Wombats are Australian marsupials. They are short-legged, muscular quadrupeds, approximately 3 feet (1 meter) long and with a very short tail. The name Wombat comes from the Eora Aboriginal community who were the original inhabitants of the Sydney area. Wombats dig extensive burrow systems with rodent-like front teeth and powerful claws. Although mainly crepuscular and nocturnal, wombats will also venture out to feed on cool or overcast days. They are not as easily seen as many animals, but leave ample evidence of their passage. They treat fences as a minor inconvenience to be gone through or under, leaving distinctive cubic scats. Wombats are herbivores, their diet consisting mostly of grasses, sedges, herbs, bark and roots.
Wombats, like all the larger living marsupials, are part of the Diprotodontia. The ancestors of modern wombats evolved sometime between 55 and 26 million years ago, and about 12 species flourished until well into the ice ages. Among the several giant wombat species, it was the largest marsupial to ever live. The earliest human inhabitants of Australia arrived while diprotodons were still common. They are believed to have brought about their extinction through hunting or habitat alteration.
Ecology and behavior
Wombats have an extraordinarily slow metabolism, taking around 14 days to complete digestion, and generally move slowly. When required, they can reach up to 25 miles/h (40 km/h) and maintain that speed for up to 90 seconds.
When attacked, they can summon immense reserves of strength. One defense of a wombat against a predator (such as a Dingo) underground is to crush it against the roof of the tunnel until it stops breathing. Its primary defense is its toughened rear hide with most of the posterior made of cartilage. This combined with its lack of a meaningful tail, presents a difficult-to-bite target to any enemy who follows the wombat into its tunnel
Wombats and humans
Unlike a lot of Australian marsupial wildlife, wombats appear to have little fear of humans. They can be awkwardly tamed in a captive situation, even sweet-talked to being held. Many parks, zoos and other tourist set-ups across Australia have wombats for show to the public. They are quite popular in the zoos.
This lack of fear also means that they may display acts of aggression if provoked, or if they are simply in a bad mood. Its sheer weight makes a charging wombat capable of knocking a man over, and their sharp teeth and powerful jaws can result in severe wounds.
Wombats, while they look cute and cuddly when small, do not make good pets in the long run. They are solitary animals and prefer to stay that way when older.
Unfortunately many people’s only contact with wombats is on highways at night, when many are killed in accidents, often doing considerable damage to vehicles.