Wombats are small marsupials that look like a cross between a bear, a pig and a gopher. They are built for digging, with short legs, compact heads, short broad feet and strong claws. Like kangaroos, koalas and other marsupials, they have a pouch. But a wombat's pouch is backwards. And their poop is cube-shaped.
Wombats are about as big as a medium-size dog, typically 30 inches (76 centimeters) long. The common wombat weighs 55 to 88 lbs. (25 to 40 kilograms), and the hairy-nosed wombat weighs 42 to 71 lbs. (19 to 32 kg), according to the San Diego Zoo.
All wombat species live in Australia and Tasmania in mountains, forests and grasslands. Their homes are burrows, which consist of many tunnels and sleeping chambers. Some tunnels in a burrow can reach up to 650 feet (200 meters) in length, according to the San Diego Zoo. Some wombats have several separate burrows that they live in throughout the year, according to the University of Michigan's Animal Diversity Web (ADW).
Some wombats are social, while others are loners. For example, the common wombat spends most of its time alone, while the hairy-nosed wombat can live with up to 12 other wombats in its burrow. A group of wombats is called a mob or colony, according toNational Geographic.
All wombats are nocturnal and spend their nights foraging for food or digging. During cold days, some wombats do come out of their burrows to sunbathe and warm up. They do not climb trees like koalas, their nearest relative, but they are good swimmers, according to the Wombat Information Center.
Wombats are herbivores, which means they only eat vegetation. Some common meals for a wombat include roots, grasses, scrub, herbs and bark. They get most of their water from the foods they eat and can live years without drinking water.
Wombats have special enzymes in their stomachs to digest tough roughage, but even so, it still takes around 14 days for a wombat to digest a meal.
Awombat's feces are shaped like cubes. Wombats use their poop to mark their territory. They will place a poop cube on fallen trees, fresh mushrooms and rocks. Cubed poop won't roll off, according to Tasmanian Wildlife Management. [National Geographic Video: Cubic Wombat Poo]
Wombats typically mate during times when food is abundant. If there is a drought and food is not abundant, the wombat will not mate. Male wombats will fight for the right to mate with a female. The coarse-haired wombat will chase a female in circles until she slows down long enough that he can catch her to mate, according to the ADW. The female will make a coughing noise as they are chased.
A female wombat has a gestation period of around 21 to 30 days. She gives birth to only one young at a time every two years.
A baby wombat is called a joey. At birth, a joey only weighs 2 grams, and is about the size of a jellybean, according to the Wombat Information Center. The joey climbs into its mother's pouch right after birth to finish developing and stays there for around five months.
A wombat's pouch is backward; it opens toward the bottom, instead of towards the chest. This prevents dirt and debris from entering while burrowing. A joey clamps down on its mother's teat, which helps prevent it from falling out, according to the Wombat Information Center.
After five months, the joey will climb in and out of its mothers pouch for another few months. Wombats become mature at 1.5 to 3 years and live 5 to 15 years in the wild and over 20 years in zoos.
Here is the taxonomy of wombats, according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS).
Genera & species:
- Lasiorhinus krefftii (Northern hairy-nosed wombat)
- Lasiorhinus latifrons (Southern hairy-nosed wombat)
- Vombatus ursinus (common wombat, coarse-haired wombat)
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), only one type of wombat is endangered. The Northern hairy-nosed wombat has gained this distinction because it can only be found in a very small location known as Epping Forest National Park. The quality of that small habitat is also declining due to invasive exotic grasses. There are only 115 Northern hairy-nosed wombats left.
During the Pleistocene, herds of giant wombats the size of a rhinoceros roamed the plains of southern Australia.
Though wombats have short legs they can run up to 25 mph (40 kph).
The skin on a wombat’s bottom is very thick and can withstand bites. It often uses its rear to block the entrance to its burrow.