- Education and Science»
- Life Sciences
Australian Wombat - Facts, Habits and Personality
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.
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
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.
- Australian Fire Death Toll Climbs - World - CBN News - Christian News 24-7 - CBN.com
Occasionally we hear stories about people taking refuge in wombat holes during wild bushfires. In 2009 Nesh Sinclair and her children survived Victoria's catastrophic bushfires sheltering in a wombat hole. Close to 200 others died.
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
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
Not a good choice for a pet.
- Wombat combat: danger is their middle name
This story in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper offers more evidence of the wombat's aggressive nature.
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. :)
More on Australian wildlife by the same author ...
- My Australian kangaroo pictures - with joeys in pouches
An entire mob of kangaroos stayed still while I photographed them - including a kangaroo climbing under a fence. Perhaps the weight of joeys in their pouches made them happier about posing. :)
- Australian Animals - pictures from my yard
Downloading my photos from summer I noticed quite a few Australian animals pictures. Australian native wildlife often visits my back yard.