Wombats are short-legged, muscular, coarse-haired, little nocturnal animals that live only in Australia and Tasmania. They are the second largest marsupial that carries their babies in a pouch after they are born, averaging 35-45 inches (90-115 cm) in length and weigh anywhere from 20-35 kg (44-77 lb). Their triangular ears stick up from their heads and have little stubby tails. With the heavy and sturdy appearance, they look somewhat like small, grey or brown bears. Their fur can vary from a sandy to brown or from grey to black.
The word wombat is derived from its Australian aboriginal name vomat or wombac. There are three species of wombats, which are common wombats, northern hairy-nosed wombats and southern hairy-nosed wombats. The hairless nose, smaller ears, rounder head and long fur of the common wombat distinguishes it from hairy-nosed species of wombats. Although the wombats look like soft targets, they have a thick layer of cartilage covering their rear ends. If attacked by a predator, a wombat puts its head into its burrow, leaving only it's rear visible, which the attacking animal cannot bite due to its tough cartilage. They also use their rear legs to kick at the predator and often injure it with the heavy back claws. Generally, they move slowly, but when threatened, they can reach up to 40 km/h (25 mph) and maintain that speed for around 490 feet (150 m).
Preferring wet, forested areas with slopes, the wombats are solitary and territorial animals. They mark their area by rubbing their scent on trees and scattering cube-shaped droppings. With their big and powerful claws and rodent-like sharp front teeth, the common wombats dig extensive burrows and normally live alone in individual burrows.
However, the hairy-nosed wombats may share a large burrow with others of their kind. These burrows can be nearly 100 feet (30 m) long, with a network of sub tunnels, which include multiple entrances and sleeping quarters.
The wombats mostly remain in their burrows to stay out of the heat and venture out at night and in the cooler mornings and evenings to graze. They are vegetarians that prefer tender young plants, but eat most of the different plants that include leaves, spear grass, grass-roots, herbs, snow tussocks, mushrooms, bark, bushes, moss, march plants and cultivated vegetables. However, they need less food than other animals of the same size, as they have an extraordinarily slow metabolism, taking around 8 to 14 days to complete digestion, which aids their survival in arid conditions. Usually, they satisfy most of their water needs with the water they get from the plants and from lapping up dew.
Usually, the Wombats become mature to have babies from two years of age. As they do not have any specific breeding season, the female scatters her poop cubes around the area, signaling that she is ready to mate with any males in the area. Wombats tend to be more vocal during mating season and when it comes to mating, southern hairy-nosed females tend to bite a male’s bottom, when they most fertile.
After a gestation period of around three weeks, the female typically produces one single ‘joey’, the helpless, blind and tiny baby, about the size of a jelly bean. After birth, the joey makes its way to its mother’s pouch and climbs inside, where it takes shelter for up to six months. As the pouch is uniquely placed backward, toward the tail of the mother, the baby does not get pelted with dirt as the mother digs tunnels and holes. After about six months, the baby often emerges from the pouch to explore the world, but climbs back to the safe shelter, where it stay with the mother for as much as another year.
Generally, wombats live anywhere from 5 to 20 years in the wild, but in captivity they are known to live past 20 and even as much as 30 years.