Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Things I Find Fascinating: 10 Interesting Things About Wombats

I'm taking a break from "baby talk" today. Don't worry – there'll be plenty of it to come. I just needed to take a brief respite for some much-needed weirdness. So please indulge me, and maybe even stick with me...you might learn a few things. (Albeit things you may never have a reason or opportunity to put into practice, but still...)

A wombat – much cuter than it sounds, huh?

1)  Wombats live primarily in the forested, mountainous, and heathland areas of Southeastern Australia, including Tasmania, as well as in the Epping Forest National Park in central Queensland.  So, for those of you who were hoping one might suddenly crop up in your back yard, it's probably not going to happen, unless you live Down Under.

Where to go to avoid wombats (anywhere that's not shaded red)

2)  These short-legged, muscular quadrupedal marsupials are mostly nocturnal, but will occasionally venture out to feed on cool or overcast days.  Their diet consists mostly of grasses, sedges, herbs, bark, and roots. So, if you see a wombat at the zoo, you probably won't want to give it the other half of your hamburger. It's strictly a vegetarian.

Grazing wombat (no hidden dragon)

3)  Wombats use their rodent-like front teeth and powerful claws to dig extensive burrow systems.  Being marsupials, they carry their young in a pouch, but the wombat's pouch is backward-facing so that when they dig they will not sling dirt into the pouch over their children. Very considerate of them, don't you think?

Wombats really dig digging

4)  Wombats are slowpokes, in more ways than one. First of all, wombats have an extraordinarily slow metabolism, taking around 8 to 14 days to complete digestion, which comes in handy since they live in generally arid conditions and don't run across food as often as they'd like. Secondly, wombats move slowly in general. However, when a wombat is threatened, all bets are off. Those little boogers can get up to 25 mph and maintain that speed for up to a minute and a half!

5)  Wombats can "donkey-kick" their way out of getting eaten by predators.  Natural prey for dingos and Tasmanian devils (yes, that's a real animal!), pursued wombats retreat to the nearest tunnel, using their rump to block the attacker from reaching them. Sometimes, a wombat will allow an intruder to force its head over their back and will then use their powerful legs to crush the skull of the predator against the roof of the tunnel, or drive it off with two-legged "donkey kicks." Neither of those two options sounds like something I would like to experience, so therefore I will not be pursuing any wombats into their tunnels anytime soon. Not even just to say "hello."

Angry wombats are not to be trifled with.

6)  Speaking of which: Should you ever happen to stumble upon an angry wombat in the wild (or in the zoo), it may be a good idea to scale the nearest tree and wait for the wombat to calm down and/or vacate the area.  Humans can quite easily receive puncture wounds from wombat claws as well as bites. Startled wombats can also charge humans and bowl them over, causing them to break bones in the process, or worse. In 2010, a 59-year-old man from Victoria was mauled by a wombat (thought to have been angered by mange – the wombat, not the man), causing a number of cuts and bite marks requiring hospital treatment.

Bruce "Don't Call Me Kris" Kringle was in the wrong place
at the wrong time, and caught the brunt of a wombat's wrath.

7)  Wombats expel cube-shaped poop.  Because I know you were wondering about that. You weren't? Oh, well... Consider it a bonus!

Wombat poop – kinda looks like a lumpy crab cake.

8)  While wombats are generally quiet animals, they are capable of emitting a variety of interesting noises.  When in the vicinity of a wombat, you might hear them making hissing sounds (when angered), pig-like squeals (for mating calls), grunting noises (when a piece of bark tastes especially good), low growls (when warning you to climb the nearest tree), hoarse coughs (when they're hoarse or during cold season), and clicking noises (just for the heck of it). When sleeping, wombats will sometimes snore as well.

9)  The world's oldest wombat lived to be 34 years and 7 months old.  Carver, a Southern hairy-nosed wombat, who lived at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, passed away on October 1, 2009. No other wombat, in captivity or in the wild, has ever been known to live that long. Being 34 years and 2 months old myself, I am extremely glad right now that I am not a wombat. There are other reasons I'm glad I'm not, but this one's pretty high up on the list.

Carver, oldest living wombat (now dead)

10)  Since 2005, October 22nd has been designated as Wombat Day in Australia.  Though this is an unofficial holiday and no one gets to miss a day of work because of it, most Australians will bow their heads and observe a moment of silence for wombats everywhere at least twice on this day each year. (Okay, I'm making that last part up – so sue me!) In actuality, Wombat Day is used to raise awareness for and to solicit donations for wildlife protection and preservation organizations in Australia – which is a worthy cause indeed.

Wombat orphan "Yango" at a wildlife facility,
where he's being nursed back to health

Sources:  Wikipedia.org;  wombania.com; wombatsinfo.com

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