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Southern hairy-nosed wombat facts for kids

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Southern hairy-nosed wombat
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Infraclass: Marsupialia
Order: Diprotodontia
Family: Vombatidae
Genus: Lasiorhinus
Gray, 1863
Species: L. latifrons
Binomial name
Lasiorhinus latifrons
(Owen, 1845)
Southern hairy-nosed wombat range

The southern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons) is one of three extant species of wombats. It is found in scattered areas of semiarid scrub and mallee from the eastern Nullarbor Plain to the New South Wales border area. It is the smallest of all three wombat species.

The Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat is the state of South Australia's faunal emblem as they live almost exclusively in South Australia.

Among the oldest southern hairy-nosed wombats ever documented were a male and a female from Brookfield Zoo just outside Chicago. Their names were Carver, who lived to be 34, and his mother, Vicky, who lived to be 24. In South Australia in 2010, a domesticated wombat named Wally was also reported as having reached the age of 34. Hamlet, a wombat at the Toronto Zoo, similarly died at age 34.

Physical description

Wombat foot
The foot of a Southern hairy-nosed wombat

The southern hairy-nosed wombat is adapted to digging; it has a stocky and robust build, flattened claws, and five digits. It is also plantigrade. The body length ranges from 772 to 934 mm (30.4 to 36.8 in) with a body mass ranging from 19 to 32 kg (42 to 71 lb). Its short tail is hidden by its fur. The pelage is silky and is typically greyish or tan in colour. The wombat grooms itself with its second and third toes, which are fused together, except at the tips.

Hairy-nosed wombat snout
Hairy-nosed wombat snout

The head is robust and flattened and the ears are pointed. The snout resembles that of a pig. The animal gets its name from the hairs that cover its snout.

The wombat's incisors resemble those of rodents, and its molars are widely spaced by the palate. The teeth keep growing for the entirety of the animal’s life, which is likely an adaptation to its harsh diet.

Female wombats have pouches that are positioned backwards with the opening towards the mother's rear rather than her head. This is so the wombat can continue to dig without dirt getting into her pouch!

Biology and ecology

Southern hairy-nosed wombats range though Western Australia, southern South Australia, and south-western New South Wales. They live in semiarid to arid grasslands and woodlands.

Diet

Southern hairy-nosed wombats, along with other wombat species, select native perennial grasses and sedges, but do consume introduced pasture species, forbs, and the leaves of woody shrubs if their favoured food is not available. Much of the southern hairy-nosed wombat's diet is Stipa nitida, which grows around its warren complex and is trimmed as it grazes. This creates an area with a higher density of new green shoots, a sign of delayed growth of individual grass. The teeth of the wombat are more effective in grinding food into small particles than the western grey kangaroo.

Wombat3
Southern Hairy-nosed wombat near a burrow entrance

Its digestive tract has a tiny caecum and a colon divided into parts. The anterior part is relatively small and serves as the site for fermentation, while the posterior part is larger and is where water is reabsorbed. The wombat conserves water by recycling more urea to the colon rather than releasing it as urine. Wombats release less than other herbivorous mammals. As such, the southern hairy-nosed wombat produces very dry faeces, with water contents as low as 40%.

The food wombats eat provides them more than enough energy. It is more effective than a donkey at maintaining its weight on low-quality food.

Burrow system and activities

Wombat at melbourne zoo
Wombats sleeping in a tunnel at Melbourne Zoo.

Southern hairy-nosed wombats dig and live in burrows which they connect into warrens with many entrances. These warrens are their prime refuges and are shared by up to 10 individuals. A wombat digs with its fore claws while sitting up. It leaves its new burrow backwards and pushes out soil with all its paws. The central warren is surrounded by a circle of small, simple burrows 100–15 m from it. Some underground warrens can span over 200 meters long and up to 7 meters deep. The small burrows along the outer edges is where young wombats go when they are displaced from the central warren. Wombats may favour a certain burrow and not share it with others.

Wombats move between burrows and even warrens. Male wombats are territorial towards wombats from other warrens, possibly to defend food resources and the warren refuges. Trails of droppings connect the burrows. The males also mark their territory with anal scent secretions by rubbing their backs and rumps on objects. Fights between males over territories or mates do occur and involve bites to the ears, flanks, or rumps. Also, a dominance hierarchy exists among males.

Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat
Closeup of wombat lying down

The burrows of a southern hairy-nosed wombat can have air temperatures around of 14 °C in midwinter to 26 °C in midsummer, the wombat's preferred thermo-neutral zone, while the ambient temperatures outside range from down to around 2 °C in Winter and up to 36 °C or above during Summer. Warrens can make surface conditions in habitats of low humidity and high temperatures better for the wombat.

A wombat retires deep in the burrow after foraging. The next night, the wombat moves to the entrance to check if conditions are right before emerging again. In the evening, wombats leave their burrows as the ambient temperature and burrow temperature are the same. In the early morning, when the surface temperature is lower, they retire.

Mating and reproduction

PhascolomysLatifronsWolf
Illustration by Joseph Wolf (1865)

The breeding of the southern hairy-nosed wombat occurs when their favoured food is at its peak growth rates. Their reproduction relies on the winter rainfall, which germinates the grasses.

The gestation period of the wombat lasts 22 days and most births occur in October. When a young is born, it climbs into the pouch and clings to a teat. It stays in the pouch for six months growing to around 0.45 kg, with a light pelage and open eyes. It soon leaves the pouch and starts grazing at the surface. The young is fully weaned when it is a year old and reaches full size at the age of three years, which is also when it becomes sexually mature.

Communication

Southern hairy-nosed wombats use vocalisations and scents for communication. While most communication between wombats occurs through olfaction and scent-marking, as they do not often encounter each other directly, they emit rough, coughing noises when they pass each other, and emit a more strident call for alarm.

Status

Pebbles the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat
"Pebbles" the Southern hairy-nosed wombat

The southern hairy-nosed wombat was listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN in 2016, because "many subpopulations are now isolated and may be non-viable".

Wombats were hunted by aboriginal people for their meat. However, capturing a wombat takes considerable time and energy, so they were not hunted too frequently. The indigenous people of Australia value the wombat culturally and keep their local wombat populations healthy by hunting wombats in other areas.

Wombats have been considered as agricultural pests by landholders. The wombats actually take up small pockets of agricultural land, cause less erosion than farming and cause less damage to infrastructure than livestock or the weather. The germination rate is in fact 70% higher where wombats are found.

Competition between livestock, rabbits, and wombats can lead to overgrazing.

Overgrazing, the spread of invasive weeds in some areas and drought has led to the flora being dominated by annual grass and weed species, from which wombats cannot get enough of their metabolic needs, resulting in reports of emaciation and mass starvation.

Wombat awareness organisation
"Boofy" relaxing on the couch at the Wombat Awareness Association

The competition from introduced rabbits threatens the survival of wombats.

There has been an estimated 70% decline in wombat populations over the past decade and with the added threats of vehicles, diseases such as Sarcoptic mange and starvation due to poor land management there is no sign of their decline slowing.

The Wombat Awareness Organisation located in the Adelaide hills, is a non-profit organisation specialising in the rescue, rehabilitation and advocation of the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat.

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