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Wombats[1]
Fossil range: Pleistocene to Recent
Common Wombat, Maria Island, Tasmania
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Infraclass: Marsupialia
Order: Diprotodontia
Suborder: Vombatiformes
Family: Vombatidae
Burnett, 1829
Genera and Species

Wombats are Australian marsupials; they are short-legged, muscular quadrupeds, approximately 1 metre (39 in) in length with a very short tail. They are found in forested, mountainous, and heathland areas of south-eastern Australia and Tasmania. The name wombat comes from the Eora Aboriginal community who were the original inhabitants of the Sydney area.

Contents

Characteristics

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 and nocturnal, wombats will 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 herbivores; their diet consists mostly of grasses, sedges, herbs, bark and roots. Their incisor teeth somewhat resemble those of the placental rodents, being adapted for gnawing tough vegetation. Like many other herbivorous mammals, they have a large diastema between the incisors and the cheek teeth, which are relatively simple. The dental formula of wombats is:

Dentition
1.0.1.4
1.0.1.4

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 in) in length and weigh between 20 and 35 kg (44 and 77 lb).

Female wombats give birth to a single young in the spring, after a gestation period, which like all mammals can vary, in the case of the wombat: 26–28 days.[2] They have a well-developed pouch, which the young leave after about 6–7 months. Wombats are weaned after 15 months, and are sexually mature at 18 months.[2]

Wombat in Narawntapu National Park, Tasmania

Ecology and behaviour

Wombats have an extraordinarily slow metabolism, taking around 14 days to complete digestion, which aids their survival in arid conditions.[2] They generally move slowly, and because of this are known for taking shortcuts, but when threatened they can reach up to 40 km/h (25 mph) and maintain that speed for up to 90 seconds.[3] Wombats defend home territories centred on their burrows, and react aggressively to intruders. The common wombat occupies a range of up to 23 ha (57 acres), while the hairy-nosed species have much smaller ranges, of no more than 4 ha (9.9 acres).[2]

Dingos and Tasmanian Devils prey on wombats. The wombat's primary defence is its toughened rear hide with most of the posterior made of cartilage. 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.[4] Wombats may allow an intruder to force its head over their back and then use its 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[citation needed], with the attendant risks of broken bones from the fall.

Species

There are three living species of wombat:[1]

Wombats and humans

Wombats were often called badgers by early settlers because of their size and habit. Because of this, localities such as Badger Creek, Victoria and Badger Corner, Tasmania were named after the wombat.[7]

The town Wombat, New South Wales, the asteroid 6827 Wombat, a soccer team in Brisbane, a U.S. Army Unit - Avionics Platoon, Bravo Company, 563d ASB, 159th CAB, 101st Airborne Division (AIR ASSAULT), the British anti-tank rifle L6 Wombat (an acronym), and a British rock band "The Wombats" are named after the animal.

They can be awkwardly tamed in a captive situation, and even coaxed into being patted and held, possibly becoming quite friendly. Many parks, zoos and other tourist set-ups across Australia have wombats on public display, and they are quite popular. 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 result in severe wounds. One naturalist, Harry Frauca, once received a bite 2 cm (0.79 in) deep into the flesh of his leg—through a rubber boot, trousers and thick woollen socks (Underhill, 1993).

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. Wombats are wide-ranging foragers, and nocturnal with strong instincts for burrowing behaviours. These characteristics make them unsuitable as pets.

Celebrations

There is an ancient aboriginal holiday associated with the Wombat, now since 2005 (unofficially) celebrated by modern Australians on October 22, near the beginning of the aboriginal Spring planting season.[8] Searching various websites will yield suggestions for Wombat parties and instructions for making a flat cake in a Wombat profile.

References

Notes

  1. ^ a b Groves, C. (2005). Wilson, D. E., & Reeder, D. M. ed. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 43–44. ISBN 0-801-88221-4. http://www.bucknell.edu/msw3. 
  2. ^ a b c d McIlroy, John (1984). Macdonald, D.. ed. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. pp. 876–877. ISBN 0-87196-871-1. 
  3. ^ http://www.abc.net.au/science/scribblygum/june2006/
  4. ^ http://www.dpiw.tas.gov.au/inter.nsf/webpages/bhan-53f7kj?open
  5. ^ http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Lasiorhinus_krefftii.html
  6. ^ http://www.arkive.org/species/GES/mammals/Lasiorhinus_krefftii/more_info.html
  7. ^ Lady Wild Life, Common Wombat, http://ladywildlife.com/animals/commonwombat.html, retrieved 2008-09-01 
  8. ^ The day of the wombat (Australian Geographic Society)

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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Simple English

Wombats
File:Vombatus ursinus (Wombat in snow).jpg
Common Wombat in the snow
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Infraclass: Marsupialia
Order: Diprotodontia
Suborder: Vombatiformes
Family: Vombatidae
Burnett, 1829

A wombat is a marsupial, which forms the family Vombatidae. It lives in the Australian eucalyptus forests. There are two genera with three living wombat species, the Common Wombat and the Hairy-nosed Wombats.

It is a medium sized animal that makes a burrow by digging holes in the ground. Wombats are usually around a meter long when they are fully grown. It is a kind of animal known as a marsupial because it has a pouch on its belly that holds its young, although it faces back instead of forward like most marsupials. Having the pouch face backwards prevents dirt from building up in the pouch and hitting the offspring in the face when digging. When its young are born they spend some time growing in their mother's pouch before going into the world. Wombats are herbivores. They eat plants, roots, and grasses. They are nocturnal which means they sleep in the day and come out at night. Some wombats have thick brown fur and very small ears. They can weigh from 30 to 70 pounds.

Wombats are commonly known and recognised by their waste products. They are the only known mammals that excrete faeces in cubic shape. This enables people to easily know when wombat habitats are nearby, and also simply what the wombat may have eaten by examining the faeces thoroughly.

Taxonomy

  • Family Vombatidae: Wombats
    • Common Wombat (Vombatus ursinus)
    • Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons)
    • Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat or Yaminon (Lasiorhinus krefftii)

Other websites

Look up Vombatidae in Wikispecies, a directory of species
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