Episode 002 - Wombat

Episode 002 - Wombat

Show notes

The under appreciated animals podcast is a wildlife podcast all about shining a spotlight on the animals that don’t get talked about as often as they should be.
In this episode we’re talking about all things aardvark!

In this episode we’re talking about all things wombat
We’ll cover
• how tall they are
• a fact not many people know about them
• why wombat poop is cube shaped
and loads more!
A quick reminder that that Tash is not a wildlife professional - just an extreme animal lover with access to a microphone and recording equipment and a passion for learning.

To nominate an animal for a future episode please email Tash at tash@hatchlingmakes.com with the subject line "Podcast animal suggestion" and I'll get back to you as soon as possible! You'll also get a shout out in that episode if I am able to record one!

Check out Tash’s small business;
Follow Tash on social media;
Podcast art by Tash
Music: Outdoors In Summer by Shane Ivers -

Episode transcript:

[intro music]Hello and welcome to the under appreciated animals podcast with Hatchling Makes. An animal themed podcast filled with fun facts about species that aren’t always the main feature in nature documentaries but are getting a chance in the spotlight because they are amazing and they deserve some attention too.

My name is Tash Hatcher and I am a wildlife artist and life long animal lover. I run a small business called Hatchling Makes where I sell wildlife inspired enamel pins and stickers and every sale helps to raise money for wildlife conservation!

In each episode of this show I’ll be chatting about a different under appreciated animal. From horseshoe crabs to cassowaries to rock hyraxes and everything in between. I’ll be sharing fun facts and telling you all about these incredible species from where they’re found to what they eat to just what makes them so special. And hopefully by the end of the episode you’ll love them just as much as I do.

Before we go any further I do want to add in a tiny disclaimer! I am not a wildlife professional in any way shape or form. I am just an extreme animal lover, but I will do my very best to research these creatures to the best of my abilities so I can bring you their stories as accurately as possible.

So without further ado, let’s dive on in to todays episode!

Hello friends! And welcome back to the under appreciated animals podcast! Thank you so much for tuning back in or if you’re a new listener then thank you so much for choosing to listen! You can totally listen to these episodes out of order - there’s no story line or anything that you need to follow so don’t worry you can always go back and listen in any order you like.

Now officially this is episode 2 of the under appreciated animals podcast, and for this episode we’re going to be focusing on one of my childhood favourite animals which is the wombat! Most of my family live in Australia and they’ve been there ever since I was a child so I’ve been travelling back and forth there my whole life and so I have a lot of love for Australian animals because I was basically brought up on them. And there’s just something about wombats that’s always just been so appealing to me, I actually had a wombat plush toy when I was about 7 or 8 and I still have it somewhere, it’s safely tucked away in storage. So I’m really excited to share some fun wombat facts with you all!

If this is your first time listening to this podcast and you’re wondering what to expect, I’ll be chatting all about these incredible animals. Where you can find them, what do they eat, why is a wombats poo cube shaped? All the important questions! [laugh] So let’s get started!

There are actually three different wombat species, there’s the northern hairy-nosed wombat found in the north of Australia and funnily enough it has a hairy nose. Then there’s the bare-nose wombat which is also known as the common wombat and is found in the south east and finally the southern hairy-nosed wombat found, ironically enough, in the south of Australia. I mean they really thought long and hard when they decided to differentiate the species right? It’s found in the north? Lets call it the northern hairy nosed wombat!

Now wombats are one of those Australian specific species, their closest relative is the koala. So you’re not going to find them anywhere else in the world. They’re just in Australia. But unlike most other Australian animals it won’t kill you - or will it? Gotta listen to the rest of the episode to find out! [laugh]

For the sake of this episode I’ll be talking about all wombats in general but if there’s anything specific about a particular species I’ll make sure to point that out. I’ll also be referring to the bare-nose wombat as the common wombat just cause otherwise there’s three wombat species all with “nose” in the name and if you know me in real life you’ll know I’ll end up tripping over my own words and sometimes it’s hard enough to read my notes as it is!

Now wombats are adorable. They’re basically big furry rocks. And I really do mean big, I’ll get to that in just a second. But the 3 species do have their differences when it comes to looks, other than the obvious one, which is that the hairy-nosed species have hairy noses. The common wombat is sort of a classic looking wombat, it’s got a sloping body and head close to the ground and oval shaped nose. It’s like the iconic wombat - this is the wombat that is on all the wombat merch - it’s so so cute. In comparison, both the hairy-nosed species, which are still cute, have a slightly longer snout which almost makes them have a slightly canine look to them! Common wombats also have a more rounded ear shape whereas the hairy-nosed ones have a bit more of a pointed ear. I think that pointed ear is what makes me think of canines when I look at them cause it does look a little like a dog from the side. That’s really the main way you can tell the common wombat apart from the hairy nosed wombats. But all 3 species are pretty similar otherwise, they have really stocky little bodies and really powerful looking front legs - they’re a burrowing species and you can just sort of tell that from looking at them.

If you’re new to this podcast and like me would prefer a more visual reference of what a wombat looks like I’ve drawn one for the artwork of this episode so you can reference that if you’d like! I’ve drawn the faces of a common wombat and a northern hairy nosed wombat, side by side, so you can see the comparisons!

So back to their size, again these are big animals. I remember coming across a wild wombat once on a family holiday and I was really surprised at just how big they were! The northern hairy-nosed wombat is actually one of the world’s largest burrowing mammals. Those buddies can be up to 1 metre long and 30kg! For listeners who use inches and lbs as measurements we’re talking about 40 inches long and 68lbs here. Common and southern hairy-nosed wombats come in a little smaller than that but there were some discrepancies in this when I was researching for this epsiode and there’s a lot of different numbers floating around. So for transparency’s sake I’m going off data here from National Geographic and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Now their size is NOTHING compared to their ancestors from the Pleistocene (ply-sta-steen) era. Back then giant wombats would roam across southern Australia and they were called Diprotodon (die-proto-don). And they were what’s known as a mega herbivore. They were just shy of 2 meters tall - so mega really is the right word for it. They were just about the height of a modern day rhino. Now I don’t know about you but herbivore or not that’s a really big animal. Modern day wombats in comparison come in at a much more reasonable 80cm tall. Now I was looking for something to compare that too and apparently that’s about half the height of Danny DeVito [laugh] or about the height of two bowling pins stacked on top of each other.

We touched a little bit about where the three different species are found earlier in the episode but I’m going to get a little more specific here because the different species do occupy different habitats as well. So northern hairy-nosed wombats are found in the Australian state of Queensland which is on the east coast, common wombats are found in southern Queensland, also New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, so stretching from the east down to south and then a little bit along the bottom of Australia. And southern hairy-nosed wombats are found in Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales! So there is a little overlap in some species, especially in their historical distribution, but nowadays the populations are a little more isolated.

Wombats really adaptable and live in a range of habitats but generally speaking the common wombat is found mostly in eucalyptus forests, in the mountains and by the coast whereas the hairy-nosed species tend to prefer slightly more open and spacious grasslands. When I saw a wombat it was actually at the entrance to it’s burrow on farmland near the coast and near a small temperate forest which must have been part of it’s territory.

So I mentioned a burrow and wombats are burrowing marsupials and they build massive - and I really do mean that - massive burrows. I feel like it’s hard to explain the scale of a wombat burrow until you see it one person but as a 8 or 9 year old slightly lanky kid, my sister could have crawled into the wombat burrow that we saw. Some wombat burrows have been known to be up to 30 metres long! And whilst common wombats are generally solitary, the hairy-nosed wombats have been known to live in larger colonies so I guess that calls for a larger burrow! Burrows can have multiple entrances and exits and different rooms and wombats use them to escape from predators but also just to escape from the heat of the day, which as someone who has experienced an Australian summer, let me tell you I would absolutely escape from the heat of the day in a wombat burrow if you gave me half a chance.

And of course these burrows are incredibly useful for other creatures too - particularly during bush fires season when other animals like rock wallabies or bettongs have been known to use wombat burrows. And they do this because the burrows are cooler, obviously being inside the earth and so that protects them from the fires and the fire passes over them and then they are unharmed.

I’m going to side track here just cause I’m expecting someone to ask me what a bettong is, a bettong is a type of kangaroo and it’s also known as a rat kangaroo.

So you heard me say earlier that wombats are a marsupial which is essentially just a fancy way of saying they are a mammal that rears babies in a pouch. [laugh] So the difference between a mammal and a marsupial is that a mammal gives birth to a baby which is fully developed, a marsupial will have essentially a premature birth and then the baby will climb into the pouch and continue to develop before coming out into the world. I’m really stripping that back to basics there so please don’t come after me! Essentially this is what it means.

Now if you’re after super cute fun fact, wombat babies are known as joeys just like kangaroos. I just think that’s cute.

So let’s talk about poo. That’s a phrase I never thought I would say on my podcast but here we are.

Probably the most well known fact about wombats is that their poo is shaped like a cube! And it’s been a mystery as to how or why they do this but it seems to have been finally solved so I’m going to tell you all about it.

So in 2018 it was discovered that wombat intestines are really elastic. They sort of expand and contract several times over and that’s what forms the shape of the cube and this happens right at the end of the digestive process. I think one of the phrases I read was something along the lines of “so you can fit a square peg into a round hole”.

Now just like with other animals, their poo is really important especially for captive wombats. Keepers and vets can use their poo to get a sort of snapshot into the health of the individuals because sometimes wombats who are in captivity, their poo isn’t as cube shaped as their wild counterparts. So shape is really important here!

I’m just going to stop here for a second and say I spent a long time - more time than I thought I would to be honest - reading up on wombat poo. Anyone who ever looks at my internet search history - phew, good luck. But moving on!

So wombats poo. A. Lot. Common wombats can poo up to 100 little cubes a day! Now I read a couple different articles on wombat poo and some of them said that they collect their poo to then place around their territory and some of them said that they go to the edge of their territory and go poo there. But the general thought is that they use their poo to communicate with each other, kind of like scent marking. And they also use their poo to mark the edges of their territory cause wombats are territorial little critters.

So it’s sort of agreed that the reason wombat poo is cube shaped is so that it can’t roll away. So once it’s placed on the log or the rock then it’s not going to roll off! As a wombat I guess you don’t want your poo to roll into someone else’s territory so I guess that’s why they evolved in that way.

And that is all my facts about wombat poo. Now this next fact here is probably one of my personal favourite and lesser known of the wombat facts, and that’s that they can be really fast when they want to be. They can run up to 40km an hour! Imagine a little furry rocket pelting towards you at that speed. They are more sprint runners than marathon runners so they will only run in short bursts but it’s so adorable to see. If you want a cute boost of serotonin today, go after this episode and look up wombat running videos. You will not be disappointed.

Now before you go and start trying to cuddle wild wombats, they can be aggressive so do be careful. If you are lucky enough to see one, I would give it a wide berth. Observe from a distance . Attacks on humans are really rare but they do happen. Now they’re not going to suddenly just decide they don’t like you and bite you but they are territorial and so if they feel threatened they will try to protect themselves and their territory so it’s definitely something to keep in mind if you are going bush walking and entering their habitat.

Wombats are nocturnal so the chances of encountering one in the wild are slim anyways but just use your common sense. Actually if you go to Australia that’s just sort of true for all the flora and fauna there.

Another fun fact about wombats is that their teeth continue to grow throughout their life. They eat grasses and leaves and stalks and even like to snack on some tree bark which obviously wears down their teeth, so their teeth continuing to grow and that helps them to compensate for chomping on those tough fibres.

Phew that was a lot of wombat info in a very short amount of time. Again I love wombats. I think they’re so so cute but there’s definitely more to them than meets the eye!

So before I wrap up this episode I’m just going to chat about conservation and threats to wombats because the southern hairy-nosed wombat is endangered and the northern hairy-nosed wombat is critically endangered so the Queensland government is actively trying to help to conserve the northern population and set up new populations along with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Population levels of the northern hairy-nosed wombat actually dropped to just 35 individuals at one point but thanks to the conservation efforts those numbers are now up to around 300, which is incredible. And that’s all thanks to them taking precautions like installing a dingo proof fence around one of the populations to keep them safe.

In addition to predation from dingos and invasive species like wild dogs, all wombats are currently loosing their habitat to make way for farmland and ranches. Wombats were actually considered a pest for a long time so sadly they were hunted. Common wombats are still considered to be vermin by some farmers and they’re blamed for damages to fencing and also for creek and soil erosion cause their burrows alter the landscape.

In 2020 the Australian state of Victoria actually closed a legal loophole that means that hunting for wombats is now illegal and all wombats are now protected across Australia which is amazing news.

So loads of great news there for wombats and I think on that note we’re going to wrap up this episode here.

Thank you so much for tuning in todays folks, and I hope you enjoyed today’s episode until next time, take care!

[music plays under Tash talking] Thank you so much for listening to the under appreciated animals podcast. I hope you found this episode fun and interesting and if you did then please reach out! Let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

If you love animals and would like to help support this podcast, you can check out my website for my small business, Hatchling Makes, which you can find at hatchling makes dot com or if you head to the show notes I’ll leave a link there. It’s got wildlife inspired enamel pins, and stickers, and stationery and all that good stuff. Plus 10% of every sale is donated to wildlife conservation.

Also if you have a moment to leave me a review I would be super grateful! That really helps me to know that I’m sharing the animal stories that you want to hear!

You can also discover more under appreciated animals by listening to other episodes which are available wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to subscribe whilst you’re there so you don’t miss out on any future episodes. New episodes will come out every other week on a Friday.

I’m also taking animal suggestions so hop on over into the show notes to find out how to do that if you have an animal you’d like me to highlight on this show! Bonus points if you mention one that I have never heard of before!

That’s all from me until next time take care folks!
[outro music]