We trace the story of the Australian mammals in the Natural World galleries at the National Museum of Scotland and meet the rare numbat.

Numbat fact file

Specimen name

Myrmecobius fasciatus (Numbat)

Dimensions

Length 35-45 cm

Lifestyle

Numbats are diurnal, which means they sleep at night and forage during the day.

Diet

Numbats live on a diet of termites, which they gather up with their long, sticky tongues. They can eat around 20,000 a day.

Acquired

Acquired from Perth Zoo, Western Australia.

Museum reference

Z.DT.430

On display

Animal World, Level 1, National Museum of Scotland

Did you know?

The numbat is an emblem of Western Australia.

Lots of taxidermy

If you’re a fan of taxidermy, you’ll love the Natural World galleries at National Museum of Scotland. Animal World, Animal Senses and Survival galleries feature a stunning array of taxidermy and casts: from echidnas to elephants, voles to vampire bats, foxes to flying hippos, all the wonders of the Animal Kingdom are waiting to amaze you.

But have you ever wondered where these birds and animals come from? Here we follow some of our rarest new specimens, the Australian mammals, on their journey to the Museum.

Going down under

Over 80 per cent of the mammals found in Australia are unique to that continent. So, while many animal specimens can be sourced from natural deaths within a vast network of zoos, wildlife parks and aquaria across Europe, the best way to acquire Australian specimens is to take a trip down under.

Therefore, as part of the preparations for the new galleries, Dr Andrew Kitchener, Principal Curator of Vertebrates, and taxidermists Phil Howard and Jack Fishwick jetted off to gather specimens for the new galleries.

 

Numbat Side

Above: Numbat on display in Animal World, National Museum of Scotland.

A number of numbats

Dr Kitchener’s main target was a numbat, a striped marsupial anteater with a pointed snout and long bushy tail that has not been on display in the Museum for many years. Once widespread in the south of Australia, this attractive animal is now an endangered species, found in the wild only in eucalyptus woodland in Western Australia.

A rummage in the freezer at Perth Zoo unearthed two of the rare animals. Although a trip to the Dryandra Forest did not result in a sighting, Dr Kitchener was able to see the numbat’s habitat and collect some dried vegetation for the new display. He did meet one of the zoo’s resident numbats, which he photographed as a reference for the taxidermists.

Numbat Face

Above: A numbat in Perth Zoo.

He was also offered a few extras, including a mallee fowl and a blue-tongued skink. “This was fortunate,” he explains, “because I had received frantic emails from Phil and Jack about freezers breaking down and specimens being too rotten to use for taxidermy. This is a constant worry, a concern we get over by collecting several specimens and choosing the best one.”

Rare specimens

Next, Dr Kitchener flew to Adelaide with his trusty cool box, to hunt through the freezers of the South Australian Museum and Adelaide Zoo. This revealed another half dozen specimens, including a very rare bilby, or rabbit-eared bandicoot.

The trio eventually returned to Scotland with three cool boxes full of Antipodean animals, including platypuses, antechinuses (marsupial “mice”), a tawny frogmouth (an owl-like bird), frilled lizards and the first new koala to be displayed to visitors since 1871.

“I was expecting to bring back thirty or so specimens, but through the kindness of our colleagues in other museums, we managed about 130,” says Dr Kitchener.

Other Australian animals

The numbat isn't the only Australian animal in our collection. The slideshow below shows mammals and birds on display in the Natural World galleries at the National Museum of Scotland.

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