Species accounts

Common wombat

Vombatus ursinus

TAXONOMY

Didelphis ursina (Shaw, 1800), Tasmania, Australia.

OTHER COMMON NAMES None known.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Head and body length 35-45 in (90-115 cm); tail length about 1 in (2.5 cm); height about 14.2 in (36 cm); weight 48.5-86 lb (22-39 kg). Coarse black or brown to gray coat; bare muzzle, short rounded ears.

DISTRIBUTION

Southeastern Australia including Flinders Island and Tasmania.

HABITAT

Temperate forests and woodlands, heaths, alpine habitats. BEHAVIOR

Solitary, and mostly nocturnal. Burrows are dispersed, and usually simple. Each animal uses several burrows within its home range.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Feeds mainly on grasses, but also sedges, rushes, and the roots of shrubs and trees.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

One offspring may be born at any time of the year. Pouch life is about six months, and the young remains at heel for about another year. Sexual maturity is at two years of age. Mating system is not known.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened. Range has declined by 10-50%, but the species is common throughout large parts of its original range. Vombatus vombatus ursinus has gone extinct from all Bass Strait islands except Flinders Island.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

In parts of Victoria, common wombats are considered pests because of the damage they do to rabbit-proof fences, and some local control is carried out. ♦

Southern hairy-nosed wombat

Lasiorhinus latifrons

TAXONOMY

Phascolomys latifrons (Owen, 1845), South Australia, Australia.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

None known.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Head and body length 30-37 in (77-94 cm); weight 42-70 lb (19-32 kg); tail and height similar to common wombat. Coat is fine, gray to brown, with lighter patches; hairy muzzle, longer pointed ears.

DISTRIBUTION

Central southern Australia.

HABITAT

Semi-arid and arid woodlands, grasslands, and shrub steppes.

BEHAVIOR

Solitary while feeding, but in many areas warrens are large and complex and used by five to ten individuals. Warrens may be connected by well-used trails, which are marked at intervals by urine splashed and dung piles. Usually nocturnal, but animals may often be seen basking outside their burrows on sunny days in winter.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Feeds on grasses, but also eats forbs and foliage of woody shrubs during drought.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

A single young is born in spring or early summer and remains in the pouch for six to nine months. Weaning occurs at approximately one year, and sexual maturity at three years. Mating system is not known.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened. Range has declined by 10-50%, but the species remains common through much of its original range.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

In some areas it damages grain crops and fences and is controlled as a pest. ♦

Northern hairy-nosed wombat

Lasiorhinus krefftii

TAXONOMY

Phascolomys krefftii (Owen, 1873), Breccia Cavern, Wellington Caves, Australia.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

French: Wombat a nez poilu de Queensland; Spanish: Oso marsupial del Río Moonie.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Head and body length of males 40 in (102 cm), females 42 in (107 cm); height about 16 in (40 cm); male weight 66 lb (30 kg), female weight 72 lb (32.5 kg). Coat is silky and silver gray, with dark rings around the eyes.

DISTRIBUTION

There is only one surviving population, in Epping Forest National Park near Clermont in central Queensland. Populations near St George in southern Queensland and Deniliquin in southern New South Wales went extinct early in the twentieth century.

HABITAT

Semi-arid woodland and grassland.

BEHAVIOR

Burrows are distributed in loose clusters, and up to 12 wombats make common use of the burrows in each cluster. However, individuals usually feed and rest alone, except for mothers and young. Piles of dung and urine splashes are placed outside burrow entrances and along regularly used paths that connect different burrows within a group.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Feeds on grasses, plus some sedges and forbs.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Mating associations are transient; the mating system is not known. One young born in spring or summer. Pouch life is about 10 months, weaning age unknown. On average, females breed twice every three years.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Critically Endangered; only about 116 individuals remain. Numbers have evidently increased since Epping Forest National Park was declared and cattle were excluded in 1980, when there may have been only 30 individuals in the population. Current threats include occasional predation by dingoes and (possibly) genetic decline due to isolation and inbreeding.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

The northern hairy-nosed wombat is one of Australia's rarest species, and its rarest large mammal. ♦

Resources

Books

Long, J., M. Archer, T. Flannery, and S. Hand. Prehistoric Mammals of Australia and New Guinea. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2002.

Wells, R. T., and P. A. Pridmore. Wombats. Sydney: Surrey Beatty & Sons, 1998.

Woodford, J. The Secret Life of Wombats. Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2001.

Periodicals

Banks, S. C., L. F. Skerratt, and A. C. Taylor. "Female dispersal and relatedness structure in common wombats (Vombatus ursinus)." Journal of Zoology 256 (2002): 389-399.

Christopher Johnson, PhD

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