Southern hairy-nosed wombats inhabit the semi-arid and arid grasslands and woodlands that receive 200 to 500 mm of rain per year in southeastern Western Australia, southern South Australia, and southwestern New South Wales. ("Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat", 1999; Cronin, 2000; Menkhorst, 2001)
Lasiorhinus latifrons require sturdy soil that is able to support the digging of large burrows. They also require perennial grasses and bluebush scrub (Maireana and Chenopodium), essential parts of their diet. ("Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat", 1999)
Southern hairy-nosed wombats are stocky, robust animals, with a lot of power for digging. The body is close to one meter long with short, powerful legs. They are plantigrade and have flattened claws on each of the 5 digits; these are used for digging. On the hind feet, the second and third toes have fused, creating a digit with two claws that the wombats use for grooming (Cronin, 2000). The robust head is flattened and has narrow, pointed ears that extend over its top (Menkhorst, 2001). The incisors are rodent-like. The palate between the molars is wide (Wells, 1987). All the teeth grow continuously throughout their lives, perhaps an adaptation to accommodate their harsh diet. Since hairy-nosed wombats eat a coarser diet than that of common wombats (Vombatus ursinus), they need to masticate their food more thoroughly than that species, so their temporalis muscle is better developed and the masseteric muscle is more reduced (Nakajima and Townsend, 1994). Lasiorhinus latifrons can be distinguished from other Lasiorhinus species because the nasal bone is longer than the frontal bone. The tail is short and usually hidden by fur. The silky fur ranges in color from grey to tan. Soft, usually white, fur covers the rhinarium, giving the animal its name. ("Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat", 1999; Cronin, 2000; Menkhorst, 2001; Nakajima and Townsend, 1994; Ride, 1970; Hamilton, et al., 2000; Wells, 1987)
Little is known about the mating system of Lasiorhinus latifrons. During the breeding season, males are aggressive towards each other, biting the ears, rump, and flanks of other male wombats (Wells, 1995). Females ready for mating may emit a coughing call when they are pursued by males. However, much of the process of selecting a mate is unknown. (Wells, 1995)
Southern hairy-nosed wombats breed in synchrony with highest growth rates of the native grasses that make up their diet. Because of their dependence on the germination of grasses, their reproduction is affected by the amount of winter rainfall (Wells, 1987). During periods of drought, native grasses do not grow, and wombats do not breed. When the grasses begin to germinate, female wombats become ready for reproduction. Males also reach their peak reproductive activity when females are active (Temple-Smith et al., 2000). During the breeding season, males are aggressive towards each other and maintain dominance hierarchies (Cronin, 2000). Mating occurs in the burrow, with males usually remaining in one warren, while females move among them. When wombats copulate, the male lengthens the time of intromission by turning the female on her side and mounting her from behind (Wells, 1995). Female wombats usually give birth between September and December. A single young is born after 21 days of gestation. The juvenile then moves to the pouch where it completes its development. Young begin to leave the pouch between six and eight months of age, and leave permanently by nine months. Young wombats may continue to suckle at the pouch until they have reached 15 months of age (Cronin, 2000). Females are able to reproduce again after weaning is complete. At three years of age, both sexes reach sexual maturity. ("Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat", 1999; Cronin, 2000; Ride, 1970; Hamilton, et al., 2000; Wells, 1987; Wells, 1995)
Since the breeding of Lasiorhinus latifrons occurs in the summer, young wombats are weaned in the early spring, making them vulnerable to food stress and dependent on the amount of rain received in April (Wells, 1987). Wombats usually require two to three years with enough rainfall to successfully raise young. Without enough rainfall, there is not enough grass to sustain juveniles through their growth (Wells, 1995). Additionally, overgrazing of the land can destroy perennial grasses in favor of annual grasses that do not meet the nutritional needs of juvenile wombats. ("Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat", 1999; Ride, 1970; Wells, 1987; Wells, 1995)
Southern hairy-nosed wombat females invest heavily in their young. Since the young of all marsupials are born very early in development and depend on their mother’s milk to complete development, the mother spends a lot of energy producing milk over a long period of time. Additionally, once the young leave the pouch, they return sporadically for more milk while learning how to burrow and graze from their mothers. (Cronin, 2000; Menkhorst, 2001; Wells, 1995)
Because southern hairy-nosed wombats have continuously growing teeth, it is difficult to non-invasively collect data about wombat age. The best means to make an estimate of an animal’s age is to tag and track it over the course of its life. In a study that tracked and tagged adult wombats, individuals lived for 14 years (Wells, 1987). The main limit on the lifespan of Lasiorhinus latifrons is the amount of rainfall in a season rather than predation (Wells, 1987). Wombats are able to escape predators because they live in burrows. (Finlayson, et al., 2005; Wells, 1987)
All wombat species are excellent at digging and build extensive burrow systems. Lasiorhinus latifrons individuals also construct burrows, but additionally, they connect the burrows into warrens. To construct a burrow, a wombat will sit on its hind end, using its forepaws to dig at the earth and push it to the side (Ride, 1970). When the wombat leaves the new burrow, it exits backward, pushing the accumulated dirt out using all four paws (Ride, 1970). Different entrances to the warrens are near favorite feeding places (Menkhorst, 2001). Each warren may then have other, smaller warrens or burrows around it in a 150 meter radius (Wells, 1995). The internal structure of a warren is extensive. Most warrens have relatively small tunnels with randomly placed larger chambers; wombats do not prefer to use wider chambers over narrow tunnels for sleeping spaces (Shimmon, Skinner and Baudinette, 2002). One warren is used by more than one southern hairy-nosed wombat. As many as 10 wombats have been found to use the same warren. However, wombats do not share burrows within a warren. Wombats show some preference for particular burrows and warrens, with females showing a greater tendency to stay near a burrow system than males do, but no individual claims ownership of a particular burrow (Wells, 1995). Wombats do not remain in the same burrow year round; they are known not only to change burrows within one warren but also to move to new warrens. Many wombats have one or two generally large warrens that they will inhabit for the majority of the year (Finlayson et al., 2005). The structure of the burrow allows for little air movement, leading to the depletion of oxygen. Larger warrens are able to host a wombat for longer periods of time before it changes warrens (Finlayson et al., 2005). (Finlayson, et al., 2005; Menkhorst, 2001; Ride, 1970; Shimmin, et al., 2002; Wells, 1995)
Southern hairy-nosed wombats are territorial. Warrens are connected by trails marked by droppings. Wombats also mark their territory by rubbing their backs and rumps on objects, spreading scent secretions from their anal scent glands (Wells, 1987). Occasionally, two males may fight each other by biting the ears, flank, or rump to defend their territory or during the breeding season. Males maintain a dominance hierarchy that may cause fighting as well. Wombat social behavior is most evident during the breeding season, when harsh calls are used more often. Females may emit this call when they are being pursued by a male. (Wells, 1987)
Since they live in arid environments, southern hairy-nosed wombats have many behavioral strategies to conserve water. Wombats escape the temperature and humidity changes of their environments by inhabiting cool, humid burrows. The temperature and humidity levels stay relatively constant in a burrow allowing wombats to retain water better (Shimmon, Skinner and Baudinette, 2002). During the hot part of the day, staying in burrows helps wombats protects them from temperature changes outside their ideal range. When they are in a burrow, wombats also allow their body temperature to drop, a method for conserving both water and energy (Wells, 1995). In the summer, southern hairy-nosed wombats usually leave burrows in the morning to forage for food, avoiding the high heat later in the day. During wintertime, wombats forage in the evening to avoid the cold temperatures of the morning and may bask in the sun for warmth. (Ride, 1970; Shimmin, et al., 2002; Wells, 1995)
Southern hairy-nosed wombats have a relatively small home range. They depend heavily on their burrow systems and do not travel far from that safe haven (Finlayson et al., 2005). Ranges overlap through shared use of burrows and warrens. (Finlayson, et al., 2005; Wells, 1978; Wells, 1987)
Southern hairy-nosed wombats communicate with each other through vocalizations and scents. A direct encounter between wombats is rare; they rely more heavily on scent to communicate. Wombats spend considerable time investigating scents left recently by other wombats (Wells, 1978). When two wombats do encounter each other, they make a rough coughing noise (Wells, 1978). When the animal is alarmed, it will use a more strident call to alert others (Wells, 1987). However, most communication between Lasiorhinus latifrons individuals occurs through olfaction and scent marking.
Southern hairy-nosed wombats are herbivorous, grazing primarily on grasses and herbs. When available, they prefer new green shoots of grass, especially species in the genus Stipa, and will eat them until they are no longer available (“Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat”, 1997). During droughts, wombats have been known to eat leaves and stems of short bushes, particularly the bluebush species in the genus Maireana (Wells, 1987). There is some evidence that wombats feed on roots during dry periods, with some preference shown for Eucalyptus species (Wells, 1987). ("Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat", 1999; Cronin, 2000; Wells, 1987; Wells, 1995)
When feeding, southern hairy-nosed wombats choose green shoots if they are present to maximize their water and nutrient uptake. The digestive system has two adaptations that aid wombats in the uptake of water and energy from their food sources. Wombats use fermentation by bacterial colonies in their intestines to help them digest cellulose (Ride, 1970). Additionally, their feces is very dry, containing only 50% water (Ride, 1970). (Ride, 1970)
Since southern hairy-nosed wombats live in burrows, they can easily escape from predators. No predators are known for Lasiorhinus latifrons, but the closely related Lasiorhinus krefftii are preyed upon by dingoes and feral dogs (Banks, et al., 2003). Predation does not appear to be the main limiting factor in wombat longevity. Wombats are extremely dependent on the amount of rainfall in their habitat, which affects their life-span more than predators. (Wells, 1987)
When southern hairy-nosed wombats graze in front of their burrows, they may create an area with a higher density of new green shoots, a sign of delayed growth of individual grass plants (Wells, 1987). Additionally, other animals, such as introduced rabbits and foxes, may use wombat burrows. Southern hairy-nosed wombats are known to harbor a number of parasites, but seemingly with no effect on the wombats. Also, they may contract bacterial and fungal diseases. (Nowak, 1991; Wells, 1987)
Wombats are hunted throughout their region by aboriginal people. These native cultures consider wombats a part of their culture and enjoy eating their meat. However, they are cautious not to hunt them too frequently, as it takes a lot of time and energy to capture a wombat (Davies, 1998). Wombats have also been captured and domesticated as pets (Nowak, 1991). (Davies, 1998; Nowak, 1991)
Southern hairy-nosed wombats are sometimes agricultural pests. When they dig their burrows, they can destroy crops. The coexistence of wombats and livestock pose a resource competition problem (Nowak, 1991). Additionally, livestock can sometimes break their legs when they break through into a wombat burrow (Nowak, 1991). Burrows also provide problems for farmers because they are good habitats for other pest species such as rabbits (Nowak, 1991). Many farmers also incorrectly believe that wombats destroy fences on their properties (Nowak, 1991). (Nowak, 1991)
Southern hairy-nosed wombats have withstood massive habitat loss due to human clearing of land. They are considered threatened, but are not listed as an endangered species (Cronin, 2000). Currently, one of the main threats to their survival is the spread of rabbits throughout Australia. Rabbits, and domestic livestock, compete with wombats for forage, leading to overgrazing in many areas. Once the land is overgrazed, dominant grass species shift from perennial ones, the native diet of wombats, to annual species that do not provide wombats with all of their metabolic needs (Wells, 1995). Additionally, human clearing of the land removes the vegetation that the wombats rely on during drought periods (“Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat”, 1999). Hunting of wombats by aboriginal people is not considered a serious threat. Wombats are valued by aboriginal people, who will often leave their own land to hunt wombats elsewhere so that they can keep their own wombat populations healthy (Davies, 1998). Low wombat reproduction rates means that populations do not quickly recover from disruptions. ("Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat", 1999; Wells, 1995)
Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Emily Green (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor, instructor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.
uses sound to communicate
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
active at dawn and dusk
ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
an animal that mainly eats leaves.
A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.
communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them
breeding is confined to a particular season
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
Living on the ground.
defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement
the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.
A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.
A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.
A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.
uses sight to communicate
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
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