Myrmecobius fasciatus rufus (Jones, 1923:123)

Eastern (rusty) numbat, Rufous numbat (Archer, 1979:31), Southeastern numbat, Red myrmecobius (Waterhouse, 1846:149), Red shrew-mouse (Mitchell, 1838)



Taxonomy & Nomenclature

Synonym/s: Myrmecobius rufus Jones, 1923:123 (basionym)


It is distinguishable from the nominate subspecies by a much richer coat (Jones, 1923), with a number of recent authorities recognising it as a valid taxon (see Jackson & Groves, 2015:75). However, clinal variation has also been suggested to account for the coat colour (Woinarski et al. 2014:18-19), with the redness of the animals being an adaptation "which provides greater protection against avian predation where the soil is red in colour, as it is in much of central Australia" (Friend, 1989:14*). Its validity is disputed, and yet to be fully resolved (see Jackson & Groves, 2015:75).

* This quote is taken from page 14 of the chapter The actual pagination of the book is cumulative and thus will be different.


Conservation Status

Extinct or invalid (synonym).

Last record: 1950 (Calaby, 1960)


This subspecies may have been first encountered by the famous explorer Thomas Mitchell sometime during his famous 1831-36 expeditions, who christened it Myrmecobius rufus (Mitchell, 1838). However, since he did not actually describe the species the name is considered a nomen nudum under current nomenclatural rules (Jackson & Groves, 2015:75). And it was left to F. Wood Jones to formally describe the animal 85 years later (Jones, 1923:123), though some authors consider (Finlayson, 1933) to be the true author (see Jackson & Groves, 2015:75).

According to Tate (1951), Waterhouse (1846:149) was the first to propose the name rufus. However, Waterhouse clearly states that:

"Major Mitchell gives this name to an animal discovered during one of his surveying expeditions in Australia, and which was called the "Red shrewmouse" by the men composing his party. Not having taken notes, the author applies the above name to the animal with hesitation." (Waterhouse, 1846:149-150).

According to (Troughton, 1957:56) they were "fairly well known in the early days [of settlement], one was kept alive for several weeks on milk and sugar by the wife of Sir George Grey, an early Governor of South Australia." Grey's wife was named Eliza, and if these interesting events took place during his Governorship then these "several weeks" occurred sometime during the period 15 May 1841-25 October 1845.

Rediscovery and "second" extinction

This subspecies was considered to be extinct before Hedley Herbert Finlayson's specimens from South Australia's Everard Range (Finlayson, 1933). However, though the subspecies was thus rediscovered, the last known specimen of the 'eastern' race to be collected was apparently in the Warburton Ranges of Western Australia in 1950 (Endangered Species Committee, 1983:21). So it seems that this subspecies has succumbed to extinction for good, reminiscent of Caloprymnus campestris, in whose story Finlayson is also so much a part (both taxa were reportedly rediscovered by Finlayson, but are now considered extinct). The reason/s for its extinction are unknown, but predation by introduced generalist carnivores (foxes, cats and feral dogs (possibly including dingoes)) was probably a factor, as well as habitat modification by both the early settlers and introduced species. Predation on the living subspecies of numbat by foxes has been implied (Dickman, 1996), and is therefore likely to have been a factor in the decline of M. f. rufus as well.



South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria & Western Australia, Australia

Type locality: "S.A." (Mahoney & Ride, 1988:34)


Troughton (1957:55) gives the former distribution of M. f. rufus as:

"South Australia eastward of the Nullabor Plain and on Eyre Peninsula, and across to western New South Wales...around the junction of the Murray and Darling rivers. Occurring near Adelaide...[and] the Everard Range in the north-west of South Australia"

If the 1950 record from W.A.'s Warburton Range is correct, then eastern Western Australia must also be added to the list of former habitats which this curious and enigmatic numbat inhabited.

According to (Archer, 1979:31) the last records of this species in South Australia and New South Wales were 1924 and 1857 respectively.


Biology & Ecology

Numbats are myrmecophagous (i.e. consume ants).




BMNH 49.170 (male; skin) (Mahoney & Ride, 1988:34)

RCSE OM A367.2 (male; skull, probably that belonging to BMNH 49.170) (Mahoney & Ride, 1988:34)

RCSE OM A367.1 (skull) (Mahoney & Ride, 1988:34)

[possibly SAMA M3762 (female)] (Mahoney & Ride, 1988:34)


Other specimens:

SAMA M3061 (female; skin & skull) (syntype of junior homonym M. f. rufus Finlayson, 1933:203) (Mahoney & Ride, 1988:34)

SAMA M3759 (female; in spirits) (syntype of junior homonym M. f. rufus Finlayson, 1933:203) (Mahoney & Ride, 1988:34)






Original scientific description:

Wood Jones, Frederic. (1923). The Mammals of South Australia. Part I. The Monotremes and the Carnivorous Marsupials (The Ornithodelphia and didactylous Didelphia). Adelaide: Government Printer. 1: 1-131 [123-127]. [5 April 1923]


Other references:

Aitken, P. F. (1976). Vertebrate type-specimens in the South Australian Museum. V. Mammals. Records of the South Australian Museum 17: 169-219.

Anonymous. (1964). A preliminary list of rare mammals including those believed to be rare but concerning which detailed information is still lacking. IUCN Bulletin 11(Special Supplement): 4 pp.

Anonymous. (1973). Additional protection for rare fauna. S.W.A.N.S. 4(2): 31-33.

Archer, Michael. (1979). The status of Australian dasyurids, thylacinids and myrmecobiids, pp. 29-43. In: Tyler, Michael J. (ed.). The Status of Endangered Australasian Wildlife. Adelaide: Royal Zoological Society of South Australia.

Brandison, R. (1990). The 1851 Botanical Excursion of Ferdinand Mueller to the Flinders Ranges, South Australia. In: Short, P. S. (ed.). History of Systematic Botany in Australasia. Melbourne: Australasian Systematic Botany Society Incorporated.

Burbidge, A. A. and Fuller, P. J. (1979). Mammals of the Warburton Region, Western Australia. Records of the Western Australian Museum 8(1): 57-73.

Andrew A. Burbidge; Ken A. Johnson; Phillip J. Fuller, and R. I. Southgate. (1988). Aboriginal Knowledge of the Mammals of the Central Deserts of Australia. Aust. Wildl. Res.15: 9-39.

Calaby, J. H. (1960). Observation on the Banded Ant-eater Myrmecobius f. fasciatus Waterhouse (Marsupialia), with particular reference to its food habits. Proc. Zool. Soc. Lond. 135(2): 183-207.

Cooper, Christine Elizabeth. (2011). Myrmecobius fasciatus (Dasyuromorphia: Myrmecobiidae). Mammalian Species 43(1): 129-140.

Dickman, Chris R. (1996). Impact of exotic generalist predators on the native fauna of Australia. Wildlife Biology 2: 185-195.

Ellis, Murray and Henle, Klaus. (1988). The mammals of Kinchega National Park western New South Wales. Australian Zoologist 25(1): 1-5.

Endangered Species Committee of the Total Environment Centre. (1983). Our Wildlife in Peril. Frenchs Forest, NSW: A H & A W Reed.

Finlayson, Hedley Herbert. (1933). On the eremian representative of Myrmecobius fasciatus (Waterhouse). Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 57: 203-205.

Flannery, Timothy. (1990). Australia's Vanishing Mammals: Endangered and Extinct Native Species. Sydney: RD Press. 192 pp.

Friend, J. A. (1989). Myrmecobiidae (chapter 22), [pagination?]. In: Walton, D. W. and Richardson, B. J. (eds.). Fauna of Australia, Volume 1B. Canberra: Australia Government Publishing Service.

Friend, J. A. (2023). Numbat, Myrmecobius fasciatus, pp. 154-156. In: Baker, Andrew M. and Gynther, Ian C. (eds.). Strahan’s Mammals of Australia (4th ed.). Wahroonga, NSW: Reed New Holland Publishers. 848 pp.

Friend, J. A., Fuller, P. J. and Davis, J. A. (1982). The Numbat in central Australia. S.W.A.N.S. 12(3): 21-26.

Friend, J. A. and Kinnear, J. E. (1983). Numbat Myrmecobius fasciatus, p. 85. In: Strahan, R. (ed.) The Australian Museum Complete Book of Australian Mammals. The National Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife. Sydney: Angus & Robertson.

Frith, H. J. (1979). Wildlife Conservation, revised edition. Angus & Robertson. xiv + 416 pp. [p. 108, p. 341]

Groves, Colin P. (2005). Order Dasyuromorphia, pp. 23-37. In: Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference (D. E. Wilson and D. M. Reeder, eds.), 3rd ed. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.

Iredale, Tom and Troughton, Ellis Le Geyt. (1934). A check-list of the mammals recorded from Australia. Mem. Aust. Mus. 6: i-xii, 1-122.

Jackson, Stephen and Groves, Colin. (2015). Taxonomy of Australian Mammals. Clayton South, Melbourne: CSIRO Publishing. 529 pp. [p. 75]

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Joslin, Paul and Maryanka, Daphne. (1968). Endangered Mammals of the World: Report on Status and Action Treatment. IUCN Publications, New Series, Supplementary Paper No. 13: 34 pp.

Krefft, Gerard. (1866). On the vertebrated animals of the lower Murray and Darling, their habits, economy, and geographical distribution. Transactions of the Philosophical Society of New South Wales 1862-1865: 1-33.

Lundelius, Ernest L. Jr. and Turnbull, W. D. (1978). The mammalian fauna of Madura Cave, Western Australia. Part III. Fieldiana Geology 38: 1-99, 29 tbls.

Mahoney, J. A. and Ride, W. D. L. (1988). Myrmecobiidae, pp. 34-35. In: Walton, D. W. (ed.). Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Volume 5. Mammalia. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service. x + 273 pp.

Marlow, B. J. (1958). A survey of the marsupials of New South Wales. CSIRO Wildlife Research 3: 71-114.

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Mitchell, T. L. (1838). Three Expeditions into the Interior of Eastern Australia, with descriptions of the recently explored region of Australia Felix, and of the present colony of New South Wales. Vol. 1. London: T. & W. Boone, 343 pp.

Mitchell, Thomas Livingstone. (1839). Three expeditions into the interior of eastern Australia, with descriptions of the recently explored region of Australia Felix, and of the present colony of New South Wales (2nd ed., carefully revised). London, T. and W. Boone. Vol. 1. xxi, 355 pp., 21 pIs. Vol. 2. ix, 415 pp., 30 pIs.

Mueller, Ferdinand. (1869). In: McCoy, Frederick. (1856-1900). Inward correspondence 1856-1900, Box M, National Museum of Victoria, Melbourne.

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Philpott, C. M. and Smyth, D. R. (1967). A contribution to our knowledge of some rare mammals from inland Australia. Transactions of The Royal Society of South Australia 91: 115-134. [failed to find this species during 24 weeks of field work in "northern South Australia and adjoining areas"]

Scott, Peter (ed.). (1965). Section XIII. Preliminary List of Rare Mammals and Birds, pp. 155-237. In: The Launching of a New Ark. First Report of the President and Trustees of the World Wildlife Fund. An International Foundation for saving the world's wildlife and wild places 1961-1964. London: Collins.

Stanbury, P. J. (1969). Type specimens in the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney. IV. Mammals. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 93(3): 462-463.

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Troughton, Ellis Le Geyt. (1967). Furred mammals of Australia. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.

Tunbridge, Dorothy. (1991). The Story of the Flinders Ranges Mammals. Kenthurst: Kangaroo Press. 96 pp. [p. 49 (species account)]

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Wakefield, Norman A. (1966b). Mammals recorded for the mallee, Victoria. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria 79(2): 627-636.

Waterhouse, George Robert. (1841). Marsupialia, or Pouched Animals (Mammalia, vol. XI). In: Jardine, William (ser. ed.). The Naturalist's Library (vol. XXIV). Edinburgh: W.H. Lizars / London: Henry G. Bohn. xvi + 324 pp.

Waterhouse, George Robert. (1846). A Natural History of the Mammalia. Volume 1, containing the Order Marsupiata or pouched animals. London: Hippolyte Baillière. 553 pp + 20 pls.

Woinarski, John, Burbidge, Andrew and Harrison, Peter. (2014). The Action Plan for Australian Mammals 2012. Collingwood: CSIRO Publishing. 1056 pp.


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