The numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus) is a diurnal and exclusively termitivorous marsupial. This study examines interrelationships between diet, metabolic rate and water turnover for wild, free-living numbats. The numbats (488+/-20.8 g) remained in mass balance during the study. Their basal metabolic rate (BMR) was 3.6 l CO(2) day(-1), while their field metabolic rate (FMR) was 10.8+/-1.22 l CO(2) day(-1) (269+/-30.5 kJ day(-1)). The ratio FMR/BMR was 3+/-0.3 for numbats. We suggest that the most accurate way to predict the FMR of marsupials is from the regression log FMR=0.852 log BMR+0.767; ( r(2)=0.97). The FMR of the numbat was lower than, but not significantly different from, that of a generalised marsupial, both before (76%) and after (62-69%) correction for the significant effect of phylogeny on FMR. However the numbat's FMR is more comparable with that of other arid-habitat Australia marsupials (98-135%), for which the regression relating mass and FMR is significantly lower than for nonarid-habitat marsupials, independent of phylogeny. The field water turnover rate (FWTR) of free-living numbats (84.1 ml H(2)O day(-1)) was highly correlated with FMR, and was typical (89-98%) of that for an arid-habitat marsupial after phylogenetic correction. The higher than expected water economy index for the numbat (FWTR/FMR=0.3+/-0.03) suggests that either the numbats were drinking during the study, the water content of their diet was high, or the digestibility of their termite diet was low. Habitat and phylogenetic influences on BMR and FMR appear to have pre-adapted the numbat to a low-energy termitivorous niche.