Chapter

Wombats and their ways. Australian Natural History 3, 66-71. Brown GD and Taylor LS (1984). Radiotelemetry transmitters for use in studies of the thermoregulation of unrestrained common wombats, Vombatus ursinus. Australian Wildlife Research 11, 289-98. Burbidge NT (1984). Australian Grasses. Australian Natural History Library, Angus and Robertson, Sydney. Burt WH (1943). Territoriality and home range concepts as applied to mammals. Journal of Mammalogy 24, 346-52. Chauncy N...

Legs and feet

Although the wombat's legs are very short, they are ideally equipped, not only for carrying the heavy body but also for digging. The feet are plantigrade ('sole-walking') the animal walks with the entire sole of its foot on the ground. This is a characteristic of animals that mostly walk and seldom run, whereas the runners, such as the carnivores, walk on the ball of the foot and have digitigrade ('finger-walking') feet. The wombat's front feet are broad and have five toes with long strong...

Injury and infection

As it goes about its regular activities a wombat is likely to suffer some minor accidents and injuries. Claws broken while digging and cuts on the foot pads from sharp stones and thorns are probably common occurrences. The wombat's habit of pushing its way through whatever lies in its path - thick undergrowth, tangled fallen timber and brushwood - rather than taking an easier if longer route, must make it prone to accidental sprains, breaks, cuts and abrasions, particularly as this bulldozing...

Head and face

The wombat's broad massive head seems almost too large for the stumpy body, but it is marvellously adapted for its purposes. The bones of the skull are extremely strong and unlikely to be damaged when the head is used, as it often is, as a battering ram to move comparatively large and heavy objects. A stubborn rock or stone encountered while digging a burrow, a newly fallen tree branch or a small sapling encroaching on a favourite pathway, a tautly strung wire fence - the wombat simply pushes...

Poisoning

Rabbits are indirectly responsible for another hazard encountered by wombats and other native animals. Since the late nineteenth century, poisons such as arsenic and strychnine have been added to grains, mainly oats and wheat, and spread widely. These poisoned grains have killed not Figure 7.6 A dingo's paw caught in a steel-jawed trap. These barbarous traps also catch many non-target animals, including wombats. Photo P Stevens Figure 7.6 A dingo's paw caught in a steel-jawed trap. These...

Scat contents

The material that remains undigested after passing through the colon becomes the faeces or scats. These are excreted as roughly cube-shaped pellets, usually in groups of from four to eight pellets at a time. Microscopic examination of the material in wombat scats shows that they mainly contain fine fragments of leaf epidermis usually fragments of several species of monocotyledonous plants are present in any individual's scats. Also often present are fragments of leaf cuticle, xylem or...

The wandering wombat

When it is about eight months old an orphan wombat, which would normally be leaving the pouch for gradually longer and longer periods, will begin to explore its new home more and more thoroughly, until there is not a corner of it that it does not know intimately. This intimacy, unfortunately, includes the use of corners, particularly dark ones under beds or inside cupboards or wardrobes, as toilets. Where, in the wild, the young wombat will seek the cover of undergrowth for this purpose, a...

Life in the pouch

Wombat Pouch

During its early life the tiny wombat grows rapidly. After only one month it is about seven centimetres long and weighs about five grams (Figure 6.1). There are small differences between the three species of wombats, according to their differences in size. (See Growth and Development Table, Appendix 1. The range of weights shown in this table reflects the considerable variation in the growth weight, which is influenced by the condition of the mother and her size, as well as the species of...

From Birth To Maturity

As in all marsupials, a newborn wombat is extremely undeveloped and very small - about the size of a small bean. Birth occurs after a very short gestation period, probably only about 22 days following its birth the young makes its way to the pouch, where, suckling from its mother, it grows and develops for about eight months. It leaves the pouch permanently at about 10 months of age, but it may still stay with its mother for a further 8-10 months before it is finally independent. The birth of a...

And so to bed

The last of the wombat's scats are deposited shortly before it approaches the burrow where it will spend the following day. This may be as early as midnight in winter, especially if the wombat has been out and about since Figure 5.17 With a final sway of its broad rump, the wombat enters the burrow. Figure 5.17 With a final sway of its broad rump, the wombat enters the burrow. mid-afternoon, or after sunrise in milder weather, but generally a wombat has made its way to the chosen burrow before...

Reproductive signals

In many mammals the function of the pheromones passed with the urine is to signal the reproductive status of females. Observations by a number of research workers have shown that males of many mammal species sometimes make a distinctive grimace, a kind of lip-curling, when they encounter the urine of females of their own species. This grimace is known as 'flehmen', and typically it is made by the animal standing with its head stretching up and its mouth open while it retracts the upper lip,...

Olfactory signals

As well as postures and vocalisations, a wombat has other ways of communicating with others of its kind by olfactory signals. The simplest of these, the scent emanating from the animal's body, probably allows individuals to recognise each other, particularly those sharing a home range. It is likely that they also recognise each other's scats and can distinguish them from those of a stranger to the area. Like most plant-eating animals, wombats produce large quantities of faecal material - on...

Aggressive encounters

Sometimes, when two bare-nosed wombats meet, more aggressive sounds are made. Like most animal sounds, these are difficult to describe, but one appears to be made by the tongue hitting the palate while the breath is drawn in and a flat 'chikker chikker' is the result the other is a slightly more guttural sound, not unlike the hoarse, churring sound made by an angry brushtail possum. These vocal signals may also be made by a wombat when it hears, or smells, another a considerable distance away,...

Home range

As part of his study of the ecology of bare-nosed wombats, McIlroy attached small radio-transmitters to several wombats, each transmitter Figure 5.13 This wombat drank for eight minutes without pausing. Figure 5.13 This wombat drank for eight minutes without pausing. having a separate frequency. The transmitter was attached to the wombat by a simple chest harness and an aerial loop around the neck, and Mcllroy was able to receive signals from the transmitters on a modified walkie-talkie set...

Travelling

During its travels through the night, the wombat uses mostly well-worn paths. If the undergrowth is heavy, these will take the form of tunnels through the vegetation, wombat-high and wide, or a little larger if they are also used by wallabies, as often happens. In more open country there are also well-trodden paths used by a variety of animals, and although the wombat may wander off the path while grazing, it usually regains the path before moving on to a new area. If there are man-made tracks...

Other nighttime activities

In the early part of the night a wombat grazes almost continuously, moving from tussock to tussock, sitting on its rump from time to time. Occasionally it pauses, head up, to listen and sniff the air, before lowering its head to graze again. After an hour or two, when its initial hunger is satisfied, it eats more sporadically, sits down more often and roams further between bouts of grazing. There is a great variety of ways in which a wombat passes the night, as so many factors can influence its...

Life Above Ground

Wombat Mange Type Image

Just as there is some variety in the ways in which a wombat spends its days underground, so there is considerable diversity in its nightly activities. Probably the main factors that cause this diversity are the seasonal conditions and the type of habitat the prevailing weather conditions and the proximity of other wombats, and enemies, such as feral dogs or dingoes or humans, will also influence a wombat's movements. But in spite of the many variations, the wombat's life above ground does...

A wombats day

Prone Figure

Early in the morning, usually before dawn and nearly always before sunrise, the wombat approaches the burrow where it intends to spend the day. Pausing a few metres from the entrance, the wombat rubs its flank against the rough bark of a tree (Figure 4.1), scratches itself once or twice, shakes itself vigorously if its fur is wet, and then moves closer to the burrow. Sometimes as it moves into the entrance tunnel it may leave a few drops of fluid in its path. This is a form of scent trail, and...

What Goes On In A Burrow

Although the actual times vary throughout the year, wombats generally spend about two-thirds of their lives in their burrows. What do they do there Until glass-roofed or glass-sided burrows can be devised, and wombats persuaded not only to use them but also to behave naturally in them, what happens in the darkness of those narrow tunnels will probably remain something of a mystery. In studies of the behaviour of wombats in captivity in several zoos in Europe, Arnfrid Wunschmann made many...

Other occupants of burrows

Other animals may live in the same burrows as wombats. Rabbits sometimes dig their own smaller side tunnels in medium and major burrows occupied by wombats, and I have seen dusky antechinus emerging from small crevices in the walls of bare-nosed wombat burrows and the smaller brown antechinus and bush rats scurrying away from burrow entrances. Wild dogs and foxes sometimes occupy wombat burrows while foxes are sometimes tolerated, they are generally disliked by wombats. Crushed skulls of foxes...

Danger of flooding

Flooding is probably the most common calamity that befalls wombat burrows all of those dug on flat ground may be subject to it, and even where the ground is sloping and the drainage is good, some water usually gathers near the entrance after heavy rain. Following one very long wet Figure 3.9 (a) The spade-like front claws thrust the soil backward, and the roots are pulled free or bitten off. (b) The wombat may lie partly on its side, legs still braced, scratching at the walls of the tunnel...

Digging a burrow

An adult wombat, with a number of well-established burrows, probably rarely initiates a new burrow, although it frequently extends and renovates existing ones. A young wombat, however, particularly one that has recently become independent of its mother, will often appear to be deliberately seeking out a place to begin a burrow, pausing frequently in its grazing to investigate exposed ground at the bases of trees and rocks, weaknesses under large exposed tree roots, butts of fallen trees, root...

Fire

Another scourge of the Australian bush is the forest fire. Every year, bushfires ravage thousands of hectares of wombat habitat, the eucalypt forests of eastern Australia. No doubt the wombat has a better chance of survival than most other forest animals. Often the floors of small valleys and gullies are unburnt, as a fire will jump right across the top of a gully Figure 7.1 A few remnants of vegetation remained in this gully after a severe bushfire had swept through the forest. Figure 7.1 A...

Body shape and size

Their thick-set, low-slung bodies vary in size according to where they live and there is some variation between the three species. Bare-nosed wombat adults on mainland Australia are usually about a metre long, measured from nose to tail, and they stand about 25 centimetres high at the shoulder. The average weight of mainland wombats is about 26 kilograms, but weights of 35 kilograms are not uncommon. Tasmanian wombats are slightly smaller. Robert Green and John Rainbird measured the body...

Road deaths

Wombats face other hazards that are less deliberately brought about by people but that are nevertheless due to our presence in the land and our treatment of it. Large numbers of wombats are killed on the roads in southeastern Australia, and it would probably be true to say that the only wombat the majority of Australians have ever seen is a dead one, its tumbled body lying beside a road or highway (Figure 7.8). Wombats that have been passing from one part of their home range to another for...

Humans the worst enemy

Although all these natural conditions that expose the wombat to risk of injury may be harmful to individual animals, they have never eliminated the species from any large area. Only the actions of people over the last 200 years have managed to do this. Since the first days of European settlement, wombats and humans have come into conflict. Wherever land was cleared, wombats were killed, usually by poisoning or shooting. However, it was not until the introduced rabbit spread across the land,...

Scats

Soon after leaving the vicinity of the burrow, the wombat usually deposits the first of the many heaps of scats it will produce during the night. Figure 5.6 The chest and belly are often groomed while the wombat lies on its back. Illustration Peter Schouten Figure 5.6 The chest and belly are often groomed while the wombat lies on its back. Illustration Peter Schouten In bare-nosed wombats, where and how they are deposited depend on the wombat's age. An immature animal - one less than two years...

Protection or control

Wallaby Hole Under Fence

In spite of the protection laws, the attitude of many farmers towards wombats is still the same they see them as vermin to be destroyed by any means. And some of the means they use are not pleasant. The execrable steel-jawed traps are still, often illegally, set to catch wombats, but more often these days burrows are fumigated with chloropicrin or phosphine gas, in the form of Larvacide or Phostoxin, two commercial preparations used in the destruction of rabbits. Chloropicrin is also known as...

Land clearing

None of the control measures directly or indirectly affecting wombats -trapping, shooting, poisoning, or all three combined - has had as much impact on wombats or Australia's other native animals as the clearing of the land itself. This process, which began 200 years ago, continues today unabated. Large expanses of forest are still being cleared for crops and grazing, for timber production and pine plantations Figure 7.7 . More forest disappears as towns expand and roads are widened and...

The adult wombat

Even after it matures sexually a wombat continues to grow slowly for several years, the body becoming even bulkier than before and reaching a weight of as much as 40 kilograms. The ears, which in the first year of life seemed so large, now appear almost too small for the great broad head Figure 6.13 . Figure 6.13 The changing face of the wombat. The same wombat is shown at eight months a , at 18 months b and at four years of age c . Figure 6.13 The changing face of the wombat. The same wombat...

Coat and skin

There is much variation in the colour of bare-nosed wombats. Glossy black, dark grey, silver-grey, chocolate brown, grey-brown, sandy and cream-coloured wombats are all found. Plates 4 and 7 . A small colony of ash-white wombats, with dark eyes and pale yellow markings on the face, is found on Wilson's Promontory in southern Victoria Plate 5 . Albino wombats also have occasionally been reported. It is not uncommon for black wombats, in particular, to have one or more patches of white fur and,...

Drinking

Grassy creek and river banks are popular feeding areas at all times, but a wombat rarely drinks from the stream or any other free water except when all the grass has yellowed and lost most of its moisture. When a wombat does drink, it makes very little sound. The muzzle is thrust into the water, but at an angle so that the nostrils are still above water level. The lower jaw then moves up and down rhythmically as the wombat apparently sucks the water into its mouth. It swallows regularly and can...

Grooming

Although a wombat often scratches itself, usually only individual parts of the body are groomed at one time. Most mammals groom their coats with meticulous care, and usually they have a long ritual sequence of grooming movements, which they perform regularly, beginning with the face and head and progressing through all the parts of the body belly, flanks, back, hind legs, genitals and tail. A cat, for instance, always begins a grooming session by washing its face with its licked forearm before...

The young mature wombat

By the time the young wombat is two years old it weighs about 22 kilograms, although some are considerably heavier than this. It has changed markedly in appearance. The forehead and muzzle have broadened, and the 'all ears' look has gone, as the ears do not grow appreciably after 12 months of age. The whole body has become more thick-set, particularly the head and shoulders, and the fur is thick and glossy. Altogether, the young mature wombat is a sturdily handsome creature. It is at about this...

Social behaviour hairynosed wombats

Living in warrens, in closer contact with each other than the bare-nosed wombats, male southerns appear to have a well-defined dominance hierarchy. Matt Gaughwin reported a dominant male defending an oestrus female from attentions of other subordinate males, while females appeared to be subordinate to all adult males. Dominance relationships were not apparent between females. Little is known of the social structure of the northern hairy-nosed wombat but it appears to be more solitary than the...

Monitoring wombat activity

During a study of bare-nosed wombats at Thredbo Diggings in the Kosciuszko National Park, Graham Brown and Greg Young used radio-telemetry to monitor the wombats' activities. The researchers found that 'while they are in their burrow they often remain completely still for many hours but short periods of activity will occur from time to time'. It is a likely guess that during those long periods of stillness the wombats are sound asleep, and that the short periods of activity occur when they...

Scent trails

As well as being released with the scats, a secretion from the cloacal glands is often produced when a wombat rubs its rump against a tree or an overhanging branch. It is produced as a brownish liquid, and it carries a very strong 'wombat' smell. This smell is also very noticeable when, after depositing its scats, a wombat sometimes deliberately rubs its cloacal region back and forth over the scats. A trail of brown drops is also often secreted as a wombat enters or leaves a burrow and as it...

The digestive tract

Wombat Digestive Tract

The wombat's digestive tract also has several unusual features Figure 6.10 . In contrast to the majority of plant-eating animals, including most other herbivorous marsupials, the wombat's stomach is very small. Its external appearance is simple, but internally a region of the mucosa the mucous membrane lining the stomach wall is organised into a specialised gland called the cardio-gastric gland. Ian Hume and other researchers Cardio-gastric gland Oesophagus Cardio-gastric gland Oesophagus...

Social behaviour barenosed wombats

It is quite common among mammals for the home range of one individual to overlap with that of another, or several others, of the same species, but usually the overlap is confined to the common use of the network of pathways. Bare-nosed wombats not only have overlapping pathways, but also share the use of their burrows, rubbing posts and feeding places. In spite of this, wombats are usually found alone they are classed as solitary mammals. They form no social group such as a herd or pack. Even...

Food and feeding

Wombat Long Long Grass

If there are suitable tussocks of some of the grasses favoured by the wombat in the vicinity of the burrow, it may graze there for some time, but more often it moves right away from the area, grazing occasionally as it goes, until a chosen feeding place is reached. The location of this will vary, of course, with the seasons and the climatic conditions, and which grasses a wombat will choose depends on what is available at that time Figure 5.8 . John McIlroy's study in the Brindabella Mountains...

External and internal parasites

Almost all mammals, both wild and domestic, are host to various internal and external parasites. Many of these parasites are harmless, but some may be detrimental to the animal's health. When Europeans first brought out their sheep and cattle, pigs and goats, camels, donkeys, deer, dogs, cats, foxes, rabbits - the full list is formidable - they also unwittingly brought a whole new spectrum of parasites and insect pests. The native marsupials undoubtedly carried parasites of various kinds long...

Appendix Growth And Development

Hairless mouth, front limbs and shoulders well developed eyes and most other organs embryonic sharp curved claws on front feet but hind limbs undeveloped lips joined at outer edges. Permanently attached to teat ears still fused with the skin of the head hind legs developing outer edges of lips still joined together still hairless. Facial structures forming ears fully unfolded but lying close to head whiskers forming but otherwise still hairless lips still joined. Fine fur forming on ears eyes...

Borchard Wombats

Borchard P, McIlroy J and McArthur C 2008 . Links between riparian characteristics and the abundance of common wombat Vombatus ursinus burrows in an agricultural landscape. Wildlife Research 35, 760-7. Breckwoldt R 1983 . Wildlife in the Home Paddock. Angus and Robertson, Sydney. Chesterfield EA, Macfarlane MA, Allen D, Hutchinson MN, Triggs BE and Barley R 1983 . Fauna and Flora of the Rodger River Forest Block, East Gipps-land, Victoria. Ecological Report 1, Forests Commission of Victoria,...

Wombat distribution today

Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat Habitat

Just over 220 years have now passed since the settlement began at Sydney Cove, which is a moment in time as far as the wombat is concerned, but during those years the face of Australia has been profoundly changed. One of the results of the European occupation of the land is clearly demonstrated Figure 1.6 Present distribution of wombats. a Northern hairy-nosed wombats are now found only at Epping Forest in Queensland. Two populations near St George probably became extinct early last century....

Flood

There are other natural hazards besetting the animals of the bush. Australia is not a kind land climatically, and every year, every season is likely to bring some kind of natural disaster to one or several parts of the wombat's range. Flooding, as has already been mentioned, is one of the major disadvantages of burrow life. Most burrows collect some water in their entry way during heavy rain. In poorly drained soils this may make the burrow temporarily unusable, but rainwater rarely fills a...

Pj Nicholson Wambats

Brown GD 1964 Thermoregulation in the common wombat Vombatus ursinus in an alpine environment. In Thermal Physiology. Ed JRS Hales pp. 331-34. Raven Press, New York. Brown G and Young G 1962 . Wombats - amiable native lawnmowers. Australian Natural History 20, 279-83. McIlroy JC 1973 . Aspects of the ecology of the common wombat, Vombatus ursinus Shaw, 1800 . PhD thesis. Australian National University, Canberra. Nicholson PJ 1963 . Wombats. Timbertop Magazine 8, 32-8. Wells RT 1978 ....