8 Wonderful Facts About Wombats

A common wombat walking in grass with mountains and water in the background

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The wombat is a marsupial found only in Australia. It is one of the largest burrowing mammals and the only burrowing herbivore. There are three species of wombats; two species, northern and southern hairy-nosed wombats, are at risk.

Wombats have large stocky bodies and short legs, weigh between 40 and 90 pounds, and are up to three feet in length. Although they appear slow-moving, wombats can run up to 25 mph for short bursts. While these nocturnal burrow-dwellers are adept at staying out of the spotlight, they deserve the recognition given to more well-known Australian wildlife. Here are a few things you might not know about the wombat.

1. There Are Three Species of Wombats

Found only in Australia, there are three species of wombats: common wombats, northern hairy-nosed wombats, and southern hairy-nosed wombats. Wombats inhabit forests, alpine mountains, arid grasslands, and coastal shrub lands. The most at risk of extinction, northern hairy-nosed wombats, are found only in Epping Forest National Park in Central Queensland. Common, or bare-nosed wombats, are found in eastern Queensland and New South Wales, as well as South Australia, Flinders Island, and Tasmania. Southern hairy-nosed wombats are found in small pockets of Western Australia, southern South Australia, and southwestern New South Wales. 

The primary difference in appearance among the three is in their faces. The common wombat has no hair on its nose, while the other two have some nostril hair; the common wombat also has smaller, furrier ears than the hairy-nosed wombats.

2. They're Known To Bite

When it comes to mating, not much is known about wombat rituals. One thing researchers have discovered — they bite the rump of the opposite sex when it’s time to mate. In common wombats, the behavior involves the male chasing the female in circles until she slows down enough for him to take a bite at her rump. Researchers in Queensland studying southern hairy-nosed wombats discovered that females tend to bite a male's bottom when they're most fertile.

Scientists are encouraged by this discovery and hope it will improve captive breeding efforts to ensure the survival of the southern hairy-nosed wombat and the critically endangered northern hairy-nosed wombat.

3. Their Pouches Face Backward

A female wombat (sow) with a joey peeking out from its pouch
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While other marsupials have pouches that open at the top toward the mother's head, wombats have pouches that point backward. The adaptation is useful for these burrowing animals — the backward-facing pouch prevents soil and twigs from entering the pouch and harming the baby. 

Baby wombats, or joeys, are born after about a month-long gestation period. The size of a jellybean, they crawl from their mother’s birth canal into her pouch where they grow and develop for six to 10 months.

4. Wombat Poop Is Cube-Shaped 

Wombats produce a lot of poop — as many as 80 to 100 per night on average. The unusual cube-shape of their poop is due to their lengthy digestive process. It takes 14 to 18 days for wombats to absorb the maximum amount of nutrients from their food, and it also causes their feces to be quite dry. As their poop moves through their intestines, the walls stretch unevenly, causing the feces to take on a cube shape.

Wombats use their poop to mark their territory, including the entrances to their burrows.

5. They Are Daytime Burrow-Dwellers

common wombat sitting at the entrance to its burrow
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Wombats are primarily nocturnal and crepuscular creatures. They spend most of the daylight hours in their burrows and are out and about for a maximum of six to eight hours per evening. They adjust their schedules with the seasons, avoiding the hot daytime temperatures in the summer, and sometimes venturing out in the afternoon during the cooler months. On sunny winter days, wombats will sometimes sunbathe outside of their burrows.

6. Wombats Are Tunneling Pros

Wombats are adept at building intricate homes. Their short limbs and sharp claws are the perfect tools for the job, and they have the added feature of super sharp front teeth to cut through anything that gets in their way. 

Wombats construct elaborate networks of burrows, called warrens, with multiple tunnels and several entrances. For each entry point, they dig a small hole with their forepaws and exit the burrow backward to prevent excess dirt from gathering at the entrance. Wombats are solitary animals, and most burrow entrances are just large enough for one individual. Their networks of burrows are sometimes used by other animals seeking refuge underground when the wombats are away.

7. They Have Teeth Like Rodents

Just like rodents, wombats have incisor teeth with open roots that never stop growing. Among marsupials, ever-growing teeth is unique to wombats and is believed to be an adaptation to the tough vegetation in their diet. All of wombats' teeth grow continuously, including their molars. Wombats keep their teeth to a suitable length by chewing on native grasses, bark, and roots while eating and building burrows.

8. They Are at Risk

Two of the three species of wombats, the northern hairy-nosed wombat and the southern hairy-nosed wombat, are at risk.

Found only in a 1,200-acre area of Epping Forest National Park in Queensland, the northern hairy-nosed wombat is critically endangered. The adult population is estimated at only 80 individuals. The quality of the northern hairy-nosed wombats’ habitat is in decline due to the introduction of invasive exotic grasses in its range. Recovery and management plans to control predator threats, manage habitat, establish areas to translocate the animals, and develop captive breeding techniques using southern hairy-nosed wombats are planned or in place.

The southern hairy-nosed wombat is near threatened with a declining population. Subpopulations are geographically isolated, and the overall size of the southern hairy-nosed wombats' habitat has been reduced. In some areas, the wombat occurs in large numbers and is in conflict with farming communities and in competition with rabbits and livestock for food.

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