Wombats are Australian marsupial
Marsupials are an infraclass of mammals, characterized by giving birth to relatively undeveloped young. Close to 70% of the 334 extant species occur in Australia, New Guinea, and nearby islands, with the remaining 100 found in the Americas, primarily in South America, but with thirteen in Central...

s; they are short-legged, muscular quadruped
Quadrupedalism is a form of land animal locomotion using four limbs or legs. An animal or machine that usually moves in a quadrupedal manner is known as a quadruped, meaning "four feet"...

s, approximately 1 metres (39.4 in) in length with a short, stubby tail. They are adaptable in their habitat tolerances, and are found in forested, mountainous, and heathland areas of south-eastern Australia, including Tasmania
Tasmania is an Australian island and state. It is south of the continent, separated by Bass Strait. The state includes the island of Tasmania—the 26th largest island in the world—and the surrounding islands. The state has a population of 507,626 , of whom almost half reside in the greater Hobart...

, as well as an isolated patch of about 300 ha in Epping Forest National Park in central Queensland.


Wombats dig extensive burrow systems with rodent-like front teeth and powerful claws. One distinctive adaptation of wombats is their backwards pouch. The advantage of a backwards-facing pouch is that when digging, the wombat does not gather dirt in its pouch over its young. Although mainly crepuscular
Crepuscular animals are those that are active primarily during twilight, that is during dawn and dusk. The word is derived from the Latin word crepusculum, meaning "twilight." Crepuscular is, thus, in contrast with diurnal and nocturnal behavior. Crepuscular animals may also be active on a bright...

 and nocturnal, wombats also venture out to feed on cool or overcast days. They are not commonly seen, but leave ample evidence of their passage, treating fences as minor inconveniences to be gone through or under, and leaving distinctive cubic faeces.

Wombats are herbivore
Herbivores are organisms that are anatomically and physiologically adapted to eat plant-based foods. Herbivory is a form of consumption in which an organism principally eats autotrophs such as plants, algae and photosynthesizing bacteria. More generally, organisms that feed on autotrophs in...

s; their diet
Diet (nutrition)
In nutrition, diet is the sum of food consumed by a person or other organism. Dietary habits are the habitual decisions an individual or culture makes when choosing what foods to eat. With the word diet, it is often implied the use of specific intake of nutrition for health or weight-management...

 consists mostly of grasses
The Poaceae is a large and nearly ubiquitous family of flowering plants. Members of this family are commonly called grasses, although the term "grass" is also applied to plants that are not in the Poaceae lineage, including the rushes and sedges...

, sedges
Cyperaceae are a family of monocotyledonous graminoid flowering plants known as sedges, which superficially resemble grasses or rushes. The family is large, with some 5,500 species described in about 109 genera. These species are widely distributed, with the centers of diversity for the group...

, herbs, bark
Bark is the outermost layers of stems and roots of woody plants. Plants with bark include trees, woody vines and shrubs. Bark refers to all the tissues outside of the vascular cambium and is a nontechnical term. It overlays the wood and consists of the inner bark and the outer bark. The inner...

 and root
In vascular plants, the root is the organ of a plant that typically lies below the surface of the soil. This is not always the case, however, since a root can also be aerial or aerating . Furthermore, a stem normally occurring below ground is not exceptional either...

s. Their incisor
Incisors are the first kind of tooth in heterodont mammals. They are located in the premaxilla above and mandible below.-Function:...

 teeth somewhat resemble those of the placental rodent
Rodentia is an order of mammals also known as rodents, characterised by two continuously growing incisors in the upper and lower jaws which must be kept short by gnawing....

s (rats
RATS may refer to:* RATS , Regression Analysis of Time Series, a statistical package* Rough Auditing Tool for Security, a computer program...

, mice, moles
Moles can refer to:*Moles de Xert, a mountain range in the Baix Maestrat comarca, Valencian Community, Spain-People:*Brodie Moles, Australian football player*James Moles, English football player*Thomas Moles, Ulster Unionist politician...

, etc.), being adapted for gnawing tough vegetation. Like many other herbivorous mammals, they have a large diastema
Diastema (dentistry)
Diastema is a space or gap between two teeth. Many species of mammals have diastemata as a normal feature, most commonly between the incisors and molars.-In humans:...

 between the incisor
Incisors are the first kind of tooth in heterodont mammals. They are located in the premaxilla above and mandible below.-Function:...

s and the cheek teeth, which are relatively simple. The dental formula of wombats is

Wombats' fur colour can vary from a sandy colour to brown, or from grey to black. All three known extant species of wombats average around 1 m (39.4 in) in length and weigh between 20 and 35 kg (44.1 and 77.2 lb).

Female wombats give birth to a single young in the spring, after a gestation
Gestation is the carrying of an embryo or fetus inside a female viviparous animal. Mammals during pregnancy can have one or more gestations at the same time ....

 period, which like all marsupials can vary, in the case of the wombat: 20–21 days. They have a well-developed pouch
Pouch (marsupial)
The pouch is a distinguishing feature of female marsupials ; the name marsupial is derived from the Latin marsupium, meaning "pouch". Marsupials give birth to a live but relatively undeveloped fetus called a joey. When the joey is born it crawls from inside the mother to the pouch...

, which the young leave after about 6–7 months. Wombats are weaned
Weaning is the process of gradually introducing a mammal infant, either human or animal, to what will be its adult diet and withdrawing the supply of its mother's milk.The process takes place only in mammals, as only mammals produce milk...

 after 15 months, and are sexually mature at 18 months.

Ecology and behaviour

Wombats have an extraordinarily slow metabolism
Metabolism is the set of chemical reactions that happen in the cells of living organisms to sustain life. These processes allow organisms to grow and reproduce, maintain their structures, and respond to their environments. Metabolism is usually divided into two categories...

, taking around 8–14 days to complete digestion
Digestion is the mechanical and chemical breakdown of food into smaller components that are more easily absorbed into a blood stream, for instance. Digestion is a form of catabolism: a breakdown of large food molecules to smaller ones....

, which aids their survival in arid conditions. They generally move slowly. When threatened, however, they can reach up to 40 km/h (24.9 mph) and maintain that speed for up to 90 seconds. Wombats defend home territories centred on their burrows, and they react aggressively to intruders. The common wombat occupies a range of up to 23 ha (56.8 acre), while the hairy-nosed species have much smaller ranges, of no more than 4 ha (9.9 acre).

The Australian Dingo or Warrigal is a free-roaming wild dog unique to the continent of Australia, mainly found in the outback. Its original ancestors are thought to have arrived with humans from southeast Asia thousands of years ago, when dogs were still relatively undomesticated and closer to...

s and Tasmanian Devil
Tasmanian Devil
The Tasmanian devil is a carnivorous marsupial of the family Dasyuridae, now found in the wild only on the Australian island state of Tasmania. The size of a small dog, it became the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world following the extinction of the thylacine in 1936...

s prey on wombats. The wombat's primary defence is its toughened rear hide with most of the posterior made of cartilage
Cartilage is a flexible connective tissue found in many areas in the bodies of humans and other animals, including the joints between bones, the rib cage, the ear, the nose, the elbow, the knee, the ankle, the bronchial tubes and the intervertebral discs...

. This, combined with its lack of a meaningful tail, makes it difficult for any predator that follows the wombat into its tunnel to bite and injure its target. When attacked, wombats dive into a nearby tunnel, using their rump to block a pursuing attacker. Wombats may allow an intruder to force its head over their back and then use their powerful legs to crush the skull of the predator against the roof of the tunnel, or drive it off with two-legged 'donkey' kicks.

Humans who accidentally find themselves in an affray with a wombat may find it best to scale a tree until the animal calms and leaves. Humans can receive puncture wounds from wombat claws as well as bites. Startled wombats can also charge humans and bowl them over, with the attendant risks of broken bones from the fall. One naturalist, Harry Frauca
Harry Frauca
Harry Frauca was an Australian naturalist, writer and photographer. Of Catalan origin, he moved to Australia in the 1950s and became an Australian citizen. From 1960 he became a fulltime writer and photographer on natural history. From 1970 he collected insects for the Australian National...

, once received a bite 2 cm (0.78740157480315 in) deep into the flesh of his leg—through a rubber boot, trousers and thick woollen socks (Underhill, 1993). A UK newspaper, The Independent
The Independent
The Independent is a British national morning newspaper published in London by Independent Print Limited, owned by Alexander Lebedev since 2010. It is nicknamed the Indy, while the Sunday edition, The Independent on Sunday, is the Sindy. Launched in 1986, it is one of the youngest UK national daily...

 reported that on 6 April 2010 a 59-year-old man from rural Victoria state was mauled by a wombat (thought to have been angered by mange
Mange is the common name for a class of persistent contagious skin diseases caused by parasitic mites. Since mites also infect plants, birds, and reptiles, the term "mange," suggesting poor condition of the hairy coat due to the infection, is sometimes reserved only for pathological...

) causing a number of cuts and bite marks requiring hospital treatment. He resorted to killing it with an axe.


There are three living species of wombat, all of which reside only in Australia. They are protected under Australian law.
  • Common Wombat
    Common Wombat
    The common wombat , also known as the coarse-haired wombat or bare-nosed wombat, is a marsupial, one of three species of wombats and the only one in the genus Vombatus. The common wombat grows to an average of long and a weight of .- Taxonomy :The common wombat was first described by George Shaw...

     (Vombatus ursinus)
  • Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat
    Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat
    The Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat , also known as the Yaminon, is one of three species of wombats. It is one of the rarest large mammals in the world and is critically endangered...

     or Yaminon (Lasiorhinus krefftii)
  • Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat
    Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat
    The Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat is one of three species of wombats. It is found in scattered areas of semi-arid scrub and mallee from the eastern Nullarbor Plain to the New South Wales border area. It is the smallest of all three wombat species. The young often do not survive dry seasons...

     (Lasiorhinus latifrons)


The name wombat comes from the now nearly extinct Darug language spoken by the Aboriginal Darug people
Darug people
The Darug people are a language group of Indigenous Australians, who are traditional custodians of much of what is modern day Sydney. There is some dispute about the extent of the Darug nation. Some historians believe the coastal Eora people were a separate tribe to the Darug...

 who originally inhabited the Sydney area. It was first recorded in January 1798 when John Price and James Wilson, a white man who had adopted Aboriginal ways, visited the area of what is now Bargo, New South Wales
Bargo, New South Wales
Bargo is a small town of the Macarthur Region, New South Wales, Australia in the Wollondilly Shire. It is approximately 100 km south west of Sydney....

. Price wrote: "We saw several sorts of dung of different animals, one of which Wilson called a Whom-batt, which is an animal about 20 inches high, with short legs and a thick body with a large head, round ears, and very small eyes; is very fat, and has much the appearance of a badger." Wombats were often called badgers by early settlers because of their size and habit. Because of this, localities such as Badger Creek, Victoria
Badger Creek, Victoria
Badger Creek is a town in Victoria, Australia, 53 km north-east from Melbourne's central business district. Its Local Government Area is the Shire of Yarra Ranges...

 and Badger Corner, Tasmania were named after the wombat. The spelling went through many variants over the years including "wambat", "whombat", "womat", "wombach" and "womback", possibly reflecting dialectal differences in the Darug language.


Human impact on the wombat population is now at a critical level. Wombats suffer from a disease called sarcoptic mite or mange
Mange is the common name for a class of persistent contagious skin diseases caused by parasitic mites. Since mites also infect plants, birds, and reptiles, the term "mange," suggesting poor condition of the hairy coat due to the infection, is sometimes reserved only for pathological...

 that was introduced to Australia and to wombats by human activity. Mites that cause mange lead to deep skin fissures that become flyblown
Myiasis is a general term for infection by parasitic fly larvae feeding on the host's necrotic or living tissue. Colloquialisms for myiasis include flystrike, blowfly strike, and fly-blown. In Greek, "myia" means fly....

 and septic. This leads to a long, slow and painful death for wombats. In addition they are also being affected by a fungal lung disease for which there is currently no cure. Diseases and viruses brought in by farming activity now affect wombats. Incidents of Coccidia
Coccidia is a subclass of microscopic, spore-forming, single-celled obligate parasites belonging to the apicomplexan class Conoidasida. Coccidian parasites infect the intestinal tracts of animals, and are the largest group of apicomplexan protozoa....

, Clostridium perfringens
Clostridium perfringens
Clostridium perfringens is a Gram-positive, rod-shaped, anaerobic, spore-forming bacterium of the genus Clostridium. C. perfringens is ever present in nature and can be found as a normal component of decaying vegetation, marine sediment, the intestinal tract of humans and other vertebrates,...

and tetanus
Tetanus is a medical condition characterized by a prolonged contraction of skeletal muscle fibers. The primary symptoms are caused by tetanospasmin, a neurotoxin produced by the Gram-positive, rod-shaped, obligate anaerobic bacterium Clostridium tetani...

 amongst others, are evident in wombats. Some people believe that the distribution of mange is so widespread that only isolated populations and those tended in sanctuaries will, in the long term, survive.

It is only recently that veterinarians have begun to receive training in dealing with native animal health. Behavioural studies on wombats are few and limited in their scope. As a result, wombats are misunderstood and those attempting to rear and rehabilitate injured and orphaned wombats have difficulty getting them appropriate medical attention and in helping others understand the best ways of living with wombats.

Habitat destruction is having a major impact on wombat numbers as well. Water sources and grazing areas being fenced into farms and out of public lands limits the suitable range for wombats to a small strip of land. Although Australia is a big country there are few areas where wombats can live undisturbed. They are restricted to a small section of the east coast of Australia. Unless they are fully protected, their limited distribution will reduce further. This is already evident in the northern Hairy Nose Wombat whose numbers are so low that the species is severely threatened and without human intervention will become extinct.

Efforts are being made for the species' recovery. Xstrata
Xstrata plc is a global mining company headquartered in Zug, Switzerland and with its registered office in London, United Kingdom. It is a major producer of coal , copper, nickel, primary vanadium and zinc and the world's largest producer of ferrochrome...

, a Swiss global mining company, has sponsored the Xstrata reintroduction project, which is translocating a number of wombats to establish a new colony from Epping Forest National Park to Yarran Downs.

Many parks, zoos and other tourist set-ups across Australia have wombats on public display, and they are quite popular. They can be awkwardly tamed in a captive situation, and even coaxed into being patted and held, possibly becoming quite friendly.

However, their lack of fear means that they may display acts of aggression if provoked, or if they are simply in a bad mood. Its sheer weight makes a charging wild wombat capable of knocking an average-sized adult over, and their sharp teeth and powerful jaws can inflict severe wounds. Wombats are wide-ranging foragers and nocturnal with strong instincts for burrowing. These characteristics, besides their possible danger to humans, make them unsuitable as pets.

Unlike most other Australian marsupials, the wombat has a relatively large brain. This, combined with strong instincts upon maturity, allows a captive hand-raised wombat to be easily released into the wild.

Wombat Day

Since 2005 there has been an unofficial holiday called Wombat Day observed on 22 October, at the beginning of the traditional aboriginal spring planting season.

Further reading

  • Wombats, Barbara Triggs, Houghton Mifflin Australia Pty, 1990, ISBN 0-86770-114-5. Facts and photographs of wombats for children.
  • The Wombat: Common Wombats in Australia, Barbara Triggs, University of New South Wales Press, 1996, ISBN 0-86840-263-X.
  • The Secret Life of Wombats, James Woodford, Text Publishing, 2002, ISBN 1-877008-43-5.
  • How to Attract the Wombat, Will Cuppy with illustrations by Ed Nofziger, David R. Godiine, 2002, ISBN 1-56792-156-6 (Originally published 1949, Rhinehart)
  • The Secret World of Wombats, Jackie French with illustrations by Bruce Whatley, HarperCollins Publishers, 2005, ISBN 0-207-20031-9.

External links

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