The wombat is a medium-sized, nocturnal marsupial living in southeastern Australia and Tasmania, an island just south of Australia. They like mountains and woodlands. Wombats live in burrows which they dig. As with all marsupials, wombats have pouches in which their young live, and as most with digging marsupials, this pouch faces backwards so the young are not covered in dirt while their mother is digging a burrow. There are three main species of wombats: the common wombat, the northern hairy-nosed wombat, and the southern hairy-nosed wombat. The common wombat is sometimes called the bare-nosed wombat, due to the lack of hair on its nose. Click here to see a video about these animals.
The size of an adult wombat can range a lot. Smaller individuals may only grow up to 28 inches (71 cm) while larger ones may be up to 47 inches (119 cm). The weight of these animals also ranges quite a bit, as they can weigh from 32 to 80 pounds (15-36 kg)! Wombats are the largest burrowing animals in the world.
The picture below shows the entrance to a wombat burrow. About one third of the way across from the left, and half-way down the picture is the entrance. Wombats are really good diggers. Some of their burrows can be up to 650 feet (198 m) long! Because they are nocturnal, wombats will sleep in their burrows during the day. At night they will dig, at a rate of up to three feet per night. At this rate, it would take a wombat about 217 days (about 31 weeks) to dig a 650 foot long burrow (198 m). Most wombats stay in their burrows just by themselves, but southern hairy-nosed wombats are known to have up to a dozen wombats in their burrows.
Digging burrows is not the only thing wombats do during the day; they also eat. Their diet consists of grass, roots, and bark. These mammals forage from three to eight hours a day. During this time, they may travel several miles and visit different burrows that they have in their range. In zoos, they are fed grass, spinach, turnips, carrots, yams, etc.
Threats and status
Wombats have two main predators: dingoes, which are found all over their range, and Tasmanian devils, which are only found on the island of Tasmania. Foxes may also prey on adult wombats, while the young sometimes fall prey to owls, eagles, snakes, and quolls. Habitat loss threatens these animals also, and many wombats become road-kill each year. Competitions for food with rabbits and livestock, poisons intended for other animals, and hunting also threaten these animals. A deadly disease called mange is somewhat common in these animals. The northern hairy-nosed wombat is critically endangered; its southern relative is vulnerable, and the common wombat is least concern.
Because of the predators wombats have, they must have a way to protect themselves. When they are in the open, wombats can run up to 25 miles (40 km) per hour. This is just slightly less than the top speed ever recorded for a human, 27.79 miles (44.72 km) per hour. Wombats, however, can sustain the speed listed for them for a lot longer than the fastest human could!
While in their burrows, wombats cannot run as fast as when they are above ground, but they still can protect themselves. When they are above ground, in fact, they will use their strong legs to run as fast as they can into one of their burrows. They will then block the entrance with their backside. This area of a wombat’s body is bony and has thick skin, so a bite to this area will not do much damage. Wombats have also been known to use their bony backside to crush their predator’s skull against the roof of their burrow. While presumably not always easy, it will make sure that the individual predator is no longer a threat.
Mating and young
Wombats normally mate only once per year. After just a three week gestation period, one tiny young is born. This wombat baby is about the size of a jelly bean! Right after birth, the blind wombat makes its way three inches (7.6 cm) through a forest of hair to its mother’s pouch. It will then attach itself to one of the two teats and stay their for several weeks. The young will stay in its mother’s pouch for about four months before it ventures out and starts eating grass instead of milk. At the age of eight months, the young will start digging their own burrows for practice, but they will still stay in their mother’s dens until they are 1 1/2 or 2 years old. In the wild, a wombat can live up to five years, but in captivity they can reach thirty years of age.
Don’t forget to scroll down and comment your guess about what the next animal is!
- Animals of the world. Tom Jackson, ISBN: 978-1780191089
- Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide. David Burnie and Don E. Wilson, Smithsonian Institution, ISBN: 978-0-7566-6002-4
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