N is for Numbat
This engaging little creature, photographed by S J Bennett, is a numbat!
Numbats are little marsupials that now only live in a few small colonies in Australia.
They are unique – one of only a few marsupials that do not have a pouch – the 4 baby numbats, when born, make their way to the teats on the mother numbat’s belly and cling on, protected by her long hair and the swelling of surrounding tissues.
They are also unique in that they have an extra tooth – the only terrestrial mammal to have one, and because they are the only diurnal (awake during the day) mammal in Australia.
They are active during the day because of their termite diet. They do not have the very strong muscles and claws of other ant and termite-eating mammals in other countries such as anteaters, so they cannot destroy termite nests in the same way. They wait until the termites are active, find them by smell, and sight (they have the best eyesight of all the marsupials!) and dig in the loose earth to lick them up with their sticky tongues.
They are very busy finding termites all day – the numbat above is able to lie down as it is in Perth zoo!
They are extremely attractive animals, and they are becoming very rare – because they are daytime creatures and cannot hide, they suffer predation by other mammals such as non-endemic cats and red foxes. They also suffer from the clearing of land for agriculture, and not allowing Aboriginal fires to regenerate the land. These fires were small and controlled and suppressed the likelihood of larger fires – which now take hold and destroy large tracts of numbat territory.
Here is a more active numbat at Perth Zoo taken by Simon Forsyth – showing its lovely, tapered form, that allows its nose to dive into narrow spaces to get at termites. It also has tough skin over its behind which it uses to block the entrance to its burrow against predators.
They are classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Here is my numbat poem, which is an acrostic.
None but the numbat’s
Up all day in woodland tracts,
Marsupial with long, thin tongue,
Burrows, digs and births four young,
A termite eating, numbers retreating
Tapered, red/white/black numbat.
© Liz Brownlee
And here is a very short clip showing a numbat’s sticky tongue in Perth Zoo!
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Prose and Poem © Liz Brownlee, all rights reserved, not to be used in any manner whatsoever without the permission of the author.