Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Creature Feature: Wombat.

Happy February, everyone! We start off this EXTRA CHILLY IN CHICAGO month with something adorable:

The little striped bird is an emu chick; the furry creature that looks like a teddy bear mixed with a groundhog and likes cheese (or bread?) is a wombat. We don't know WHO won this round, but both of the contestants were adorable.

Wombats (family Vombatidae) are stout marsupials native to the forested, mountainous parts of south-eastern Australia.  Currently, three species of wombat in two families remain (Vombatus ursinus and two others). There used to be a looooooot more of them; like many marsupials, they had badass, Pleistocene relatives that would scare the sh*t out of most placental mammals.

The largest of them weighed up to 200kg. Be VERY glad it was an herbivore.

Wombats, like koalas and kangaroos, are herbivores. They have evolved giant incisors like placental rodents, but are not related. Like most real herbivores (i.e. not the panda), they have long digestive tracts. They have very slow metabolisms; a single meal can take up to 14 days to digest. For whatever reason, they also defecate in nigh-perfect cubes. WTF, Australia?

This wombat would like to know why people are fascinated by its crap.

Wombats are powerful diggers. They use their teeth and sharp claws to dig long, complex tunnel networks up to 100 feet long. They dig so much that their pouch has evolved to face backwards. This burrowing, by the way, makes them very bad pets.

Cute and cuddly though the wombat may be, it packs some serious defenses. First, it can run surprisingly fast. Its teeth can cut cleanly through any material mankind can throw at it, so piss one off and you're screwed. The best defense against an angry wombat is to climb a tree.

But the real kicker? Its rear is plated with cartilage. That stuff is almost as hard as bone and keeps predators from literally biting it in the butt. If a predator follows a wombat into its burrow, the fuzzy fellow may let the dingo, fox, whatever go just slightly over its back...then presses the attacker's head against the burrow ceiling, breaking its skull. OW.

Tomorrow: Kuro eats mealworms...HOTLY. :D Oh, and speaking of things that eat creepy crawlies...

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