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Wombat

Vombatus Ursinus, Lasiorhinus Krefftii,
Lasiorhinus Latrifrons

Wombat
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Wombat • Marsupialia
Wombats are some of the smartest marsupials. Although they have a reputation for being slow and stupid, they can run at speeds of up to 40 km/h. Believe me, I’ve seen it happen! If a wombat is cornered, it will often simply charge into whatever is in the way. They also have a large brain and know how to use it.

Wombats have thick paws and five strong claws on each of their front paws, built for digging.

These creatures dig 3 different kinds of burrows. There are short burrows, which have often been abandoned for some reason. Then there are burrows about 3-5 metres long, which the wombat uses for safety, etc. if they are chased by a dingo. The burrows that they sleep in during the day can be up to 30 metres long, have several nest chambers, and more than one entrance. Often they make a flat sunbaking spot at the entrance to the sleeping burrow.

Wombats eat native grasses and roots. They are primarily nocturnal in summer, although in winter they occasionally stay out foraging and sunbaking all day. They can be a variety of colours, from almost black to a light sandy colour. Strangely, most Australians have never actually seen a live wild wombat.
 

Common Wombat (Vombatus Ursinus)

Common Wombat (Vombatus Ursinus)
There are three different kinds of wombat. There is the Common Wombat (Vombatus Ursinus), which lives in the south-eastern part of Australia, from southern Queensland, into Tasmania, and west through to South Australia. It doesn’t usually live in the inland, though, as it enjoys living in hilly country where there is a lot of suitable soil for burrowing, and also plenty of grazing area. Its Latin name comes from “Vombatus”, an Aboriginal name for “wombat”, and “Ursinus”, from the Latin “bear”.

Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus Latrifrons)
Then there is the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus Latrifrons), which is classified as endangered, and lives in South and Western Australia, and rarely in the arid parts of New South Wales, as this species enjoys the arid inland.

Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus Krefftii)
Finally, there is the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus Krefftii). Fossils indicate that they were once widespread in New South Wales; however these wombats are now on the brink of extinction (only about 110 individuals are left), and only live in one forest in Queensland, which is just over 300 hectares. The name of this species and the Southern Hairy-nosed wombat comes from the fact that their muzzles are covered in short brown hair. They also have black markings over their eyes, and white fur on their ears. This species is the largest of all the wombats.

Early Australian settlers believed that wombats were related to the badgers of Europe. As is now known, this is not the case. Their closest relative is the koala. They are the largest burrowing marsupials (and possibly the largest burrowing mammals) in the world. A wombat’s rump has very thick skin on it, so if threatened, they run into their burrow and use their rump as a barrier to stop the predator from following.

Gestation and the young
Wombats, like all marsupials, carry their young in a pouch. However, unlike a kangaroo or wallaby, the pouch faces backwards. One theory about why this is so is so that the mother wombat doesn’t kick soil into the pouch. Though there are two nipples in the pouch, usually only one baby, called a joey, is raised at a time.

Gestation for wombats, like most marsupials, is very short, only one month. A newborn wombat is only 3 cm long, blind and hairless, and weighs a mere 1 gram. The joey stays in its mother’s pouch for 8 to 10 months, but sometimes suckles for up to 15 months, and stays with its mother for around a year after leaving the pouch. It is mature, and therefore can breed, at around 2 - 3 years old.

A mature wombat is about 1 metre from nose to tail, and weighs about between 20 and 40 kg. Captive wombats have been known to live up to 20 years. They have poor eyesight, but an excellent sense of hearing and smell. A strange thing about Common Wombats is that they can actually curl their front paws into fists and grab things.

Wombat Predators
In the wild, the only real predators of wombats are dingoes, although in Tasmania eagles and Tasmanian Devils have been known to prey on young or weak wombats. However, farmers consider them pests, as they can ruin fences, and livestock often injures itself by stepping in the burrows. The burrows also provide shelter for one of the worst introduced pets, the rabbit. Unfortunately, for these reasons, many farmers want to get rid of wombats off their properties. Sometimes, too, they are also accidentally poisoned with baits intended for rabbits or wallabies. Luckily for them, though, they have been a protected species in New South Wales since 1970. They still have to compete with introduced animals, such as rabbits, cattle and sheep for food, though.

So all in all, so long as you don’t get too close, wombats definitely are the cute and cuddly animals you probably imagine them to be.

Some unusual facts…

  • Wombats can swim
  • Wombats enjoy a dust bath
  • Wombats have been nicknamed “bush bulldozers”
  • Their teeth are like rodent’s teeth; they grow constantly
  • A wombat can survive a small to medium bushfire by going deep into its burrow until the fire has passed
  • Tasmanian and Flinders Island wombats are smaller than mainland wombats
  • Common wombats can climb fences
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Scientific Classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Sub class Marsupialia
Order: Diprotodontia
Suborder: Vombatiformes
Family: Vombatidae
Genus: Vombatus
Species: Vombatus ursinus
   
Genus Lasiorhinus
Species Lasiorhinus latifrons
Species Lasiorhinus krefftii

Wombat • Other links

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service Includes information about Wombats.
Wombat.Echidna Check out the section on the Wonderful Wombats.
Unique Australian Animals Information on the wombats.
Australia Zoo
Steve Irwin and the Australia Zoo team loves wombats. Check out their Wombat Conservation Project.
Wombania A site devoted to everything about wombats written by a bunch of “Wombies”.

 

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