Temporal range: Late Miocene–Recent
|Common wombat, Maria Island, Tasmania|
|Genera and Species|
Wombats are short-legged, muscular quadrupedal marsupials, native to Australia, approximately 1 metre (40 in) in length, with short, stubby tails. They are adaptable in habitat tolerance, and are found in forested, mountainous, and heathland areas of south-eastern Australia, including Tasmania, as well as an isolated patch of about 300 hectares (740 acres) 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 soil in its pouch over its young. Although mainly crepuscular 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 herbivores; their diets consist mostly of grasses, sedges, herbs, bark, and roots. Their incisor teeth somewhat resemble those of the placental rodents (rats, mice, etc.), being adapted for gnawing tough vegetation. Like many other herbivorous mammals, they have a large diastema between their incisors and the cheek teeth, which are relatively simple. The dental formula of wombats is 188.8.131.52 × 2 = 24
Wombats' fur can vary from a sandy colour to brown, or from grey to black. All three known extant species average around a metre 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 marsupials can vary, in the case of the wombat: 20–21 days. They have well-developed pouches, which the young leave after about six to seven months. Wombats are weaned after 15 months, and are sexually mature at 18 months.
Ecology and behaviour
Wombats have an extraordinarily slow metabolism, taking around eight to 14 days to complete digestion, which aids their survival in arid conditions. They generally move slowly. When threatened, however, they can reach up to 40 km/h (25 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 (57 acres), while the hairy-nosed species have much smaller ranges, of no more than 4 ha (10 acres).
Dingos and Tasmanian devils prey on wombats. Their primary defence is their 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 rumps to block a pursuing attacker. A wombat may allow an intruder to force its head over the wombat's 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 kicks, like those of a donkey.
Humans who accidentally find themselves in a fray 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, once received a bite 2 cm (0.8 in) deep into the flesh of his leg—through a rubber boot, trousers and thick woolen socks. A UK newspaper, The Independent, 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), causing a number of cuts and bite marks requiring hospital treatment. He resorted to killing it with an axe.
- Common wombat (Vombatus ursinus)
- Northern hairy-nosed wombat or yaminon (Lasiorhinus krefftii)
- Southern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons)
Discovery and naming
After the ship Sydney Cove ran aground on Clarke Island in February 1797, the crew of the salvage ship, Francis, discovered wombats on the island. A live animal was taken back to Port Jackson. Matthew Flinders, who was travelling on board the Francis on its third and final salvage trip, also decided to take a wombat specimen from the island to Port Jackson. Governor John Hunter later sent the animal's corpse to Joseph Banks at the Literary and Philosophical Society to verify that it was a new species. The island was named Clarke Island after William Clark.
The name "wombat" comes from the now nearly extinct Darug language spoken by the Aboriginal Darug people 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. 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, 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.
The northern hairy-nosed wombat is an endangered species. The biggest threats the species faces are its small population size, predation by wild dogs, competition for food because of overgrazing by cattle and sheep, and disease.
The only known wild populations of this species exist in two locations in Queensland, the Epping Forest National Park, and a smaller colony being established by translocating wombats to the Richard Underwood Nature Refuge at Yarran Downs. This second colony is being created through the Xstrata reintroduction project, which is being funded by Xstrata, a Swiss global mining company.
The wombat population in the Epping Forest National Park has been increasing since a predator-proof fence was erected in the park. According to the latest census, taken in 2007, the park is home to 138 of these endangered wombats.
Since 2005, an unofficial holiday called Wombat Day has been observed on 22 October.
- Groves, C. P. (2005). Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M, eds. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 43–44. OCLC 62265494. ISBN 0-801-88221-4.
- "Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat". Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Australian Government. Retrieved 2 July 2011.
- Watson, A (1999). "Vombatus ursinus". Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
- Green, E; Myers, P (2006). "Lasiorhinus latifrons". Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
- McIlroy, John (1984). Macdonald, D., ed. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. pp. 876–877. ISBN 0-87196-871-1
- Humble, Gary (1 June 2006). "The Uncommon Wombat". Scribbly Gum. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
- "Common Wombat". Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment. Tasmanian Government. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
- Robinson, Georgina (7 April 2010). "Wombat combat: danger is their middle name". The Examiner. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
- (Underhill, 1993)
- BBC News (6 April 2010). "Wombat bites Australian bush fire survivor". BBC News Online. Retrieved 9 April 2010.
- The Independent (7 April 2010). "Australian Man Mauled in Rare Attack". The Independent. Retrieved 7 April 2010.
- "Lasiorhinus krefftii — Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat, Yaminon". Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. Australian Government. 12 February 2010. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
- Wells, R.T. (1989). "Volume 1B Mammalia". In Walton, D.W. Vombatidae. Richardson, B.J. AGPS Canberra/Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts - Commonwealth of Australia. p. 4. ISBN 0-644-06056-5. Retrieved 30 December 2009.
- Simpson, J. (16 January 2009). "The 'wombat' trail - David Nash". Transient Languages & Cultures. The University of Sydney. Retrieved 30 December 2009.
- Nash, M. "Maritime Archaeology Monograph and Reports Series No.2 - Investigation of a Survivors Camp from the Sydney Cove Shipwreck." Master of Maritime Archaeology Thesis. Department of Archaeology, Flinders University, South Australia. 2004. Accessed 30 December 2009.
- Moore-Robinson, J. (1911). A Record of Tasmanian nomenclature, with dates and origins. The Mercury Printing Office - Hobart, Tasmania. p. 28. Retrieved 30 December 2009.
- Butler, Susan (2009). The Dinkum Dictionary: The Origins of Australian Words. Text Publishing. p. 266. ISBN 1-921799-10-2.
- Reed, Alexander Wyclif (1969). Place-names of New South Wales, their origins and meanings. Reed. p. 152.
- "Common Wombat". Lady Wild Life. Retrieved 1 September 2008.
- "Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat". Queensland Government. 2011-10-13. Retrieved 2012-02-08.
- Willis, Paul (2003-03-07). "Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat". ABC Television, Catalyst. Retrieved 2012-02-08.
- Middleton, Amy (22 October 2009). "The day of the wombat". Australian Geographic. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
- 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.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Vombatidae.|
|Look up wombat in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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