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Australian Wombat - Facts, Habits and Personality

Updated on May 10, 2014
LongTimeMother profile image

LTM is an Australian living on a small farm in the bush. When she travels overseas she answers many questions about Australian wildlife.

Dead wombats are a common sight on Australian country roads. Do you know why wombat roadkill is painted with a bright cross?
Dead wombats are a common sight on Australian country roads. Do you know why wombat roadkill is painted with a bright cross? | Source

You've probably heard of Australia's wombats, but how much do you know about them?

Sadly the most common sighting of wombats in Australia is when they are lying dead on the side of the road.

Tourists who travel on Australian roads often wonder why our native roadkill (particularly wombats and kangaroos) are marked with a painted cross.

I live in wombat territory. Here's my observations about one of Australia's lesser known native animals.


Wombat burrow

The entrance to a wombat hole. A mother and her children survived a killer fire storm by taking refuge in a wombat burrow in 2009.
The entrance to a wombat hole. A mother and her children survived a killer fire storm by taking refuge in a wombat burrow in 2009. | Source

The Personality of a Wombat

The wombat is an animal that is stubborn, surly, obstinate and increasingly aggressive in its older years.

Think of your least favourite uncle who is grumpy, demanding and self-absorbed. If he never gives any thought or consideration to your feelings and he wipes his muddy boots on your carpet as he blunders into your home, gobbles down dinner, damages your precious crockery, leaves the table without a word of thanks, then turns on your tv and spills beer on your couch, he's a human version of a wombat. Adult wombats do not have a nice personality.

Your unpopular uncle was probably cute and cuddly as a baby, and people probably held great hopes that he'd grow into a pleasant adult who'd be nice to be around.

That's what most people think when they encounter a baby wombat. "Oh, isn't it cute. I want one!" By the time a wombat is a teenager, however, everyone will be holding their breath looking forward to the day when it leaves home.


First impression of a wombat

This short video (just one minute long) includes a narration from a fellow saying this is the first wombat he's ever seen in the wild. He thinks it is beautiful.

I remember how pleased I was to see my first wombat.

I'm still pleased to see them because I value Australia's native wildlife, but I confess the honeymoon period has passed.


Cube shaped scats

One of the piles of cube-shaped wombat droppings that mark the way to the entry of a burrow. (Fresh scent replaces the dried and less effective older faeces.)
One of the piles of cube-shaped wombat droppings that mark the way to the entry of a burrow. (Fresh scent replaces the dried and less effective older faeces.) | Source

Wombat scats

What I like most about wombats are the many idiosyncracies that make wombats different to any other animal.

For instance, the wombat drops unique cube shaped faeces. They leave about 100 smelly cubes in small piles of 4 to 8 throughout any 24 hour period. Unique in their shape, the wombat is also creative in their presentation.

Scats found on grass indicate a place where they've been eating or mark a path to the entry to a burrow ... but part of the ritual associated with marking their territory involves placing their poo on a pedestal.

Wombat scats are often piled on raised flat surfaces. A rock, a log, a fallen branch, even a doorstep are ideal sites for wombat scat display. They obviously like it to be noticed.

Wombats stubbornly refuse to conform to the typical behaviour of nocturnal or diurnal animals and venture out to feed at random times throughout the day and night. Some authorities claim wombats are mainly crepuscular (suggesting they are more active at dawn and dusk) but those of us who live in active wombat territory spot them during daytime (except on really hot days) and still have to avoid them on the roads in the middle of the night.


Wombat footprint

The wombat's front paw has five toes with long sharp claws. The rear paw has four toes with claws plus a small round bump to the side.
The wombat's front paw has five toes with long sharp claws. The rear paw has four toes with claws plus a small round bump to the side. | Source

Wombat lifestyle

Wombats dig holes; big, long holes that can extend 100 feet through the earth.

Wombats are herbivores and their teeth are ideal for gnawing through all kinds of tough vegetation, including tree roots they encounter when digging their burrows although they often cleverly use larger tree roots to support the roof of the tunnel.

Digging under sheds and houses can cause structural damage and cost thousands of dollars for repairs. Removing the wombats can be a challenge and discouraging them from returning involves sealing off the underneath of the building.

Of course a wombat can start digging again and create a new tunnel that dips beneath a standard barrier, so some home owners have spent years actively trying to discourage wombats from living beneath their homes.

Within the burrow, the wombat is safe. Predators who enter are likely to have their heads crushed by the rump of the wombat. A wombat allows a predator's head to reach above their body, then it straightens its rear legs and crushes the head against the wall of the tunnel.


Wombats dig holes

The female wombat has a backwards facing pouch

All wombat species grow to around a metre long and weigh between 20 and 35 kg (44 to 77 lb).

Female wombats give birth to a single young in the spring, after a gestation period of about 21 days. Newborn pinkies make their way to the pouch where they stay for about six or seven months.

A wombat's pouch faces backwards. Baby wombats remain safely tucked in the pouch, protected from the flying soil and debris flung behind a burrowing wombat. (The journey for a wombat pinkie at birth is a lot shorter than the marathon effort expected of a kangaroo pinkie on its way to its mother's pouch.)

Just like a kangaroo joey, when a wombat joey latches onto the mother's teat it swells to create a firm fixing. After leaving the pouch the wombat joey still drinks from the mother's teat for another eight months.

Wombats become sexually mature at about 18 months; just three months after weaning.


Baby wombat at age of just leaving the pouch

Dead wombat

Another wombat fatality. Wombats are commonly killed on Australian roads.
Another wombat fatality. Wombats are commonly killed on Australian roads. | Source
 A large X is painted on wombat (and kangaroo) roadkill after the pouch is checked for live young.
A large X is painted on wombat (and kangaroo) roadkill after the pouch is checked for live young. | Source

Wombat Rescue

Dedicated wildlife carers respond to traffic accidents involving wombats at all hours of the day and night. Wombats have very poor eyesight and rely heavily on their sense of smell.

Every dead wombat must be promptly checked to ensure there is not a baby in a female's pouch.

In my part of Australia, residents are actively involved in checking the pouches of wombats and kangaroos killed on the roads.

Most locals have the phone numbers of our local wildlife carers stored in their telephones and phone them for help or to let them know a baby has been found.

When a dead wombat, wallaby or kangaroo has been checked on the side of the road, it is sprayed with a brightly coloured X so other drivers know there is no need to stop.

Unfortunately wombats are very hard to see, particularly in a heavy winter fog. I suspect most of the roadkill involves drivers from out of the area. Hitting a wombat in a car can cause significant damage to the vehicle, as well as the trauma of killing native wildlife.

When driving in wombat territory it is always important to expect to encounter wombats on the roads.


Can you keep a wombat as a pet?

In Australia, it is illegal to keep a wombat as a pet. Only registered wildlife carers are allowed to keep them in captivity.

I am aware they can be bought as pets in America, but a wombat is not an animal I would recommend as a pet. They can live up to 20 years, but they stop being cute within the first 12 months.

As soon as a wombat reaches maturity it is no longer nice to be around.

Check out the following video. It will give you an idea of what to expect. :)


Introduction to an adult wombat

The wombat - an australian icon

Wombats in the wild

I enjoy seeing wombats in the wild and we have quite a few wombat burrows within walking distance of our home.

Australia's native wildlife is unique and fascinating and I am grateful for the opportunity to enjoy it. Given the chance, I urge everyone to get out in the Australian bush and experience what nature has to offer.

However the wombat belongs in the wild. I doubt that an adult wombat could ever be effectively house-trained and considered a member of the family.

Resist the urge to adopt a baby wombat as a pet. It will be impossible to find it a new home once it turns into a grumpy and cantankerous adult. :)


Comments

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    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      This is more than I ever thought I would want to know about a wombat. But you have filled in all of the details. I must admit ....after seeing the poo and the way it is displayed, I really do not think I want one. It is better to enjoy them from afar.

      Angels are on the way to you this evening. ps

      thanks for sharing...Voted up++++ shared

    • rose-the planner profile image

      rose-the planner 4 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

      This was an incredible look at the wombat. The adults are downright mean and while I was watching the video the baby feeding on the bottle looked so adorable and peaceful but they are certainly not an animal that can be domesticated. That guy from the BBC was nuts for sticking his head in a wombat's habitat or hole. I have to say that your comparison to a grumpy old uncle was hilarious and I totally get it, lol! Very interesting indeed, thank you for sharing. (Voted Up) -Rose

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      lol. I agree, Rose. The BBC reporter was crazy. I'd jump in a wombat hole if it was my only option to escape a bushfire, but that's the only reason. We don't even let our dogs explore wombat burrows for two reasons - firstly, the wombat could easily kill a dog, and secondly, wombats can potentially have mange. I believe it was first introduced to Australia on foxes. I'm pretty sure the soil hitting the reporter's head was a mockup, intercut with footage of a wombat in action ... but even still he was certainly in the hole.

      I'm glad my uncle imagery hit the spot. It is difficult to write honestly about wombats without sounding mean. Thanks for the vote. :)

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      Hi pstraubie. Thanks for the votes and sharing. Those cube-shaped scats appear in some really funny places. I'll keep my camera handy and try to add another pic some time in the future. :)

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      That was so interesting and I was able to learn a lot about the wombat. I knew nothing about them before. I never heard of them being kept as pets in the US. These animals need to be kept illegal unless they are on their native continent. It really isn't right.

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      Hi aviannovice. The Australian 60 Minutes tv program showed a story about Australian native wildlife kept as pets in America. I was surprised to see kangaroos kept in a backyard. The story raised an interesting point about the way they are considered far more valuable as pets and cared for, whereas kangaroos in the wild in Australia can be culled.

      Here's a link to the transcript of that story ...

      http://sixtyminutes.ninemsn.com/article.aspx?id=85...

      I still can't imagine anyone keeping a wombat as a pet, though! lol.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I can see both sides of the coin, but I have to tell you, that I don't think everyone that wants one is capable of caring for these exotic animals. After all, look what happens to chicks and ducklings after Easter. Snakes and turtles end up in toilets to go through city sewer systems. But a loving home with good and proper care would be a good thing instead of death. I'd like to see an investigation of homes prior to purchasing these animals.

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      You make a good point, aviannovice. Apparently a month or so after Xmas there are lots of dogs and cats being dumped at animal refuges. People don't seem to consider the long term implications of buying a pet.

    • innerspin profile image

      innerspin 3 years ago from uk

      What an interesting insight into wombats. You've shattered my illusions, I'd no idea they were such mean spirited animals. The BBC video featured Steve Leonard. He's well known in the UK, as the BBC filmed a group of trainee vets in the last year at university. Several of the vets went on to make more programmes, and Steve has travelled widely. I doubt he'd take any chances with a bad tempered beastie!

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 3 years ago from Australia

      lol, innerspin. I laughed when he said, "Oooh. Hello. That's a bit feisty, isn't it?" Must have been a surprise for him after seeing hand-reared babies.

      He did a pretty good Steve Irwin impersonation in the hole. Looks like he's chosen his career path. :)

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