Wombat is an Australian animal similar to cubs, a representative of marsupials. The description of Vombatidae, a mammal from the order of the bicamerals, was given in 1830 by the British zoologist Gilbert Barnett.
Origin of the species and description
Now there are three species of the wombat family. Previously, greater diversity was observed in the Pleistocene (between 2 million years and 10 thousand years ago). Then it was represented by a total of six genera and nine species. Some of the extinct animals were much larger than modern ones. For example, in Phascalonus gigas, the skull was 40 cm long and — about 1 m, weight — 200 kg.
Whether the extinct individuals used burrowing or not is not known, judging by the remains, they were not so well adapted for this, and could only make short moves. The very first fossil animals belong to the early Miocene age. Wombats are descended from a common ancestor with the kangaroo and the opossum, and their closest relative — koala.
Interesting fact: The volume of the brain of a mammal is larger than that of other marsupials, in relation to body weight. It has more convolutions, which indicates its higher intellectual performance.
In the presence of genetic studies, the evolution of the family is not well understood. They departed relatively early from other related animals, this period is about 40 million years, according to some sources, the separation occurred 25 million years. It is believed that their common ancestor with the koala was Diprotodon. This giant two-bladed animal (weight 2.7 tons, length 3 m) died out, after that 40 thousand years have passed.
Interesting fact: The study of animal burrows was carried out in the early 1960s by 16-year-old Peter Nicholson. He climbed into the tunnels at night and found that usually there was one individual in the shelters, sometimes — two. Burrows were often a network of communicating passages, and one was about 20 meters long. Mammals dug, changed or widened tunnels and often visited each other's dwellings.
A mammal is a herbivore. Massive jaws are adapted to chew hardened vegetation. Chewing movements of animals are short, powerful, capable of crushing fibrous food into small pieces.
An interesting fact: only these marsupials have such long incisors. It is amazing that teeth continue to grow throughout life. This process compensates for the severe wear and tear on the tough grass stalks that animals feed on.
Appearance and Features
Squat herbivores, with a heavy thick body on short legs, a clumsy head and an undeveloped tail, have fur ranging from light gray to deep brown. The skin is very strong, especially thick at the back.
His entire skeleton is adapted so that he can dig holes well. The chest girdle is heavy and strong, the humerus is wide and massive. The forelimbs are powerful with wide feet. On crooked legs there are five toes with long curved claws, which are absent only on the first phalanges of the hind legs.
The incisors, arranged in pairs, are the same as those of rodents, except for them there are also a pair of false-rooted and four pairs of molars on each jaw, which allows animals to bite and chew grass. Animals have poor eyesight, but a keen sense of smell and excellent hearing, helping to navigate in space. They are also capable of detecting slight ground vibrations. Now there are three types of these marsupials. One of them belongs to the short-haired genus Vombatus ursinus, they are also called bare-nosed, since there is no hair on the nose of these animals. There are also three subspecies of ursinus .
The average length of a marsupial is 105 cm, and its weight is 28 kg. Those subspecies that live on the islands are smaller (80-90 cm, 17-20 kg) than their mainland counterparts, the maximum weight of which can reach 40 kg and a length of -130 cm. They all have a hard coat of speckled gray-brown colors.
Fun fact: Hairless wombats can make fists, while long-haired individuals cannot.
Long-haired wombats include two species:
- Lasiorhinus latifrons or southern — 70-90 cm, 19-32 kg;
- Lasiorhinus krefftii or Northern — 100 cm, 40 kg.
In these forms, compared to the bare-nosed:
- wool is softer;
- chest, cheeks of a lighter color;
- head is smaller and flattened;
- there are often light spots above the eyes;
- fur is grayish or brownish;
- short pointed ears;
- nasal bone, longer than the frontal.
Northern long-haired marsupials have a wider muzzle, females are larger than males due to a larger layer of fat .
Where does the wombat live?
Short-haired individuals live in the states: New. South Wales, Victoria, South. Australia. Subspecies, smaller in size, live on the islands of Tasmania and Flinders. They occupy territories in forests and light forests, wastelands and alpine zones. Everywhere they dig wide and long holes.
Interesting fact: It was found that colonies of long-haired forms can occupy from 1000 to 3500 m2, and burrows have from 7 to 59 entrances. Studies at the beginning of the last century spoke of a colony measuring 80X800 m or 64,000 m2.
Long-haired creatures live in the southeast of South Australia, in the west of Victoria, in the southwest of New. Southern Wales, in the center and south of Queensland. They prefer wooded, bushy, semi-arid open spaces, and southern species prefer arid regions, forests, scrub steppes.
Fun Fact: Wombats burrow with one front paw in for about 5 minutes, and then switch to another, use their incisors to cut through underground obstacles, roots.
The harsh environment in which the southern long-haired species lives is reflected in its energy. In captivity, their standard metabolic rate has been found to be very slow compared to most common mammals and marsupials.
What does a wombat eat?
Marsupials eat herbaceous plants, moss, young shoots of shrubs. They search for and eat berries, fruits, mushrooms. By abstaining from drinking water, a herbivore can be compared to camels. It is ideally adapted to the dry climate of the continent and four teaspoons of liquid per 1 kg of body weight are enough for it per day, often they receive the entire volume with food. By comparison, kangaroos consume four times as much liquid.
Southern hairy-nosed forms prefer sedges and perennial grasses growing in the wild, and will also consume artificially planted grazing plants, sprouts, and leaves of woody shrubs if their favorite food is not available. Most of the menu is Stipa nitida feather grass, when the animal bites the grass, it grows again, creating denser patches of new shoots.
The capacity of the intestine is large, and the colon expands to contain a large volume of cellulose-digesting microorganisms. Food stays in the intestines for long periods (about 70 hours) to maximize fiber breakdown. Complete digestion takes one to two weeks. Due to this, the animals endure breaks in food intake for a long time – about 10 days, this helps them survive in arid conditions.
Interesting fact: With a split upper lip, animals choose food very accurately. This structure helps the incisors to pluck the tiniest shoots at the base.
The digestive organs have a peculiar structure: a small caecum and a thick one divided into two parts. The anterior compartment is relatively small and fermentation site, while the posterior compartment is larger and fluid is reabsorbed there. Thus, the animal saves moisture by transferring most of the urea to the large intestine, without excreting it as urine.
These animals urinate less than other herbivorous mammals, and their feces are very dry (the volume of moisture in them is up to 40%). Clumsy animals have the lowest levels of thyroid hormones compared to other animals. The food that wombats eat provides more than enough energy.
Fun fact: The cubic shape of herbivore feces is due to the muscles of the intestines, they are compressed with different strengths. The marsupial builds a kind of barriers from these cubes.
Character and lifestyle features
These clumsy creatures feed on mostly at night, and during the day they rest underground. Of particular importance when choosing food, in animals active in the dark part of the day, is the sense of smell. Their burrows give them predator shelter as well as protection from extreme temperatures and dry conditions.
Wombats, having a low basal metabolic rate, along with a slow intestinal transit rate and the efficiency with which they digest food, spend less time feeding than other animals of this size, and they can afford to spend most of their time in their burrows. . Their ranges are small for a herbivore of this size, usually less than 20 hectares.
Mammals dig by scratching the soil with their front paws, throwing the earth back. Marsupials then carry her out of the hole, moving backwards like bulldozers. Moves are made huge about 30 m or more. Each shelter has several entrances, side branches and rest chambers. The tunnels of the southern animal are especially complex, they are made over several generations.
Animals usually feed and live alone, but the southern forms of marsupials with hairy noses can gather in small groups. Similarly, aggregations are found in the burrows of the northern longhaired individual. A group can use one system of moves. However, even when two individuals use the same burrow, they occupy different parts of it.
There is evidence that both the female northern species and the female common wombat are more likely to leave their home burrow at some stage in their lives, while males are more housebound. This is unusual — in most mammals, males always leave the shelter. This may indicate that the groups of individuals that occupy refuge clusters in regions where the northern species lives are composed of related males and unrelated females.
Social structure and reproduction
There is competition among males for the opportunity to mate with females, but the details of this are not known. Dominance is revealed through aggression. During the mating season, males sit in their burrow, and females enter their territory. The breeding season lasts throughout the year. In those regions where there are periods of prolonged drought, animals breed seasonally. Most cubs appear in October.
The only cub is born three weeks after the onset of pregnancy, immediately climbs into the bag and remains in it for six to nine months. By six months, he is already covered with a light fluff of wool, his eyes are open, and his weight is about half a kilo. He grazes near his mother and feeds on milk, remaining dependent on her for a year after leaving the bag.
Interesting fact: Wombats bags open back, this is arranged so that the earth that animals dig does not fell into the hole.
Animals reach the size of adults by the age of three. Males become sexually mature at two years, females at three. Animals live in natural conditions for about 15 years, and in captivity up to 25 years.
Interesting fact: The longest life of an Australian creature in captivity was 34 years, another “old man” lived in a wildlife park in Ballarat for 31 years. His death was recorded on April 18, 2017, his weight during his lifetime was 38 kg. His mother was hit by a car. The baby, found in a bag, was released, there were attempts to release him into the wild twice, but he returned.
Reproduction of the southern type of animals occurs when grasses grow abundantly in nature. This happens during the winter rains. From August to October, there is a lot of rainfall, giving impetus to the growth of greenery. At this time, testosterone levels rise in males, and ovulation occurs in females. This does not happen during dry seasons.
To communicate with each other, these marsupials use scent marking glands, as well as vocalization. They make rough sounds, like coughing, when alarmed, the sounds become sharper. The mother communicates with her cubs with hissing short sounds.
Natural enemies of wombats
These clumsy herbivores don't have many enemies. Dingoes are their main predator, along with foxes and Tasmanian devils in Tasmania. For babies and smaller specimens, eagles, owls and eastern quolls (marsupial martens) also pose a threat. The Tasmanian wolf, now extinct, used to prey on these mammals as well.
In addition, feral cats can transmit diseases to clumsy creatures and attack young ones. Wild and domesticated dogs also attack adults. In winter, foxes use herbivore tunnels for shelter. This causes the spread of sarcoptic mange, a parasitic mite that burrows into the skin of warm-blooded animals.
Interesting fact: The wombat has strong skin on the back and practically no tail. If the predator still manages to grab it, it is difficult to pull it out of the shelter. Also, the marsupial suddenly pushes off with powerful legs and presses the attacker against the wall, thereby breaking the jaw, nose, or even killing him, preventing him from breathing.
Scabies can drive animals to death, especially when they are young or injured. This disease is prevalent over most of the range of the barnacle, and is considered by some to be the leading cause of death in mammals. They are especially susceptible to scabies when they are stressed or malnourished. Marsupials must also compete for food with introduced animals such as rabbits, sheep, goats, and cows. Cattle can also destroy burrows.
Man — the main enemy of the clumsy hero. The destruction of their natural habitat, as well as hunting, trapping and poisoning, have greatly reduced the population in many areas, and in some completely destroyed it. Crossing roads, many animals die under the wheels of cars.
Population and species status
The distribution area of the animal is very limited and much smaller than before. The wombat is now protected in all parts of Australia, with the exception of eastern Victoria. In this state, he destroys fences built to keep out rabbits.
Under favorable conditions, the bare-nosed species can have a population density of 0.3 to 0.5 per hectare, with a home range of 5 to 27 hectares that will span multiple burrows and overlap other wombats' territory. The size of their home depends on the location and quality of the feeding grounds. The species is not protected in Victoria, but is classified as vulnerable on Flinders Island.
Fun fact: Young wombats learn to tunnel by digging in their mother's burrow. For example, they may dig a small side passage on their own.
Vombatus ursinus is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List. The long-haired species has been declared endangered.
Threats to herbivores include:
- habitat destruction;
- urban growth;
- aggressive forestry;
- competition with rabbits and livestock for food;
- poisons for rabbits;
- traffic collision.
Most of the population was destroyed at the beginning of the twentieth century. The main reason was competition for pastures. Most of the livestock of one of the endangered species is protected by Epping Forest National Park in Queensland. The herbivore has no commercial value, but marsupials are deeply loved in Australia.
The Red Book lists Lasiorhinus latifrons as endangered. The southern long-haired species has 100-300 thousand individuals, according to other estimates 180 thousand heads. Habitats are not united, but fragmented. In dry years, reproduction stops. A three-year rainfall cycle is needed to increase the population.
Lasiorhinus krefftii — northern longhaired herbivore, listed as endangered in the Red Data Book. The population of northern hairy wombats is 115 specimens. In the early 80s of the last century, the number decreased by 30-40 units. In 1982, the exclusion of cattle from the range led to a steady increase in the population. Periods of drought can significantly reduce stock, as was the case in the mid-90s. In 2000, dingoes destroyed 15-20 heads. Now a 20 km fence covers the entire range.
To save the population, it is necessary to reduce agricultural activities in the habitats of animals. Earthworks lead to the destruction of animal burrows and their death. A negative role in reducing the number can be played by the invasion of herbs uncharacteristic for the area. Several centers have been established in Australia for the protection of these marsupials and the care of wounded specimens and babies.
To preserve the endemic of Australian nature, it is necessary to monitor the state of the regions where these animals are found, avoiding planting pine forests and other plants that are not on their menu. The wombat feels good under protection and successfully breeds in national parks and zoos, where their life span reaches three decades.