The humble wombat is one of Australia’s most beloved and unusual native marsupial species. It is a burrowing animal that can dig holes as long as 20 metres across.
With sharp claws and tough legs, wombats are able to easily dig complicated tunnels, pushing loose soil away with their back legs. They tend to be solitary creatures, spending most of their adult life alone foraging for food.
They will generally live alone in their burrows, but may be in close proximity to another burrow. Some burrow systems might be interconnected.
Normally a wombat will rest in or around their burrow until nightfall where they will then go out to find food. There are 3 species:
- Northern Hairy Nosed
- Southern Hairy Nosed
This burrowing marsupial is adapted to digging and leaving the protection of their tunnels at night to feed on plants. Their teeth at constantly growing and they have two incisors found within each jaw.
Babies are born one at a time and are carried in their mother’s pouch until maturity.
The South Australian common wombat is the largest species and has thick, coarse fur. The other two species are smaller and have softer fur.
Where are they located?
A common Australian wombat lives primarily in light forested, wet areas on the coast as well as on the western slopes and ranges. The southern hairy-nosed species is more commonly found in open and dry areas of land.
All species live in burrows and prefer to build in well-drained soil areas that are easier to dig up. The burrows can often be up to 30 metres long and several metres deep.
They will generally stay in their burrows when not foraging for food. While they each have their own burrow, it is not unknown for them to share it with other wombats.
What kind of food do they enjoy?
Wombats will spend anywhere from 3-8 hours every evening grazing on native grasses such as kangaroo and wallaby grass. They will also often eat the roots of trees and shrubs and wander up to 3 km looking for food every night.
How do they mark their territory?
While it is known that wombats will sometimes share their burrows, they are not quite as generous when it comes to their food sources. Indeed, this marsupial is known to be particularly possessive about their individuals feeding areas, using a series of screeches, snorts and even physical chasing against intruders.
This causes the population of a species to be very much tied to the number of free feeding grounds. A younger member of the species can sometimes take over the feeding area of a deceased elder, but often they will simply be forced to move on.
How do they reproduce?
They can begin breeding after reaching 2 years of age. The mating season occurs between September and December and each coupling normally results in a single child.
The baby will need to crawl from its mother’s birth canal to her pouch where it will stay from anywhere between 7 and 10 months. The pouch faces backwards which help to prevent debris collecting inside while the mother burrows.
What threats to they face?
Wombats in Australia have been systematically dislocated by human encroachment, particularly in the form of agriculture. They now mainly reside in the rugged hills and mountains of Australia where they are a risk of predation by wild dogs and of accidents with cars.
They are sometimes killed by farmers as a pest because they will knock down fences and graze on produce. In this way, they also compete with other animals like rabbits which have played a huge role in their decline.