Classification

Wombats have been likened to badgers, bears, beavers, even pigs; but although there are some similarities of appearance and habits, there is no relationship between the wombat and any of these animals except that they are all mammals. The wombat is a marsupial, whose tiny embryonic young are born after only about 30 days in the uterus of the mother and then spend about eight months in her pouch. The badger, bear, beaver and pig on the other hand are all placental mammals, whose young develop in the uterus of the mother for several months before their birth at a relatively advanced stage of development.

The marsupials are divided into four major groups, or Orders. The wombats belong to the Order Diprotodonta. All the members of this order have only two incisor teeth in the bottom jaw, these teeth pointing forward almost horizontally, and syndactyl toes on the hind foot - a condition in which the second and third digits are partly fused together.

Koalas and wombats have enough similarities to one another to be placed in the same Superfamily, the Vombatoidea. These similarities include: their tails, which are very short and rudimentary; their pouches, which open towards the rear; their stomachs, which are very small and

Table 1.1 Classification of the wombat family and its relationship to the koala

PHYLUM Chordata

SUBPHYLUM

CLASS

SUBCLASS

ORDER

SUPERFAMILY

FAMILY

GENUS

SPECIES

COMMON NAME

Vertebrata Mammalia Marsupialia Diprotodonta Vombatoidea

Vombatidae

Vombatus Lasiorhinus

Phascolarctidae

Phascolarctos

Bare-nosed wombat latifrons

Southern hairy-nosed wombat krefftii

Northern hairy-nosed wombat

Koala have a specialised gastric gland, and their sperm, which are very similar in shape but unlike those of any other marsupial. Experiments with blood serum of the wombats and the koala have shown that they are possibly closely related, and it is thought that they probably shared a common ancestor about 25 million years ago. The full classification of the wombat and its relationship to the koala is shown in Table 1.1.

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