National Geographic : 1963 Sep
to study this splendid creature's life history. To one concerned with keeping, breeding, and studying unusual animals in captivity, any day may bring a delightful surprise. There was, for example, the time some years ago at the Sir Colin Mackenzie Sanctuary near Healesville, Victoria, when a young female marsupial was sent to me by air from across the continent. Christened "numbat" by the aborigines, this dainty, gloriously colored creature is also known as the banded anteater (Myrmecobius fasciatus). Nowadays it occurs only in the southwestern corner of Western Australia. Roughly the size of a wharf rat, the furry, rust-red numbat is Australia's greatest con noisseur of termites. For a whole day our rare new arrival wor ried us by refusing food: termites, ants and their eggs, mealworms, beetles, grubs, earth worms, raw eggs, bread, milk, even honey and jam. But when finally she did eat, it was a true spectacle. Her pink, sticky tongue-it was a good four inches long-flickered into every hole of termite-riddled wood, its tip appearing out of the other side at all angles. The smaller termites were gathered in and swallowed whole, but the larger insects were rapidly and audibly chewed. (Though the numbat's teeth are classed as degenerate, she possesses 52 of them-20 more than her human observers.) We estimated with some astonishment that our little anteater con sumed ten to twenty thousand termites daily! Perhaps the strangest thing about Miss Numbat was her mealtime. In direct con trast to the nocturnal habits of practically all other marsupials, she frisked about and fed by day, sleeping soundly all night long. Spider Ends Numbat's Termite Feast As would happen in the wild among the white gums and acacias of her habitat, she chose a hollow log in which to build her nest of dead leaves and dry grass. She was a girl of few words; only an occasional series of soft staccato "tut-tut-tuts" punctuated her incessant search for termites. Her stomach packed to the limit, she was in the habit of resting spread-eagled in the sun atop a broad log, with tail extended, jaws open in a set yawn, and tongue fully extended in a graceful, ribbony arc. At such times I marveled, too, at the effective camouflage of the white bands across her back. Inescapably, one grows attached to such fascinating creatures. The untimely death of this gentle numbat some months after arrival 395 Last Tasmanian wolf in captivity yawned when its picture was taken at Hobart Zoo logical Park in 1933. A few of the species, Thylacinus cynocephalus, may survive in the wild; the author almost captured one in 1946. Ferocious if cornered, this predatory but dull-witted marsupial has been described as a "kangaroo masquerading as a wolf."