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What is a Wombat?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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The wombat is a small, rather charming, herbivorous marsupial found in Australia and Tasmania. They are solitary animals, with short brown fur and a large nose, looking somewhat like a cross between a kangaroo and a koala. Others describe it as resembling petite bears, since they are so stocky. The wombat tends to be rather docile in appearance, yet, if necessary, can attack with ferocity to defend itself or its children.

Most Australians have never seen a wild wombat. This is in part because they are extremely proficient at digging and tunneling. They create huge networks of burrows and are usually not seen above ground during the day, as they are generally nocturnal. The animal is exceptionally strong and muscle bound, but generally slow moving. A full-grown wombat can weigh as much as 55 pounds (24.94 kg), and be about 40 inches (about 1 m) in length.

Research into wombat physiology reveals that the animal has the largest and most fully developed brain of any marsupial, suggesting high intelligence. This intelligence does not translate to it making a good pet however. Since they are solitary, they like to be left alone, and especially older ones may lash out at owners simply out of grumpiness.

There are two varieties on the Australian continent, the common wombat, and the hairy nosed wombat. Both have the same stocky body, but the hairy nosed variety tends to have an elongated nose, and more closely resembles the aardvark in face shape. Both have approximately the same life span, anywhere from 5-15 years. Captive animals may live over 20 years.

The female reaches sexual maturity at 2-4 years of age. They tend to bear their young singly, though occasionally they have twins. Gestation is very short, about 22 days. The newborn is then kept in the mother’s pouch for approximately 8 months. When the infant is about a year old, its mother usually forces it out her territory. Females may stay a little bit longer, but the wombat does not tolerate the company of its children for long. Likewise, mating periods are very brief, and the male is usually discouraged from remaining in the female’s territory once mating is finished.

Since wombats have long sharp claws, they can frequently fend off attacks by dingoes, their only predator in Australia. In Tasmania, they have no natural predators. They are most likely to be hit by cars, which is especially tragic if they are caring for young. The tiny babies have no natural defenses. This has led to a development of a number of wombat rescue centers. The tiny animals are raised in pouches constructed of cloth, and are constantly carried about by humans until they can fend for themselves. When possible, they are re-released into the wild. Other orphaned wombats end up in zoos because they lack the adequate skills to survive in the wild.

Some Australian farmers regard the wombat as a nuisance, since it easily plows through fields and completely ignores fences, which it can tunnel under. However, most find the animal endearing, and there are many zoos throughout Australia, which exhibit them. These exhibits aid in education on how to avoid unnecessarily harming wombats.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a wombat?

A wombat is a burrowing marsupial native to Australia, characterized by its short legs, compact body, and strong claws for digging. They belong to the family Vombatidae, which includes three species: the Common Wombat, the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat, and the critically endangered Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat. Wombats are nocturnal and herbivorous, feeding mainly on grasses and roots.

How do wombats differ from other marsupials?

Wombats are unique among marsupials for their backward-facing pouch, which prevents soil from entering while they dig. Unlike arboreal marsupials like koalas, wombats are terrestrial and have adapted to a burrowing lifestyle. They also produce cube-shaped feces, a trait not observed in other marsupials, which helps mark their territory without rolling away.

What is the natural habitat of a wombat?

Wombats are found in diverse habitats across southeastern Australia, including forested, mountainous, and heathland areas. They prefer regions with soft, loose soil that allows for easy burrowing. Their burrows can be extensive tunnel systems, providing shelter from predators and extreme weather. The Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat prefers arid environments, while the other two species inhabit more temperate zones.

How long do wombats live?

In the wild, wombats can live up to 15 years, but in captivity, their lifespan can extend to around 20 years. Their longevity is partly due to their slow metabolism, which allows them to conserve energy efficiently. This slow metabolism also means they can survive on less food compared to other herbivores of similar size.

Are wombats social animals?

Wombats are generally solitary animals, with each individual maintaining its own territory. However, their social behavior can vary by species. The Common Wombat may display more social tendencies, sometimes sharing burrows with other wombats. In contrast, the Hairy-nosed species are more solitary and rarely interact with others outside of the breeding season.

What threats do wombats face in the wild?

Wombats face several threats, including habitat loss due to agriculture and urban development, competition for food with livestock, and diseases such as mange caused by parasitic mites. The Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat is particularly at risk, with only about 250 individuals remaining, according to recent estimates. Conservation efforts are crucial to protect these unique marsupials from extinction.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a AllThingsNature contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By Lostnfound — On Jun 22, 2014

Seems like I remember Steve Irwin talking about how wombats absolutely do not make good pets, because of their very solitary temperaments.

I can see why people might take the chance, because they are really cute. But, as the article notes, "cute" and smart don't necessarily mean they're good pets. I think hedgehogs and chinchillas are the same way. They're really cute, but their solitary habits just don't make them fun, engaging pets.

As long as a wombat's claws are, I wouldn't want to risk having one as a pet, anyway.

By Grivusangel — On Jun 21, 2014

Years ago when Prince William (the Duke of Cambridge) was little, I remember the rumor was that his nickname was "Willie Wombat" because apparently, he got into everything. I always thought that was so cute.

I've only seen pictures of wombats. I don't believe I've ever been to a zoo that had any on exhibit. Maybe the they don't do well in the US climate. But there may be some US zoos that do have them. I'd be surprised if there weren't.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a AllThingsNature contributor, Tricia...
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