Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat
[ Lasiorhinus latifrons ]
||2.5 to 3 feet
||1 to 2 inches
40 to 70 pounds
||green grasses, roots, bark, and fungi
||herbivore grain, apple-flavored monkey chow, sweet potatoes, bananas, carrots, peanuts, hay, and mouse chow
||central South Australia
||arid to semi-arid savannah woodland, grassland, and low shrub plains
Underground Down Under
What's a wombat?
Wombats are thick, heavy-bodied Australian animals that live in underground tunnel systems. Everything about them is compact. They are about the size of a medium-size dog but are much more rounded and solidly built. There are three species of wombat: the common wombat, the northern hairy-nosed wombat, and the southern hairy-nosed wombat.
Southern hairy-nosed wombats are the species at Brookfield Zoo. Their soft fur is gray to brown, with a small patch of white around the furry snout that gives them their name. Wombats have a little, short tail and a flattened head that looks too big for their body. Wombats are built for digging. Their shoulders and forearms are powerful, and they have long claws, all of which they use when digging. Wombats dig their warrens with their forepaws, throwing the dirt behind them with their back feet.
OK then, what’s a warren?
Warrens are complex, underground tunnel systems that wombats build. Each warren is made up of several separate burrows that together form a single warren. Warrens are the center of wombat life, and wombats never wander too far from them. Several wombats may have their warrens near each other, forming a cluster. Although they are neighbors, wombats rarely interact with each other.
Hitching a ride
When wombats do interact, it is to reproduce. Young wombats are born in the spring. Like all marsupials, they are very tiny—in their case, about the size of a bumblebee—and helpless for the six to eight months they spend in the pouch.
Leaves of grass
Wombats are grass eaters. Few animals are better adapted for munching on tough, fibrous vegetation than they are. A wombat’s teeth grow throughout its life, so the teeth never wear down from such a coarse diet. The wombat’s flattened skull allows it to get great leverage from its jaws and grind the grass to fine mulch. After that, the wombat’s digestive system takes over, breaking down the grass fibers into useable energy. Wombats have such efficient digestion that they have to eat only about half as much as a kangaroo of the same size.
Competition with farmers
Years ago, sheep and other farm animals were introduced to Australia. Since these animals are grass eaters, wombats have had to compete while their habitat was converted to farmland. Ranchers have also shot wombats because their digging sometimes damages fences. For these reasons, wombats’ range and numbers have declined drastically. Brookfield Zoo has been instrumental in helping set aside land for the protection of southern hairy-nosed wombats.
Southern hairy-nosed wombats at Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield Zoo is one of only four zoos in North America to exhibit southern hairy-nosed wombats. You can see the zoo’s wombats in Australia House. Wombats are on exhibit along with plenty of other animals from down under, like kangaroos, echidnas, emus, and fruit bats.
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