Word of The Month: Wombat

David Zapatka

This month’s word of the month is wombat; noun wom·bat ˈwäm-ˌbat any of several stocky burrowing Australian marsupials (genera Vombatus and Lasiorhinus of the family Vombatidae) resembling small bears.

Origin of wombat – Dharuk (Australian aboriginal language of the Port Jackson area) wombad.

Wombats are short-legged, muscular quadrupedal marsupials that are native to Australia. They are about 40 inches in length with small, stubby tails. There are three extant species. They are adaptable and habitat tolerant, and are found in forested, mountainous and heathland areas of southeastern Australia, including Tasmania, as well as an isolated patch of about 740 acres in the Epping Forest National Park, central Queensland.

Although genetic studies of wombats have been undertaken, evolution of the family is not well understood. Wombats are estimated to have diverged from other Australian marsupials relatively early, as long as 25-40 million years ago. While some theories place wombats as miniaturized relatives of diprotodonts, such as the rhinoceros-sized Diprotodon, more recent studies place the wombats as having a distinct parallel evolution, a classification as a separate family.

Wombats dig extensive burrow systems with their rodent-like front teeth and powerful claws. One distinctive adaptation of wombats is their backwards pouch. The advantage of a backwards-facing pouch is that when digging, the wombat does not gather soil in its pouch over its young. Although mainly crepuscular and nocturnal, wombats also venture out to feed on cool or overcast days. They are not commonly seen, but leave ample evidence of their passage, treating fences as minor inconveniences to be gone through or under and leaving distinctive cubic feces.

Wombats are herbivores; their diets consist mostly of grasses, sedges, herbs, bark and roots. Their incisor teeth somewhat resemble those of the placental rodents (rats, mice, etc.), being adapted for gnawing tough vegetation. Like many other herbivorous mammals, they have a large diastema between their incisors and the cheek teeth, which are relatively simple.

Wombats’ fur can vary from a sandy color to brown or from grey to black. All three known extant species weigh between 44 and 77 pounds.

Female wombats give birth to a single young in the spring, after a gestation period, which like all marsupials can vary, in the case of the wombat from 20–21 days. They have well-developed pouches, which the young leave after about six to seven months. Wombats are weaned after 15 months and are sexually mature at 18 months.

Now to the most fun part of this month’s word. What are a group of wombats called? There are many different and interesting animal group names. There is a gaggle of geese (on the ground), a skein of geese (in the air), a rumba of rattlesnakes and a rookery of penguins but wombats?

A group of wombats is known as a wisdom. How interesting! A wisdom of wombats. Do you know why a group of wombats is called a wisdom? If so, please write and share why with our readers by emailing [email protected].