‘Wombat lived in a small house under the shadow of a tall ghost gum.”
A.K.A. Vombatus ursinus,
The scientific name of the wombat comes partly from Latin – ‘ursinus’ means ‘bear’ – and partly from the word ‘vomat’ or ‘vombach’ from the Darug Aboriginal language.
Wombat in Bollygum is a Common Wombat. This species is also known as the Bare-Nosed Wombat, the Naked-Nosed Wombat, or the Island Wombat. The other wombat species are the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat and the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat.
The wombat is the animal most closely related to the koala. Like koalas, wombats are marsupials — this means that the mother has a pouch, and when she gives birth to her baby it lives in the pouch for a while, drinking her milk.
The different wombat species live in different areas. Common Wombats are usually found in Tasmania, and live mainly in forest-covered areas in south-eastern Australia.
Common Wombats have large noses with no fur on them, small ears, and thick coarse fur like toothbrush bristles. Their fur can be sandy in colour, or brown or black.
Wombats grow up to about a metre long, and can weigh up to 40 kg. They have wide feet and claws and strong limbs. This makes it easy for them to make tunnels in the ground, or burrows, in which they live and also hide from their predators. They are the largest burrowing mammal, and the second biggest marsupial — only kangaroos are bigger.
Wombats have strong teeth, but because they are always chewing on tough grasses their teeth wear down. Fortunately, unlike most other species, their teeth grow continuously.
Though wombats move slowly, they can speed up to about 40 km/h if in danger. When wombats feel threatened or angry, they growl or hiss.
When young wombats are lost, they communicate with their mothers by calling ‘huh, huh’ repeatedly. Their mothers reply with the same sounds.
Wombats throw sand over themselves to get clean, and they like to swim.
They are nocturnal animals. They come out of their burrows after sunset, when the air temperature cools. They usually go back to their burrows before sunrise, and stay there for most of the day.
DIET AND FEEDING HABITS
Wombats are herbivores — they are plant eaters. They like to eat roots and grasses, and sometimes tree bark also. If they can, they graze on crops, and are unpopular with farmers.
Wombats have one baby at a time, about once every two years. Pregnancy lasts for only a month before the baby is born. The baby is not fully developed at birth. It makes its way to the mother’s pouch, and stays there for six to ten months, growing and developing. Then it leaves the pouch, but stays with its mother for several months more before moving away to live independently. If danger threatens, it goes back into the pouch.
Wombats can live for five to ten years in the wild, but in captivity they can live as long as 30 years.
A group of wombats is known as a ‘wisdom’.
To escape predators, wombats dive into one of their tunnels and block the entrance with their bottoms.
Wombat Day is on 22 October every year around the world.
Australia celebrates Hairy Nose Day on 11 May each year. On this day people ‘Wear Whiskers for Wildlife’ to draw attention to endangered species, and the Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat is used a symbol for all endangered species.
Dingoes, foxes and Tasmanian devils are the wombat’s natural predators. Wild dogs, which are an introduced species in Australia, are a great threat to weaker wombats, such as babies, injured animals and older animals. If a wombat is attacked by a single dog, it will usually be strong enough to survive, but it wouldn’t be able to keep up a fight against a pack of dogs.
Though it has predators, the Common Wombat is not considered an endangered species. But other types of wombats are more endangered. The Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat is critically endangered, which means that this species may soon become extinct.
Though in most places in Australia wombats are protected by law, they are considered vermin in Victoria because they eat through fences and destroy crops.
Grzimek’s Encyclopedia of Mammals, 1990, vol.1, McGraw-Hill, New York