Common Wombat

Vombatus ursinus

Vombatus ursinus

The wombat is the largest burrowing mammal.  Early settlers called it a badger.  However, its closest relative is in fact the koala.  Its thick, coarse fur varies in colour from sandy brown to grey and black, and is sometimes flecked with fawn.  The Tasmanian wombat is not as large or bulky as that found on the mainland, averaging 85cm in length and 20 kg in weight.  It differs from other marsupials by having a single pair of upper and lower incisors (front teeth).  These teeth are never ground away, as they are both rootless and never stop growing.  Life span is in excess of 5 years in the wild.

Breeding

Mating mostly occurs during winter.  Young remain in the pouch for 6 months, at which time it begins substituting amounts of plant material for milk.  It stops suckling at about 15 months.  Gestation period is 30 days.

Behaviour

Wombats are mostly nocturnal.  They graze for between 3 – 8 hours a night, during which time they may travel many kilometres and visit up to four burrows within their home range.  To avoid overlap of feeding areas, they use scent-marking, vocalisations and aggressive displays.  The distinctive cube shaped dung is a useful indication of its comings and goings. Any new object within a home range is a prime target for marking with dung, particularly if it is elevated.  Fallen trees, fresh mushrooms, rocks and even an upright stick have been found with dung on top!  The cube shape means that dung is less likely to roll off such objects.  The rump of the wombat is covered by a very tough, thick skin.  If threatened, a wombat will dive into a nearby burrow or hollow log, using its rump as protection from the teeth and claws of its attacker.  Burrows can be up to 20m long and more than 2m below the ground.

Diet

Feed is composed entirely of plant material, mainly native grasses, but shrubs, roots, sedges, bark and herbs are also eaten. 

Status

Although common at present, the clearing of land for agriculture is reducing their range.  Wombats are killed by poison such as “1080” used in baits, with dogs indiscriminate shooters and vehicles also taking their toll.