The wombat is a marsupial. It has a pouch which faces backward so no dirt gets in when it is burrowing. Wombats are closely related to the koala.
There are three types of wombats, the Common Wombat, the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat and the extremely rare Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat. The Common Wombat is distinguishable mainly by its hairless nose and smaller ears. The Hairy-Nosed Wombats have softer fur. The Hairy-Nosed or Plains Wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons) was adopted as the faunal emblem of South Australia on 27 August 1970.
Wombats normally live for ten to fifteen years in the wild. In captivity they have been known to live up to twenty years.
The Common Wombat has coarse, stiff grey/brown fur and a hair-free muzzle. Often their true colour is hidden by the dirt or clay in which they have been digging. It has small rounded ears, small eyes, a broad, flattened head with a short muscular neck. There is one incisor tooth on each side of both upper and lower jaws. Its teeth are rootless, they keep growing, so even when older they are still able to finely grind their food.
Their large, heavy bodies average 1 metre in length, the tail, which is hidden in their fur, is only a couple of centimetres long. They can weigh up to 40 kg, although 30 kg is more common. The rump of the wombat has a very tough, thick skin. If threatened, a wombat will dive into a nearby burrow or hollow log and use its rump in self-defence for trapping and crushing intruders in their burrows. They are strong burrowers, their short powerful legs have large strong, sharp claws that can dig rapidly.
They are usually silent but males can growl when confronted, whilst females and young communicate with short hissing sounds. Despite their docile appearance wombats are quite alert and if in danger they can deliver a crushing bite.
Wombats have a keen sense of hearing and smell and whilst they can appear sluggish, they can run at speeds of up to 40km/hr over short distances when alarmed. Wombats are solitary except when mating. Although they will share burrows, they are possessive about their particular feeding grounds. Their presence is often spotted in the form of distinctive square droppings (scats), used to mark its territory on logs and rocks.
Habitat and Distribution
Common Wombats are found in wet eucalypt forests and woodland areas and scrub along the south-eastern coast of Australia and in Tasmania. They live in extensive burrow systems usually in a hillside or bank, which can extend up to 20 metres long, and more than 2 metres below the ground, with numerous connecting tunnels and entrances. There may also be more than one nest in the burrow which they make from sticks, leaves and grasses. In rocky country they tend to live in caves or hollow logs.
Mostly nocturnal, wombats usually come out at night for between 3 to 8 hours to graze. In colder periods they may sometimes be seen during the day either grazing or basking in the sun. They are herbivorous, feeding on native plants and roots, bark and grasses. This causes its teeth to wear away rapidly but its teeth continue to grow throughout its life.
Mating can occur at any time of the year, but generally between September and December. They first breed after the age of two years. After mating the male takes no further part in the upbringing of the offspring. Female has two nipples in the rear opening pouch but usually has one young at a time, although twins are occasionally observed. At birth, the baby wombat is about the size of a jelly bean, weighing half a gram. It is born three or four weeks after mating and is naked and blind and has no back legs. It claws its way through the mother's fur and enters the pouch. Inside the warm, soft and moist pouch, it begins to suckle and its mother's teat swells up inside its mouth so that it cannot let go. The joey stays fastened to the teat for around the next four months. Its eyes open when it is four months old and at six months it puts its nose out of the pouch but it will not go outside to explore for at least another month or two. At ten months old it leaves the mother's pouch permanently and follows at its mother's heels for up to a year or more after emerging from the pouch.
Although the young wombat begins to nibble grass when it is eight moths old, it continues to suckle milk for up to another seven months. After weaning, it stays with its mother until it leaves to find its own home range when it is 18 months to two years old.
Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii)
The Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat is one of Australia's most endangered animals. It is found only in a 3,300 ha site in Epping Forest National Park, Northern Queensland, which has been fenced to keep out cattle and sheep. Less than 113 northern hairy-nosed wombat are alive today. It has soft, silky, mainly brown fur, mottled with grey, fawn and black. It has pointed ears. It gets its name from its broader muzzle which is covered with short brown hairs.
Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons)
The once common Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat is now listed as an endangered species. It is found in a few semi-arid areas of South Australia and has adapted to this type of dry, open country. Its burrows can be up to two metres in legth. Hollow logs will also be used for cover during the dry heat of day. Its fur is soft, silky grey/brown fur, with white fur on its nose.
The introduction of the rabbit and excessive clearing for livestock and agriculture has had a devastating effect on numbers. Today wombats continue to be trapped, shot and baited by farmers who consider them to be pests because they can burrow under fences and dig in cultivated fields and pastures and also their burrows can harbour rabbits.
Occasionally wombats fall victim to road accidents and orphaned wombats, found in their mother's pouch, are brought into Wildlife Santuaries every year. These baby wombats need extensive specialised veterinary care, including being bottle fed every four hours. Dogs, shooters and vehicles are all a threat.
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