Vombatus ursinuscoarse-haired wombat

Last updated:

Geographic Range

Wombats are native to the Australian biogeographic region. Coarse-haired wombats are found along the eastern edge of Queensland and New South Whales, in addition to Victoria, Flinder's Island, Tasmania, and parts of South Australia. ("Vombatus ursinus", 2011; Paris, et al., 2002)

Habitat

Coarse-haired wombats inhabit temperate areas with suitable burrowing conditions, which may include areas such as open forests, heathlands, and hilly coastal scrub. ("Common Wombat", 2009; "Vombatus ursinus", 2011; Menkhorst and Knight, 2011)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 1800 m
    0.00 to 5905.51 ft

Physical Description

Coarse-haired wombats are large, squat, thick-set grazers with a broad, rounded head, stubby tail, small dark eyes, and small round ears. Its limbs are short with sturdy claws for burrowing. Wombats have a pair of rootless, ever-growing incisors differs them from marsupials and can be used for cutting through obstacles when burrowing. Its fur is thick and coarse and can range in color from grey-brown to blackish, patchy grey and buff, or uniformly cream colored. Unlike the two other species of wombat, this species lacks hair on its rhinarium, and the ears are smaller and more furred than that of its close relatives. The northern and southern hairy nosed wombats tend toward longer muzzles that are more square-like in shape. Populations of coarse-haired wombats that inhabit Tasmania tend to have smaller members than the mainland, and Flinders Island populations have the smallest members. ("Common Wombat", 2009; Menkhorst and Knight, 2011)

  • Range mass
    20 to 35 kg
    44.05 to 77.09 lb
  • Range length
    700 to 1100 mm
    27.56 to 43.31 in

Reproduction

Coarse-haired wombats reproductive behavior consists of a male chasing the female in circles for several minutes at a time until the female slows down enough for him to catch up. At this point he bites her rump, grasps her with his forelegs, and flips her onto her side. The male then mounts her while laying on his side; after which the female may break off into a jog, and the chasing behavior ensues again. These sessions may last about 30 minutes. Not much is known about wombat mating systems, but there is some evidence to suggest that they are polygynous. (Banks, et al., 2002; Barnes, 2005; Jackson, 2003)

Coarse-haired wombats typically breed and produce one offspring about every two years. Their breeding doesn't seem to be tied to any particular season, though births may be clustered in summer. Gestation lasts approximately one month, producing a tiny joey about the size of a jelly bean. This joey grows in the pouch until it is weaned at approximately 12 months of age. Both male and female wombats are sexually mature after about 2 years. ("Common Wombat", 2009; Paris, et al., 2002; Skerratt, et al., 2004; de Magalhaes and Costa, 2009)

  • Breeding interval
    Common wombats breed about once every two years.
  • Breeding season
    Reproduction is not strongly linked to seasons.
  • Average number of offspring
    1
  • Average number of offspring
    1
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    27 to 31 days
  • Range weaning age
    12 to 20 months
  • Range time to independence
    18 to 20 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    730 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    730 days
    AnAge

After birth, the wombat joey will live in its mother's pouch for about 6 months, feeding off the mothers milk until about 15 months of age. The wombat will remain with its mother until about 18 to 20 months of age, until it gains its independence. ("Common Wombat", 2009; Menkhorst and Knight, 2011; Paris, et al., 2002)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

There are few studies describing wombat longevity; however, the longest a wombat lived in captivity was approximately 30 years. They typically only live 12 to 15 years. (Barnes, 2005; de Magalhaes and Costa, 2009)

Behavior

Wombats are mainly nocturnal and crepuscular, emerging from their burrows at dusk to graze in the cooler night temperatures. However during colder seasons they may be seen sunbathing in the day. When foraging, coarse-haired wombats might travel several kilometers in search of food, often visiting the same sites repeatedly, creating short patches of grass known as "marsupial lawns." Wombats are solitary, but their home ranges tend to overlap. Multiple wombats might use the same burrow, but rarely at the same time. When burrowing, they remove dirt in front of them using the claws, then "bulldoze" the dirt backwards using their rump. They use a similar tactic for dealing with predators in their burrow, backing up at the attacker and using their strong back legs to crush their head against the roof of the burrow. Wombats may have multiple resting chambers, in which they build nests out of grass, leaves and sticks. To conserve energy, they may spend up to 16 hours a day sleeping in these chambers. (Favreau, et al., 2009; Jackson, 2003)

  • Range territory size
    0.024 to 0.083 km^2

Home Range

The home range of the common wombat ranges from 0.024 to 0.083 square kilometers in size, and often contains multiple burrows. (Skerratt, et al., 2004)

Communication and Perception

The common wombat communicates to conspecifics in a number of ways, mainly through scent marking to maintain territories. Other forms of communication include vocalizations, aggresive displays, and markings on logs and branches made by rubbing against them repeatedly. ("Vombatus ursinus", 2011)

Food Habits

The combination of low metabolic activity and a large digestive tract allows wombats to utilize areas where the vegetation may be of poor quality. The common wombat is a folivore, with a diet that consists of native grasses, sedges, moss, and sometimes shrubs, roots, tubers, and bark. The small, acidic stomach and simple small intestine of wombats digests plant cell material, while the hind gut houses microbial fermentation, with which wombats digest the fibrous cell walls of plants. The hind gut consists of a proximal colon (which makes up roughly 60 to 80% of gut contents), a cecum, and the distal colon. Some of the plant species in the wombat diet include Poa, Themeda australis, Carex appressa, Juncas, Stipa, and Danthonia penicillata. ("Common Wombat", 2009; "Digestive Strategies of the Wombats: Feed Intake, Fiber Digestion, and Digesta Passage in Two Grazing Marsupials with Hindgut Fermentation", 1993; Barnes, 2005; Menkhorst and Knight, 2011; Skerratt, et al., 2004)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • bryophytes

Predation

Predators of the common wombat include Tasmanian devils, dogs, wedge-tailed eagles, and humans. Prior to their extinction, Tasmanian wolves probably preyed on the wombats, as well. The combination of low metabolic rate and efficient digestion allows wombats to spend much of their time in their burrows away from predators, though wombats likely have these traits to exploit a diet of poor-quality vegetation and not to avoid predation. Wombats sometimes build dirt plugs to close off their tunnels, which may be a defensive behavior. ("Digestive Strategies of the Wombats: Feed Intake, Fiber Digestion, and Digesta Passage in Two Grazing Marsupials with Hindgut Fermentation", 1993; Favreau, et al., 2009; Jackson, 2003)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Wombats often live in riparian environments, due to their preference to build burrows above creeks and streams. Due to their grazing and soil-displacing habits, wombats may help to provide different microsites that influence vegetative growth patterns in these environments. (Borchard and Eldridge, 2011; Jackson, 2003)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • creates habitat
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Wombats were hunted for their pelts; now they are protected and it is illegal. ("IUCN Red List of Threatened Species", 2011)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Wombats are sometimes seen as pests in areas of farming due to their burrowing behavior creating hazards for livestock. Also, wombats sometimes burrow under rabbit fences, allowing rabbits an escape path. ("Common Wombat", 2009; Paris, et al., 2002)

Conservation Status

According the the IUCN Red List for Threatened Species, coarse-haired wombats are listed as least concern, and the population trends are currently stable. They are protected in all states of Australia. ("Common Wombat", 2009; "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species", 2011)

Contributors

Benjamin Galetka (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Christopher Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Glossary

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

fossorial

Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

References

2009. "Common Wombat" (On-line). Accessed February 21, 2012 at http://www.dpiw.tas.gov.au/inter.nsf/webpages/bhan-53f7kj?open.

1993. Digestive Strategies of the Wombats: Feed Intake, Fiber Digestion, and Digesta Passage in Two Grazing Marsupials with Hindgut Fermentation. Physiological Zoology, Vol. 66, No. 6: pp. 983-999. Accessed February 21, 2012 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/30163750.

2011. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed April 10, 2012 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/search.

2011. "Vombatus ursinus" (On-line). Encyclopedia of Life. Accessed February 24, 2012 at http://eol.org/pages/981577/details.

Banks, S., L. Skerratt, A. Taylor. 2002. Female dispersal and relatedness structure in common wombats (Vombatus ursinus). Journal of Zoology, 256: 389–399.

Barnes, M. 2005. "Husbandry Manual for Common Wombat" (On-line). Accessed April 02, 2012 at http://www.fourthcrossingwildlife.com/CommonWombatHusbandryManual-MicheleBarnes.pdf.

Borchard, P., D. Eldridge. 2011. The geomorphic signature of bare-nosed wombats (Vombatusursinus) and cattle (Bos taurus) in an agricultural riparian ecosystem. Geomorphology, 130/3-4: 365-373. Accessed April 16, 2012 at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0169555X11001905.

Favreau, F., P. Jarman, A. Goldizen, A. Dubot, S. Sourice, O. Pays. 2009. Vigilance in a solitary marsupial, the common wombat (Vombatus ursinus). AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL OF ZOOLOGY, 57/6: 363-371.

Jackson, S. 2003. Australian Mammals Biology and Captive Management. Collingwood VIC 3066: Csiro Publishing.

Jarman, P., E. Murray. 2010. "Circadian Variation In Resource Quality: Leaf Water Content And Its Relevance To Eastern Grey Kangaroo Macropus Giganteus And Common Wombat Vombatus Ursinus.". Austral Ecology, 35, no. 2: 176-188.

Menkhorst, P., F. Knight. 2011. A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Paris, M., A. White, A. Reiss, M. West, F. Schwarzenberger. 2002. Faecal progesterone metabolites and behavioural observations for the non-invasive assessment of oestrous cycles in the common wombat (Vombatus ursinus) and the southern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons).. Animal Reproduction Science, 72, no. 3/4: 245.

Skerratt, L., J. Skerratt, S. Banks, R. Martin, K. Handasyde. 2004. Aspects of the ecology of common wombats (Vombatus ursinus) at high density on pastoral land in Victoria. Australian journal of zoology, 52/3: 303-330.

de Magalhaes, J., J. Costa. 2009. "A database of vertebrate longevity records and their relation to other life-history traits" (On-line). Accessed February 21, 2012 at http://genomics.senescence.info/species/entry.php?species=Vombatus_ursinus.