When we hear the word ‘marsupials’, the first thing which comes to mind is kangaroos or koalas. But a lesser-known example is the furry and almost comical-looking wombats.
Wombats may appear stocky, but they can run at speeds up to 40km/hr. That is only a little under Usain Bolt’s fastest recorded speed! The name “wombat” comes from the almost extinct Darug language. The spelling has evolved over the years, which include ‘wambat’, ‘whombat’, etc.
Wombats’ closest relatives are the koalas- easily noticeable if you observe their noses. Not only that, but they are also bio-fluorescent under ultraviolet light!
What Does a Wombat Look like?
Wombats are short-legged and muscular quadrupedal. They have brown, tan, or grey fur. They look like a bear, a pig, and a gopher were thrown in for a mix.
They measure around 1.3 meters in length and weigh 36 kilograms. They have short legs and short feet, with compact heads. They have strong claws. All these features make it seem like they were built for digging.
Where do Wombats live?
Wombats are very adaptable animals. They are tolerant of any habitat in general. They usually live in burrows and prefer well-drained soils that are easy to dig in. The burrows are often built on the sides of gullies. They can be up to 30 meters long and several meters deep.
These animals inhabit wet, forested areas with slopes. They are usually found in the southeastern coastal regions of Australia. Other areas include New South Wales, southern Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania.
What do Wombats eat?
Wombats are pure herbivores. They spend 3 to 8 hours each night grazing on the native grass. Their favorites are the tussocky snow grass, wallaby grass, and kangaroo grass. Other meals include sedges and the roots of shrubs and trees. The food they eat provides them with water so they can live without water for many years. Wow!
Wombat Behaviour and Characteristics
Can you have a wombat as a pet?
Even though wombats are very shy, they can become very friendly with people too. You can call them introverted extroverts! But they are wild animals and cannot be kept as pets. They belong to the wild, and that is where they should be.
In many places in Australia, it is illegal to keep them as pets. Orphaned wombats are often taken in by exceptional people who are trained to take care of native animals. The goal is always to release them back into the wild when they’re ready.
Are Wombats Nocturnal?
Wombats are nocturnal creatures. They usually are most active at dawn and dusk. In the cooler season, they can be active during the day. This is due to their habit of lying under the sun to warm themselves. Such nature makes the wombat a rare sight for people in the wild.
Wombat Group Dynamics
A group of wombats is called a ‘wisdom’ or a ‘mob’ or a colony. While some wombats are social, others can be loners too. For example, the common wombat spends a lot of time being alone. But the hairy-nosed wombat can be a social butterfly. It can live with up to 12 other wombats in its burrow.
Wombat Physical Traits
Wombats leave scent trails and droppings on rocks and logs. They do this to mark their territories and attract mates. They have unique cube-shaped dung, which helps to keep their markers in place.
For example, if the wombat finds a new object in its territory, it will mark it with dung. An interesting fact is that the wombat has unbelievable flexibility. They have particular bones that allow them to form a cube shape for their feces. The shape makes them easy to stack and ensures that it does not roll away.
Ever Growing Teeth
Wombats have teeth that are like those of rodents. They have incisors that grow continuously. This ensures they don’t grind away when munching on grasses, roots, shrubs, and vegetables. To keep them in check, wombats gnaw on bark and tough vegetation.
Digestion Takes a While
Wombats have a prolonged metabolism. It takes them around 8 to 14 days to digest all the food completely. But this slow metabolism is beneficial to them as it helps them out in their hot and dry habitat.
Walking with a Waddle
Wombats have a somewhat awkward walk. They walk with a shuffling or waddling gait. Although they look pudgy and slow, wombats are very alert. They can move quickly with great agility when an emergency arises. They can run up to 25 miles per hour. And what’s more, they can maintain that speed for a whole minute and a half!
Digging is an effortless feat for wombats. They have barrel-shaped bodies and wide, strong feet with long claws. These enable them to excavate extensive systems of tunnels and chambers. A wombat can move up to three feet of dirt in a single day.
Wombat Scientific Name and Classification
All wombats belong to the family Vombatidae under the order Diprotodontia. They are restricted to Australia and a few offshore islands. There are three species of wombats:
- The Common wombat (Vombatus ursinus)
- The Northern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii)
- The Southern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons)
Wombat Breeding and Reproduction
Wombats can reproduce after they reach two years of age. Mating usually occurs between September and December. This results in the females giving birth to one offspring after roughly 20–30 days.
Are wombats marsupials?
Wombats are definitely marsupials. This can be seen by the fact that they exhibit premature birth. The newborn continues to develop while being attached to the nipples on the mother’s lower belly.
A unique feature that wombats have is a backward-facing pouch. Wombats give birth to a tiny, underdeveloped baby that develops in the mother’s pouch. But unlike other marsupials, the pouches are positioned backward. It means that the opening is at the mother’s rear rather than the head. This becomes a helpful trait as it allows digging without getting dirt on the young one.
What is a baby wombat called?
A baby wombat is called a joey. It is born blind and hairless. It weighs about 2 grams. It crawls into its mother’s pouch and stays there for 8 to 9 months. After emerging, it starts eating solid food but also suckles. The young one stays with its mother for another year or more.
Wombats are prey to foxes, dingoes, Tasmanian devils, wild dogs, and eagles. Wild foxes also spread diseases to these animals. While rabbits, sheep, and cattle do not eat them, these animals can destroy their burrows. They are considered to be pests and are driven out by humans also.
Wombat Defense Mechanism
The main form of defense against predators for a wombat is its rear end. It is made of cartilage and has only a tiny tail. The tail is not affected even when it is bitten.
They dive into a nearby tunnel when they sense an attack. They use their rumps to block the attacker and force its head over their backs. Then they use their powerful legs to crush the predator’s skull against the roof of the tunnel. They can also donkey kick the attacker with their strong legs.
Are Wombats Endangered?
Wombats were considered to be vermin and were treated as bounty. The reducing numbers and range were because of the loss of habitat as well.
The common wombat is now no longer common. It has been a protected animal since 1970. The northern hairy-nosed wombats are also listed as critically endangered. They face threats as prey to wild dogs, diseases, and their small population size. They can now only be found in the Epping Forest National Park in Queensland.
Interesting Facts about Wombats
- The wombat’s distant relative, called Diprotodon or the giant wombat, was as big as a hippo back in the day!
- Because of its large size, Diprotodon is considered to be a megaherbivore.
- “Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat” was the unofficial mascot of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
- Since 2005, an unofficial holiday called Wombat Day has been observed on 22 October.