From the Mouth of a Tasmanian Common Wombat
As Told to Carol Haberle
Why on earth do you classify me as common?
Okay, first things first, I have a little issue with you humans: it’s my name! May I ask why you call me the Tasmanian Common Wombat? Common??? I ask you to realise I too have feelings, and in protecting my feelings I’d much prefer you to call me simply a Tasmanian wombat. Or I could even live with being called a bare or naked nosed wombat or a coarse haired wombat. But please, spare my feelings and cut with the common. Now I shall tell you a little about myself and my species…
Wombats: my very own family history…
I’m a Tasmanian Wombat, belonging to a genus known as Vombatus; but it doesn’t stop here. I am of the species ursinus (meaning bear like, mmmm, the Latins landed that one on me!), and I am of the sub-species Tasmaniensis… so put it all together and my family name is Vombatus ursinus Tasmaniensis. Yes, if you think about it, it doesn’t sound very common at all, does it? I do however have a couple of close relatives all regarded as common wombats also, (we three are classified as sub-species of our genus), being the Vombatus ursinus hirsutus of mainland Australia and the Vombatus ursinus ursinus who dwells on Flinders Island. However, I’m the medium sized one (the ONLY one who lives in Tasmania); my mainland cousin being bigger, my Flinders Island cousin being smaller. You see, our living conditions and the weather etc. have determined how we evolved.
Oh yes, and we do have two other mainland Australian cousins. Lasiorhinus latifrons (Southern hairy-nosed wombat) and Lasiorhinus krefftii (Northern hairy-nosed wombat), though these guys don’t really resemble us in the looks department. Our ancestors lived on this land, some of whom were indeed very large, the earliest fossil records being from the Miocene era over 20 million years ago. One of these guys was known as the Phascolonus gigas. He had a skull almost half a metre (around 16 inches) in length, a weight estimated as 200 kilograms and stood about one metre in height.
*This is a file from Wikimedia Commons, a freely licensed media file repository.
Just one moment while I have a good scratch
and then we’ll get on with it!
Today though, we have evolved into quite a sturdy, tough little animal. And yes, built close to the ground, I believe you humans refer to it as ‘duck’s disease’! Fully grown we can measure up to an average 40cm in height, 90 to 115 centimetres in length and can weigh anything between 22 and 40 kilograms. Though there are reports of much bigger wombats here, it seems, just like you humans, we too can have weight issues. Our head is rounded, but closely attached to our body giving the impression we have no neck. We have a large, bare nose with granular skin, (a little like that of a dog), shiny black in full grown adults and varying shades of brown in the younger ones. Our ears are relatively small, triangular and slightly rounded. Our fur is coarse and thick, (if you pat us you may even relate it to feeling a little like horse hair), the colour ranging from a sandy brown to black or grey, though often streaked or flecked. Our throat and belly areas are usually lighter in colour, though our true colour is often hidden beneath the colour of the dirt in which we have been digging.
Who called for a bulldozer? …I’m on my way!
Digging is certainly our favourite pastime. We like to live as a solitary, territorial species and we establish an area in which we live and feed. Within this area we dig ourselves a tunnel system, or burrow, our burrows can range anywhere between 2 and 25 metres long, and usually with many side tunnels. For this reason many of you humans call us The Bulldozer of the Bush. Usually we have only one entrance to our burrow, though occasionally we may create a smaller opening through which to escape if the necessity arises. We spend two thirds of our life in our burrows, during summer we are mainly nocturnal, sheltering inside to escape the heat and only coming out when it’s cool enough to forage for food. We are herbivorous, casual grazers, and therefore only eat grasses, roots of grasses, small shrubs, mosses and leaves, though occasionally we can be seen chewing on bark from the trees and some of us even enjoy a piece of fungi on the odd occasion.
In winter we can be seen often during the day as we enjoy the cooler days, and love to bask in the winter sun. Please don’t laugh at us if you see us lying flat on our backs, all four legs up in the air, for we often bask this way. We absorb our atmospheric nutrients (e.g. Vitamin D from the sun, moisture from the air) more easily through our stomachs for our backs are covered in a very thick hide-like skin. Oh, and we don’t mind sleeping this way either! One more point I’d like to discuss, so unique to us wombats, and I know is a topic of wonder for many humans, especially the editor of think-tasmania.com, is that of our droppings! (Okay, as you humans insist on calling it, our POO! But we in the animal world truly prefer the word droppings. After all, we do drop them!) YES, we do have cube shaped droppings, but we do it this way for very good reason. You see, we do our droppings not only to discard our waste product, our droppings also contain our scent, and being territorial creatures we can use our droppings as another way to mark out territory. But the secret as to why we drop cubes, well, have you ever seen a rabbits droppings, they’d roll straight off a fallen tree. We wombats are smarter than you think eh? Cubes don’t roll.
Something in common with a human? Oh my!
We wombats do have something in common with you humans, believe it or not, for like you, I too am a mammal. Now I hear you ask, “what is a mammal?” For those of you who don’t know I’ll explain. A mammal is any warm-blooded vertebrate (animal with a backbone/spine) having the skin more or less covered with hair, and whose young are born alive except for the small subclass of monotremes who lay eggs (such as the platypus and echidna) and nourished with milk from the mother’s mammary glands. Where we differ is in the fact I am also a marsupial. Mmmm, I hear some of you now asking, “what is a marsupial?” A marsupial is a mammal of an order whose young are born not fully developed, and have a pouch. Our young are therefore carried and suckled in a pouch on the mother’s belly. Marsupials are found mainly in Australia, and as Tasmania is part of Australia then I have to concede I share my land with many marsupials…
- Tasmanian Devil
- Native Quoll
- Ringtail and Brush Tailed Possum
- Kangaroo and Wallaby
to name but a few. We used to share this island with the Tasmanian Tiger too. But just between you and I, sadly I sometimes find myself hoping this guy is truly extinct, for he was once one of our biggest threats!
While on the subject of young…
We Tasmanian wombats can breed every two years. It’s about the only time we are truly social with one another. Well, that depends if you could call our mating habits social. Our females tend to become very active and aggressive in the wild when they’re ready to breed, and she tends to play hard to get. We males have to chase her in wide circles, this can last anywhere up to 30 minutes, at which time we males then give her a good bite on the rump and roll her onto her side ready to mate. Once the deed is done, we males go on our merry way and leave the mother with the job of raising our joey. Usually our females only bear one joey, but rarely twins can be produced. The gestation period (or length of pregnancy as you humans know it) is about 20-30 days, with the newborn joey weighing only 1 gram and measuring less than 3 centimetres in length. Once born the joey will crawl its way to the mother’s pouch, which contains two mammary glands, where it begins suckling immediately. The pouch on our females is a little different to most marsupials, in that it opens to the rear. This prevents the pouch from filling with dirt and debris as the mother digs, and also gives greater protection to the joey when the mother walks or runs, because like I said before, we wombats are built close to the ground! The joey will remain in the pouch for about 7 months, at which age it will gradually begin to come out for short periods. The joey is weaned at around 12 to 15 months of age and is usually independent and sexually active by 18 months of age, at which time it begins a solitary life of its own.
Well, it’s time for me to head back to the burrow, after a casual graze along the way mind you. I have so much more to share about us unique Tasmanian Wombats, and if your audience wishes for it to be written then you’ll find me right here where you found me today. On a closing note though, I hesitate to inform you, that you humans have today become one of my biggest threats. With technology you have created a machine I greatly fear, and have witnessed the sad demise of many of my family. Please slow down while travelling in these great machines, be aware of my existence for I mainly forage for food in the coolness of the mornings and evenings in summer, but am often out feeding throughout the daytime also in winter. AND KEEP IN MIND, I can do much damage to your machines if you collide with me! C’mon, we share this island. I don’t choose to hurt you… please don’t continue to hurt us.
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