Numbat babies: Cute and endangered Australian marsupials

The numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus) – also known as the banded anteater, although it actually eats termites – is an endangered Australian marsupial (a pouched mammal). Numbats once lived over a large part of Australia but now are confined to a tiny corner in the western part. The main reasons for the numbat population drop are habitat loss and being eaten by foxes that Europeans introduced in the 1800s. Because of the endangered status, specialists at the Perth Zoo have taken great care in hand-rearing four numbat babies as part of Australia’s Native Species Breeding Program. At the time the caretakers started feeding the babies, the tiny numbats weighed in at only 15 grams, or 0.03 lbs.

According to the video, rearing the baby numbats gave the animal specialists new information about how they develop. Marsupials usually develop in a pouch, and seeing what’s going on in there isn’t easy. With these little guys literally in-hand, the keepers learned that the babies open their eyes far earlier than assumed. At full growth, a numbat is about the size of your average squirrel. As adults, these tiny Australian marsupial babies will switch from their special numbat baby formula to the 20,000 termites a single numbat eat each day, captured on its sticky numbat tongue.

Unlike squirrels, numbat adults move slowly and make easy targets for house cats, another factor in their endangered status. According to “Vicki,” one of the numbat caretakers at the Perth Zoo, these gentle marsupials are “on the verge of being wiped out” of Western Australia, even as she and her partners work so hard to keep Myrmecobius fasciatus alive and to someday move the numbat off the endangered species list.

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Emily Willingham

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