Members of the animal family Vombatidae, there are three species of wombat: common wombat, southern hairy-nosed wombat and northern hairy-nosed wombat. They're all native to Australia and some of the surrounding islands and have nothing in common with bats that fly around at night. In fact, these rotund, furry mammals resemble overgrown prairie dogs of the Great Plains in the United States.
Along with koalas and kangaroos, wombats are marsupials. Like koalas, female wombats have pouches that face to the rear of their bodies, in which they carry and nurse their young. The orientation of the pouches keeps them free of dirt while they dig. Wombats are sizable animals, weighing up to 88 pounds (40 kilograms) and measuring up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) in length. When necessary, wombats can sprint up to 25 mph (40 kph) [source: Animal Planet].
As nocturnal animals, wombats are active at night, foraging for grasses, roots and bark. Rivaling the reputation of sloths, wombats may sleep up to 16 hours every day [source: Jackson]. Also like the sloth, this sleep pattern is influenced by their herbivorous -- and thus low energy-yielding -- diet, which requires them to conserve energy. In fact, while sleeping, the wombat's metabolism may drop to two-thirds of its normal rate [source: Animal Planet].
Dwarfing petite prairie dogs, the wombats' body size makes them the largest burrowing mammal in the world. Using their front claws to dig burrows, wombats spend most of the day underground, away from the sun. Wombats may dig out a series of up to 30 underground, interconnected burrows, referred to as warrens. Southern hairy-nosed wombats are known to share space within warrens, but generally won't occupy the same burrow -- sort of like how family members have their own bedrooms in one house. That's because wombats are highly territorial, preferring to spend most of their time alone, except during mating season.
As we mentioned earlier, animal droppings are natural ways of marking territory to prevent confrontation and promote mating. In addition to scent markings, or scents produced by the hormones that animals release, wombats leave their cube-shaped scat as territorial signposts on the tops of rocks and logs. That distinct shape is beneficial since the flat sides of the cubes keep the droppings in place on their precarious locations. If wombat poop was rounded, like that of koalas, it would probably roll off its intended drop point. And since wombats can produce between 80 and 100 pellets per day, stray scats could lead to a lot of disgruntled wombats [source: Wombat Protection Society].
While it still ranks among one of the most unpleasant products of our biological functions, poop certainly serves a purpose in the wild. Bringing it into your home on the bottom of your shoe is another matter, however.
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More Great Links
- Barnes, Michele. "Husbandry Manual for the Common Wombat." Australian Wildlife Experience. May 2005. (Oct. 2, 2008)http://www.fourthcrossingwildlife.com/CommonWombatHusbandryManual-MicheleBarnes.pdf
- Hairston, Nelson G. "Vertebrate Zoology." CUP Archive. 1994. (Oct. 2, 2008)http://books.google.com/books?id=gqM8AAAAIAAJ
- McDougall, Len. "The Encyclopedia of Tracks and Scat." Globe Pequot. 2004. (Oct. 2, 2008)http://books.google.com/books?id=9XOc2_u7z6cC
- Nowak, Robert M. and Walker, Ernest Pillsbury. "Walker's Mammals of the World." JHU Press. 1999. (Oct. 2, 2008)http://books.google.com/books?id=T37sFCl43E8C
- "Wombats." Animal Planet. (Oct. 2, 2008)http://animal.discovery.com/fansites/crochunter/australiazoo/09wombats.html
- "Wombat Myths." Wombat Protection Society of Australia Ltd. (Oct. 2, 2008) http://www.wombatprotection.org.au/wombat_protection_society_myths.htm