Long considered a pest and valued only slightly for its meat - especially in the extremely Australian-sounding wombat stew, wombats have battled to be seen above Australia's often extraordinary wildlife. An American seeing one would likely mistake it for a pudgy groundhog and then go looking for a killer bird or venomous duck billed animal. But, like all animals, wombats are interesting in their own ways. With their backwards pouch and extensive tunnels, they deserve attention as much as the deadlier or weirder animals. While they are ignored by most people, they are generally detested by farmers for the damage they do to fields.
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Mammalia
Infraclass - Marsupialia
Order - Diprotodontia
Family - Vombatidae
Genus – Vombatus; Lasiorhinus; Rhizophascolomus; Warendja; Ramasayia
Wombats can easily be mistaken for large rodents such as groundhogs, but they are marsupials. They are squat and sturdy with brown or grey fur and they dig extensively. Although they do have pouches like other marsupials, their pouches face backwards to keep dirt and debris from gathering in it as they tunnel. They are built very powerfully and use both their claws and teeth to dig elaborate tunnel systems, where they live alone.
The embryos gestate for three weeks and the young emerge - as with all marsupials - barely formed and they must immediately find their mother's pouch, where they will remain for half a year. Once they are able to leave the pouch, they will remain with their mothers for another year until they are weaned.
Everything about a wombat under normal conditions is slow. They even take up to two weeks to digest a meal. They are, however, capable of surprising bursts of speed for short periods when threatened. They will also defend their homes and territories with violence. When they cannot defend, they will retreat into a burrow and depend on their backsides, which are reinforced with cartilage, to deter any potential predators. While they are built sturdily and they have powerful, rodent like teeth, they are herbivores feasting primarily on tough bark, roots, and grasses.
The evolution of wombats is not well understood and is still hotly debated. They may have diverged as many as 40 million or as few as 25 million years ago. They also may have been related to the huge diprotodon or it may have evolved in parallel. Studies are still underway to try to understand their complicated history.
Wombats have never enjoyed high status in Australia and they were considered a pest historically and still are in some areas. The hairy nosed wombat is considered endangered and is protected. The common wombat is also protected in many areas.
International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
Wombats by Barbara Triggs
Marsupials 1st Edition by Patricia J. Armati , Chris R. Dickman, Ian D. Hume
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