1902 Encyclopedia > Wombat


WOMBAT. The animals which have received this name belong to the Marsupial family Phascolomyidae (see MAMMALIA, vol. xv. p. 383). They have the following dental formula : _ 1/1, c 0/0, p 1/1, m 4/4 = 6/6; total 24. All the teeth are of continuous growth, having persistent pulps. The incisors are large and scalpriform, much as in Rodents. The body is broad and depressed, the neck short, the head large and flat, the eyes small. The tail is rudimentary, hidden in the fur. The limbs are equal, stout, and short. The feet have broad, naked, tuberculated soles; the fore-feet with five distinct toes, each furnished with a long, strong, and slightly curved nail, the first and fifth considerably shorter than the other three. The hind feet have a very short nailless hallux ; the second, third, and fourth toes partially united by integument, of nearly equal length; the fifth distinct and rather shorter ; these four are provided with long and curved nails.

There are two distinct forms of wombat:—

(1) Phascolomys proper. Fur rough and coarse. Ears short and rounded. Muffle naked. Post-orbital process of the frontal bone obsolete. Ribs fifteen pairs. Vertebrae : C 7, D 15, L 4, S 4, C 10-12. The wombat of Tasmania and the islands of Bass’s Straits (P. ursinus) and the closely similar but larger animal of the southern portion of the mainland of Australia (P. platyrhinus) belong to this form.

(2) Lasiorhinus. Fur smooth and silky. Ears large and more pointed. Muffle hairy. Frontal region of skull broader than in the other section, with well-marked post-orbital processes. Ribs thirteen. Vertebrae: C 7, D 13, L 6, S 4, C 15-16. One species, P. latifrons, the Hairy-Nosed Wombat of Southern Australia.

In their general form and actions the wombats resemble small bears, having a somewhat similar shuffling manner of walking, but they are still shorter in the legs, and have broader flatter backs than bears. They live entirely on the ground, or in burrows or holes among rocks, never climbing trees, and they feed entirely on grass, roots, and other vegetable substances. They sleep during the day, and wander forth at night in search of food, and are shy and gentle in their habits generally, though they can bite strongly when provoked. The only noise the common wombat makes is a low kind of hissing, but the hairy-nosed wombat is said to emit a short quick grunt when annoyed. The prevailing colour of the last-named species, as well as P. ursinus of Tasmania, is a brownish grey. The large wombat of the mainland is very variable in colour, some individuals being found of a pale yellowish brown, others dark grey, and some quite black. The length of head and body is about three feet. Fossil remains of wombats, some of larger size than any now existing, have been found in caves and post-Pliocene deposits in Australia, but in no other part of the world. (W. H. F.)

The above article was written by Sir William Henry Flower, K.C.B., D.Sc, D.C.L., LL.D., Ph.D., F.R.S.; Director of British Museum, Natural History Department; President of the Zoological Society; President of the British Association, 1889; author of Introduction to the Osteology of Mammalia and The Horse: a Study in Natural History.

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