Two Thousand and Wombat, a Space Odyssey

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A Common Wombat doing the “Dance of Stasis”

Of all the species of mammal in Australia, wombats are three of them. Upon first glance, they may just seem to be giant rats or mutated rabbit-pigs, depending upon species; however, those rats managed to survive in an Australia where beaver-ducks have venom sacs in their legs and there are thirty foot prehistoric monsters in every waterway. The wombat has no venom. It lives by its wits.

Wombats are marsupials. This means that, shortly after conception, the embryo leaves the birth canal, looking a lot like Spawn or the skinless guy in Hellraiser, and claws its way into a pouch. The wombat keeps its breasts inside the pouch which, I have to say, is the least sexy thing I can imagine. It’s not that I WANT to live my sex life vicariously through the wombat; however, I DO want the OPTION of living my sex life vicariously through the wombat.

As I stated, wombats live in Australia. They live in its forests. They live in its mountains; and, they live in its heathland. If you are anything like me, the first thing you wonder to yourself (or perhaps aloud) is, “What the HELL is a heathland?”. Come to find out, its an area of short scrubby vegetation usually prone to dryness. This is good to know just in case I ever decide to finish reading Wuthering Heights.

The wombat is a hefty guy. It can weigh up to seventy five pounds in its stocking feet and can grow to three feet long. They are, for want of a better word, fossorial. They dig burrows everywhere, vast networks of them. Most man-made fences are a thirty-second detour for a wombat; farmers admire this greatly and want to shoot them. In most areas, wombats are a protected species. Legally, this means, you can only shoot them when no one is looking…

Because of the wombat’s diet of grasses, sedges, roots, bark and discarded jars of vegamite, it has an incredibly slow metabolism. It can take up to two weeks to digest its food; whereas, only takes three weeks to gestate and give birth to a single young. This means that a wombat can burp after giving birth and probably taste the meal it had just after that wild night of wombat sex.

And, what a wild night it would be! The male wombats have a two-pronged penis with barbs on the end of each. Maybe not much of a penis, but as a pitchfork, it is unbeatable. The female wombat has three vaginas… but only one opening, so promptness is important at a wombat sex orgy. Maybe I can live vicariously through them after all…

When attacked, wombats bravely run into their nearest hole. Their butts are comprised primarily of cartilage so biting one is like trying to chew up an old atlas. If a predator tries to follow the wombat into his lair, the wombat uses his powerful legs to kick or even to crush the skull of its pursuer against the ceiling of its burrow. So, if you follow a wombat into its warren, for God’s sake, wear a helmet!!!

There are three species of wombat: The Common Wombat, or vombatus ursinus; The Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat, or lasiorhinus latifrons; and, the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat, or lasiorhinus krefftii. They live in vastly different areas of the Australian continent, which is a good thing because I doubt they’d have much to talk about if they ever got together. I guess “burrowing” might be a popular topic, but how long can you talk about THAT?

The common wombat lives in the southeast part of Australia and on islands to the south of that. You can distinguish it from the other species of wombat because it looks like a wombat and the other species SO do not. It is mostly nocturnal, only coming out in the daylight to check its mail from time to time. Vombatus ursinus has adapted well to living near people and has even been observed grazing with cattle. Wombat attempts to breed with those cattle have been, at best, supremely frustrating and, at worst, catastrophic for the wombat. Only a few thousand common wombats still exist so they aren’t particularly common any more.

The common wombat lives a solitary life, only getting together with other wombats when it is breeding time or when a sheet needs folding…

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Lasiorhinus latifrons after an unsuccessful run for Parliament

The southern hairy-nosed wombat looks like the result of a romantic evening between a pig and a rabbit. It isn’t the stuff nightmares are made of, but it IS on the shelf right below that stuff. Lasiorhinus latifrons lives in groups of about a dozen. They communicate through scent and through cough-like vocalizations which cause a lot of hilarious mix-ups during cold and flu season. Their burrows are so deep that they give the warren a more constant temperature than the outside. It might get below freezing outside, but the warren usually doesn’t drop below the mid-fifties. This greatly motivates the lasiorhinus latifrons to hit the snooze button on cold days.

There could be over a hundred thousand southern hairy-nosed wombats left. They are currently classified as “Near Threatened” and “Butt Ugly” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The IUCN has been estimating animal populations since they split off from the Hell’s Angels in 1969.

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A northern hairy-nosed wombat ruing something

The northern hairy-nosed wombat looks like the result of a romantic encounter between a pig and another pig. They are very nearly blind, so their sense of smell is essential to their survival. Like their southern cousins, lasiorhinus krefftii lives in communities of nearly a dozen and doesn’t like to come out during bad weather. Unlike the southern hairy-nosed wombat, the northern hairy-nosed wombat is nearly extinct. With only a little over two-hundred left, their status has been changed from “endangered” to “well they were nice while they lasted”. Oddly enough, as the northern hairy-nosed wombat population has gone down, the population of wombat-eating wild dogs in the same area has increased. There are active efforts to preserve lasiorhinus krefftii which, if past experience is any indicator, should wipe out the species by 2035…

If you liked this one, try The Quoll or The Jackal

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