire regimes. On the other hand, they are threatened from habitat destruction, leading to reduction in numbers of logs: these logs are key livelihood for numbats, providing them with shelters, where they can rest and hide from predators, as well as a constant source of food, since numbats mainly feed upon termites, which are abundant in these logs.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of Numbats is probably under 1,000 individuals. The population at Dryandra is 50 individuals. In addition, there are 500-600 reintroduced individuals within the reserves. Overall, Numbats’ numbers are decreasing today, and the species is currently classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List.
One numbat eats as many as 15,000 - 20,000 termites a day, thus controlling termite populations of the area and thus benefiting the local ecosystem.