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Bare-nosed wombat (Vombatus ursinus)

Bare-nosed wombat ( Vombatus ursinus )

without rank: Synapsids (Synapsida)
Class : Mammals (mammalia)
Subclass : Marsupials (Marsupialia)
Superordinate : Australidelphia
Order : Diprotodontia
Family : Wombats
Scientific name
Burnett , 1830
Skeleton of a wombat

The wombats (Vombatidae, Plumpbeutler) are a family of marsupial mammals (Metatheria) that live in Australia and live as cave-digging herbivores . The family consists of two genera with a total of three species.


The name Wombat comes from the almost extinct language of the Darug , an Aboriginal tribe who originally inhabited the area of ​​today's city of Sydney . English-speaking settlers took over the name, the first written evidence comes from the year 1798. There were initially variants of the spelling: in addition to wombat, for example, wambat , whombat , wombach , womback or womat . Because of their badger-like appearance and behavior, wombats were often referred to as badger ("badger") or as native badger ("native badger").


(drawing from Brehms Tierleben from 1884)

Wombats reach a head-torso length of 70 to 120 centimeters and a weight of 20 to 40 kilograms. Adult wombat females usually exceed males in size and weight. Her body is stocky, the limbs are short and strong. The broad-soled feet end in five toes, of which the front feet have five and the rear feet four large, sickle-shaped curved grave claws. The large head is broad and the ears are medium in length, rounded to triangular. The eyes are relatively small and the nasal field is bare or hairy depending on the species. The tail is reduced to a small, bare stub. The comparatively firm hair is short to medium-long and varies, depending on the type of wombat, from yellow, gray to black brown.

What is remarkable is the unique set of teeth among marsupials, which are similar to those of rodents . There is a pair of rootless incisors each in the upper and lower jaw , the molars are simple and also rootless. As a result, the teeth constantly grow back and the animals are able to eat hard, abrasive food. Since the canines are missing, there is a gap between the front and back teeth ( diastema ). The tooth formula is 1 / 1-0 / 0-1 / 1-4 / 4, so wombats have the fewest teeth of all marsupials with a total of 24.

Cubic wombat droppings

The droppings of wombats are cube-shaped, 80 to 100 of them are given off every day. The unusual shape is created during the intestinal passage through ridges in the intestinal wall, the anus is not involved. It is believed that the mold serves to keep the fecal marks from rolling off the exposed areas on which they are placed. The so-called Ig Nobel Prize was awarded in 2019 for an international research contribution on this topic .


Wombats live in southern and eastern Australia , the states of South Australia , Victoria , New South Wales , Queensland, and Tasmania .

Way of life

Wombats are among the largest burrowing mammals at all. With their sharp claws they build caves in the ground, which can also expand into complex tunnel systems. These caves can be up to 20 meters long and 3.5 meters deep. If the action areas overlap, they can be inhabited by different wombats at different times. The animals are predominantly nocturnal, during the day they rest in their burrows, at dusk and at night they search for food.

Adult wombats have few natural opponents; their biggest predator is the dingo . Their backside is reinforced by thick skin, cartilage, and bones. This allows you to block access to the den in the event of danger and thus repel most attackers or crush them on the ceiling of the den. People (including road traffic) are responsible for the vast majority of killings. In areas where there is little human influence, the size of the population is determined by the availability of forage crops.

Wombats have an action space that can be 5 to 25 hectares in size, depending on the environmental conditions. As a territory , the preferred feeding place is usually marked and defended by means of droppings and aggressive behavior.

Male wombats show threatening gestures, for example when a food competitor walks through a preferred feeding place. The head is swiveled from side to side and the teeth bared and thus gnashed, and growling noises are also emitted. This is often enough to drive away the intruder. It is also known to scare away intruders by chasing after them. If there is fighting, it can lead to serious bite injuries.

Wombats can reach speeds of up to 40 km / h over short distances and avoid dangers by climbing and swimming.


Preferably in the evening, wombats spend between three and eight hours grazing. Mainly native, but also introduced grasses are eaten, whereby young shoots are preferred; furthermore herbaceous plants and mosses, more rarely also roots of shrubs and trees, as well as mushrooms.

The ability to select specific foods is supported by the split upper lip. This allows the incisors to be brought very close to the ground and the smallest green shoots to be captured. The sense of smell probably plays a major role in the choice of food for these mostly nocturnal animals.

Wombats are very good food processors with a very slow metabolism . It takes up to three days for them to digest a meal. Wombats are also among the most efficient water consumers among mammals. (For comparison: the kangaroos , also adapted to Australian conditions, consume four times as much water.)


Bare-nosed wombat

Wombats usually reproduce all year round, but more seasonally in very dry areas. Females have a pouch that is open at the back so that this is not shoveled full of earth during construction. Almost always only one young is raised. The offspring grow in the pouch for six to eight months and then stay around the mother for about a year.

Sexual maturity is reached after two years. Life expectancy in the wild is at least five years, in captivity over 20 years. According to the Duisburg Zoo, the oldest wombat held in captivity, a female wombat, was 34 years old. It was in this zoo for nine years and died in early September 2008. It was also responsible for the world's first breeding in a zoo of the Tasmanian subspecies of the bare-nosed wombat.


Hair nose wombat

Wombats belong to the order Diprotodontia , which is defined by common features of the jaw structure and the bones of the foot. In this order you can also find kangaroos, climbing sacs and koalas .

The Vombatidae family includes two living genera: bare-nosed wombats (Vombatus) and hair- nosed wombats (Lasiorhinus). Five other genera are extinct.

The following three types are divided into two genera:

The appearance of wombat-like animals can be traced back to around 25 million years ( Oligocene ). The family of the Vombatidae appeared around 18 million years ago ( Miocene ).

The closest similar animal family is that of the koalas. The wombats share similarities with them and a. in the dentition, the base of the skull and the sickle-shaped head of the sperm. However, there are a number of morphological differences that separate the two families. Also similar to the wombats were the Diprotodons , marsupials the size of a rhinoceros that only became extinct around 40,000 years ago.


With the colonization of Australia by the Europeans, the range of the wombats was restricted. The reasons for this lie in the destruction of their habitat, in food competition with introduced species and in direct hunting. There are only around 110 specimens of the Northern Hairy Nose Wombat that live in a small nature reserve in Queensland. This species is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN . The other two species are even more common and are not considered to be endangered.


Individual evidence

  1. Susan Butler: The Dinkum Dictionary: The Origins of Australian Words . Text Publishing, 2009, ISBN 1-921799-10-2 , p. 266.
  2. Jan Dönges: Why wombats make piles of cubes. Spektrum.de, accessed March 20, 2016
  3. Winding machines and wombatkot: Ig Nobel Prizes awarded orf.at, September 13, 2019, accessed September 13, 2019.
  4. Johnson, C. (2009) pp. 64-65

Web links

Commons : Wombats (Vombatidae)  - Collection of images, videos, and audio files
Wiktionary: Wombat  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations