The common wombat looks like a cross between a small bear and a badger. It is found only on the Australian continent and the island of Tasmania. The common wombat, equipped with short powerful legs and strong front claws, is ideally adapted to survive in the harsh Australian environment. But in many areas, it is still considered a pest because of the damage it causes by its extensive burrowing and grazing.
Habits: Among the coastal hills and woodland areas of its habitat, the wombat lives in burrows that it digs itself. It uses the burrow as a resting place and as a retreat in times of danger. A single wombat may have 10 or more burrows, each with several entrances. When digging a burrow, the wombat uses its strong forepaws and sharp claws to loosen the earth. It removes the dirt from the burrow with all four paws. Since it is mainly nocturnal, the wombat spends most of its days sleeping in the burrow. Frequently, however, it will dig a shallow depression in the ground nearby and lie in the morning sun. The wombat is a solitary animal. Although its burrows may be close to those of another wombat’s and may even interconnect, they are rarely shared. If pursued by a predator, the wombat runs to its burrow and turns its hind quarters toward its attacker. The thick skin of its rump protects it against injury, and the wombat often further deters its attacker by kicking at it. The many holes leading to a wombats burrow allow it to escape quickly.
Food and feeding: Grass is the wombat’s principal food. At night it follows regularly used paths to its feeding grounds. It may travel as much as a mile. It uses its forepaws to grasp and tear the vegetation, It also eats roots, shrubs, fungi, and the bark and leaves of trees. A wombat has its own feeding area, which it defends aggressively. It also marks the territory with its droppings to serve as a visual warning to other wombats. The wombat is a marsupial and has an external abdominal pouch similar to that of a kangaroo. Still, the wombat is unlike other marsupials in that its teeth are more like those of a rodent. It has sharp-edged incisors but no canine teeth. Furthermore, its teeth have no roots and grow continuously so they do not wear away. Strong claws are used both for digging burrows, and for tearing at grass and roots.
Breeding: One of the few times that normally solitary wombats seek each other out is during mating season, from April to June. Several weeks after mating the female bears a single young. The newborn’s development is incomplete, but its forepaws are strong enough to enable it to crawl into its mother’s pouch. It attaches itself to a nipple for six months until it is completely formed. Unlike most marsupials, the wombat’s pouch opens to the rear, rather than to the front. The advantage to this is that the young does not become covered with dirt as the mother burrows. The position of the pouch also makes it easy for the young to climb into it. When the young wombat is old enough to leave the pouch, it still remains close to its mother for another year, ready to take refuge in her pouch should danger threaten. It feeds on the tender roots of grasses that its mother tears up and drops on the ground. At 18 months, the young wombat leaves the burrow and becomes completely independent.
Wombat and Man: The first Europeans to see a wombat were sailors shipwrecked on an island in the Bass Strait between Australia and Tasmania during the late 1700s. They thought it was a type of wild boar. Early settlers called the wombats “badgers.” The wombat was soon considered a pest by the islanders because of the damage it did to cultivated areas. Wombat burrows also harbored rabbits, and efforts to kill the rabbits destroyed the wombat population as well. By the late 1800s, the wombat had been completely exterminated from all the islands in the Bass Strait except Flinders Islands. A road sign alerts drivers to the possible presence of wombats.
Key Facts: Sizes, Breeding, Lifestyle and Related
Length: 36-45 in.
Weigh: 48-90 lb.
Sexual maturity: 2 years
Mating season: Fall
Gestation: 20-22 days. Young stays in pouch for 6 months
No. of young: 1
Habit: Solitary, expect for breeding season
Diet: Grass, roots, bark, and fungi
Call: Hoarse growls
Lifespan: No more than 5 years
Related Species: The southern hairy-nosed
wombat, Lasiorhinus latifrons, and the endangered northern hairy-nosed
wombat, L. krefftii.
Distribution: Common wombats are found in all five Australian states and in the Northern Territories.
Conservation: Although not endangered as a species, hunting must be controlled to guarantee a continued stable population.
The Wombat’s Burrow:
Burrow: May be as long as 100 feet and as deep as six feet. The entrance is arched and just big enough to accommodate the animal’s bulk. This way, it can block the burrow with its body to repel intruders.
Sleeping chamber: Lined with bark, used for sleeping and rearing young.
Depression: Near the entrance of the burrow, the wombat excavates a shallow depression in the ground where it warms itself in the early morning sun.
Pouch: The rear opening allows the mother to dig without covering her young with dirt.
Did you know:
Fishermen on the islands in the Bass Strait used to tame wombats and keep them as pets, like dogs.
The fur of the common wombat is so bristly that in Tasmania it was often used to make doormats.
Newborn wombat only measures 4/5 of an inch.
A wombat can dig as quickly as a man with a shovel can.
The marsupials get their name from the Latin word for pouch, marsupiam. Some marsupials, however, have no pouch. Their young cling to their mother’s nipples and fur.
The largest and most diverse assortment of marsupials is found in Australia, where there are over 100 different species.
Return to Wildlife Menu HERE!!