Myrmecobius fasciatus rufus Jones, 1923
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
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.
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 and Western Australia, Australia
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).
Original scientific description:
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