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 where burrows are thickly clustered and numbers of wombats live in relatively close proximity to one another, they form a loose collection of individuals rather than a colony.

However, although a wombat is not gregarious, it does have social contacts with other wombats; it can communicate with and recognise the other individuals that share its home range, and it is quick to detect the presence of a stranger. Unfortunately, it is difficult to observe and study these social interactions because they happen so infrequently. Nevertheless, at some time during a wombat's nightly activities, there is a fair chance that it will meet another wombat engaged in similar activities. The chances of such a meeting are not so likely in the less densely populated habitats, but it is not rare to see two or three individuals feeding within 30 or 40 metres of each other on a favourable pasture (Figure 5.14). If there is a disturbance such as a 'dog alert' or the onset of severe weather - a thunderstorm or hailstorm, for instance - while wombats are sharing a feeding area, they are all likely to seek refuge in the nearest burrow, two or three animals disappearing into the same entrance and remaining there for an hour or more, sometimes for the rest of the night and the following day.

When two wombats approach each other while feeding or moving from place to place, they usually pause before they are less than three metres

Figure 5.14 Bare-nosed wombats keep at least 30-40 metres apart when they are feeding on a favoured pasture.

apart. If they are feeding they generally resume grazing, keeping at least that distance from one another. Three metres, or thereabouts, seems to be the wombat's individual distance; it will either attack or move away from any wombat which approaches closer than that. This produces a kind of personal territory that the animal carries around with it. If a close approach is made by another wombat, a low guttural growl of warning is often given, as well as a rasping hiss, which seems to signify alarm as well as anger. This high, loud call, which may rise to the level of a screech, is made repeatedly as each breath is expelled. The screech builds up from a gentler call often made by young animals, a soft 'huh huh' repeated several times, which seems to signal uneasiness. The 'huh huh' call is often made by a young at heel when it has lost sight of its mother; it appears to be a contact call, as she will usually 'huh huh' in reply.

It seems likely that bare-nosed wombats sharing a home range have a dominance hierarchy or pecking order, but it is not clear how or on what basis the rank order in the hierarchy is determined. In most animals, dominance is usually established by fighting or by displays of threatening behaviour, but it also often relates to size and sex, and this may also be true of wombats.

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  • luukas
    Are bare nosed wombats rare?
    8 years ago

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