Wombat

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Wombats are Australian marsupials; they are short-legged, muscular quadrupeds, approximately 1 metre (39 in) in length with a very short tail. They are found in forested, mountainous, and heathland areas of south-eastern Australia and Tasmania. The name wombat comes from the Eora Aboriginal community who were the original inhabitants of the Sydney area.

Contents

Characteristics

Wombats dig extensive burrow systems with rodent-like front teeth and powerful claws. One distinctive adaptation of wombats is their backwards pouch. The advantage of a backwards-facing pouch is that when digging, the wombat does not gather dirt in its pouch over its young. Although mainly crepuscular and nocturnal, wombats also venture out to feed on cool or overcast days. They are not commonly seen, but leave ample evidence of their passage, treating fences as minor inconveniences to be gone through or under, and leaving distinctive cubic faeces.

Wombats are herbivores; their diet consists mostly of grasses, sedges, herbs, bark and roots. Their incisor teeth somewhat resemble those of the placental rodents, being adapted for gnawing tough vegetation. Like many other herbivorous mammals, they have a large diastema between the incisors and the cheek teeth, which are relatively simple. The dental formula of wombats is:

Wombats' fur colour can vary from a sandy colour to brown, or from grey to black. All three known extant species of wombats average around 1 m (39 in) in length and weigh between 20 and 35 kg (44 and 77 lb).

Female wombats give birth to a single young in the spring, after a gestation period, which like all marsupials can vary, in the case of the wombat: 20-21 days.[2][3] They have a well-developed pouch, which the young leave after about 6–7 months. Wombats are weaned after 15 months, and are sexually mature at 18 months.[4]

Ecology and behaviour

Wombats have an extraordinarily slow metabolism, taking around 14 days to complete digestion, which aids their survival in arid conditions.[4] They generally move slowly, and because of this are known for taking shortcuts. When threatened, however, they can reach up to 40 km/h (25 mph) and maintain that speed for up to 90 seconds.[5] Wombats defend home territories centred on their burrows, and they react aggressively to intruders. The common wombat occupies a range of up to 23 ha (57 acres), while the hairy-nosed species have much smaller ranges, of no more than 4 ha (9.9 acres).[4]

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