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The numbat, Myrmecobius fasciatus is an Australian marsupial. Though originally called the banded anteater, the term has fallen into disuse as it is somewhat inaccurate. Numbats are listed as vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), mostly due to habitat loss and an abundance of predators.
Full grown numbats are quite small, only 7.8 to 11.8 inches (20 to 30 cm) long. They weigh very little, usually between 1 and 2 pounds (450 to 900 grams). They vary in color from gray to reddish-brown, and are identifiable by a zebra-like horizontal stripe pattern across their backs.
Numbats have a breeding season between December and January each year. Gestation lasts only 14 days, and most numbats give birth to between four and six young. The mother carries the babies with her for about six months, leaving them in concealed burrows around July and occasionally returning to nurse them. After reaching maturity, the numbat is a solitary creature, joining others of its species only for mating purposes.
Despite their initial classification as anteaters, the numbat prefers a diet almost exclusively consisting of termites. Numbats are diurnal, remaining awake during the day when termites are active. Despite powerful claws for its size, the numbat is not strong enough to break the walls of termite mounds, and so must wait until the termites emerge. As hours of termite activity changes throughout the season, the numbat will change his hours to match. An adult numbat can consume 20,000 termites per day.
Numbats build small burrows, frequently in hollow logs or trees. They line their homes with soft plant material, mainly grass and flowers. These burrows are generally 3.3 to 6.6 ft. (1 to 2 m), and contain a chamber for sleeping. These burrows are safe retreats for numbats at night, and also can be used as shelter from predators.
Numbats are listed as a vulnerable species for several distinct reasons. The habitat of the spices extends throughout south-western Australia. They once occupied a considerably larger home range, but the spread of human agriculture destroyed much of their northern habitats. Wildfires are common throughout the habitat, unfortunately causing damage to this and many other species.
The greatest danger to numbats is the proliferation of non-native hunting species, such as house cats and foxes. Before European settlers arrived on the continent, Australia had few creatures that survived by hunting small rodent and marsupial animals. The importation of foxes for hunting and cats for pets has done tremendous and possibly irreversible damage to many native species, including the numbat.
Today, numbats exist in the wild only in a small area of Australia. Because of the increasing rarity of the animals, the Perth Zoo and Australian Department of Environment and Conservation have established a breeding program to repopulate the species. The Perth Zoo operates an adopt-a-numbat program that uses proceeds to fund the breeding program and habitat restoration for the animals.