2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Mammals

Wombat in the snow
Wombat in the snow
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Infraclass: Marsupialia
Order: Diprotodontia
Suborder: Vombatiformes
Family: Vombatidae
Burnett, 1829
Genera and Species
  • Vombatus
    • Vombatus ursinus
  • Lasiorhinus
    • Lasiorhinus latifrons
    • Lasiorhinus krefftii
  • Rhizophascolomus
  • Phascolonus
  • Warendja
  • Ramasayia

Wombats are Australian marsupials; they are short-legged, muscular quadrupeds, approximately one metre (3 feet) in length 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, treating fences as a minor inconvenience to be gone through or under and 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 (no useful fossil record has yet been found for this period) and about 12 species flourished until well into the ice ages. Among the several diprotodon (giant wombat) species was the largest marsupial to ever live. The earliest human inhabitants of Australia arrived while diprotodons were still common, and are believed to have brought about their extinction through hunting or habitat alteration.

Ecology and behaviour

Wombat grazing at dusk in Narawntapu National Park, Tasmania. Tasmania's cooler climate makes all its creatures furrier than their cousins in mainland Australia.
Wombat grazing at dusk in Narawntapu National Park, Tasmania. Tasmania's cooler climate makes all its creatures furrier than their cousins in mainland Australia.

Wombats have an extraordinarily slow metabolism, taking around 14 days to complete digestion, and generally move slowly. When required, however, they can reach up to 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 defence is its toughened rear hide with most of the posterior made of cartilage which, combined with its lack of a meaningful tail, presents a difficult-to-bite target to any enemy who follows the wombat into its tunnel. One naturalist commented, that a predator biting into a wombat's rear would find it "comparable to the business end of a toilet brush".


There are three species, all around a metre long and weighing between 20 and 35  kg (44 to 77 pounds):

  • Common Wombat (Vombatus ursinus)
  • Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons)
  • Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat or Yaminon (Lasiorhinus krefftii)

Wombats and humans

A Wombat sniffing
A Wombat sniffing

Unlike a lot of Australian marsupial wildlife, wombats appear to have little fear of humans. They can be awkwardly tamed in a captive situation, and even coaxed to be patted and 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 they are present in.

However, 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. The naturalist Harry Frauca once received a bite 2 cm deep into the flesh of his leg—through a rubber boot, trousers and thick woollen socks (Underhill, 1993). A young boy let into an enclosure unprotected to feed a wombat at a caravan park was charged, knocked over, and bitten and scratched all over.

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.

Wombats in popular culture

Children's author Jackie French's illustrated storybook Diary of a Wombat (2002, ISBN 0-207-19995-7 ) has won numerous awards worldwide. Wombats in fiction and cartoons are often depicted as sluggish, irritable and dimwitted. One such wombat character is the eponymous hero of the author Ruth Park's Muddle Headed Wombat stories.

The RSPCA of Australia ran a prominent television advertisement in which injured animals would run across the screen to classical music. A small injured wombat would repeatedly start to cross the screen, but then turn around and run back, at the end of the advertisement, it would quickly run across the screen. This, coupled with wombats' generally retiring nature when viewed during the day at zoos, has led to the popular misconception that wombats are timid and shy creatures.

The webcomic Digger by Ursula Vernon stars a lovable, feisty young wombat, lost far from home after tunnelling into unknown magic.

From 1990 to 1994, the Drama Society at the University of Otago ran an annual Wombats cabaret, a series of comedy shows, that passed into local legend. Taking inspiration from then current films and musicals, the cabarets included "Wombats", "Dick Wombat", "An Angel at my Wombat" and "Beverly Wombats 90210".

In a short humorous poem attributed to Ogden Nash, the speaker finds wombats rather enigmatic, but asserts that he "would not engage the wombat in any form of mortal combat."

"Fatso" the pet wombat was a popular character on the television show A Country Practice.

A fictional wombat also called " Fatso" was created by comedians Roy and HG as an unnofficial mascot of the 2000 Summer Olympics.

Wombat! was a children's television show on the Seven Network in the late 1980s.

The Southern Hairy-noised Wombat (L. latifrons) is the official faunal emblem of the state of South Australia.

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