Southern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons)

Also known as: broad nosed wombat, broad-nosed wombat, hairy nosed southern wombat, hairy-nosed southern wombat, plains wombat, soft-furred wombat
  
French: Wombat À Narines Poilues Du Sud
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderDiprotodontia
FamilyVombatidae
GenusLasiorhinus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 77 - 94 cm (2)
Tail length: 2.5 - 6 cm (2)
Weight19 - 32 kg (2)

The southern hairy-nosed wombat is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

With its endearing face, large nose and small, bright eyes, the southern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus latifronsi) is a rather rotund and ungainly member of one of Australia’s most iconic animal groups, the marsupials. Most of the southern hairy-nosed wombat’s features are adaptations that enable it to live on its nutrient-poor diet of grasses in the challenging habitats where it occurs (2) (3).

The southern hairy-nosed wombat has a large, round body, covered in short, silky, reddish-brown to grey fur. Its stout legs have broad paws, with strong, blunt claws which are well suited for digging (2).

The southern hairy-nosed wombat is one of three species of wombats (3). It differs from the other two species, the northern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii) and the common wombat (Vombatus ursinus), in being slightly smaller and in having more reddish fur. It also has longer ears and a shorter, more pointed muzzle, which may have white hairs around the nose (2).

Historically widespread across much of Australia (3), the southern hairy-nosed wombat is now restricted to small populations in southern central Australia (1).

The southern hairy-nosed wombat occurs in the state of South Australia, in the York Peninsula, Eyre Peninsula, and the Nullarbor Plain which extends into Western Australia. Two colonies are also present in western New South Wales (1).

The southern hairy-nosed wombat inhabits semi-arid inland regions, which include grassland, open plains, shrubland, savanna and open woodland (1).

Rainfall is low in the southern hairy-nosed wombat’s habitat, generally totalling 200 to 500 millimetres per year (2), and temperatures in summer regularly reach around 40 degrees Celsius (3).

A nocturnal species, the southern hairy-nosed wombat resides in a burrow during the day (3). The complex burrow network, or warren, consists of several tunnels with numerous entrances and leaf-lined resting chambers. Burrows are dug to a maximum depth of about two metres and can have tunnels up to thirty metres long (2). Often five to ten southern hairy-nosed wombats share a burrow system, with about equal proportions of both sexes (3).

The superb architecture of the burrow allows the southern hairy-nosed wombat to cope with the exceptionally high temperatures in its habitat. While air temperatures outside the burrow may exceed temperatures the wombat can tolerate, especially during summer, the temperature inside remains a constant 26 degrees Celsius in summer and 14 degrees Celsius in winter (3).

When the cooler temperatures of the night arrive, the southern hairy-nosed wombat leaves its burrow and begins foraging. This species feeds on tough native grasses, with young shoots of balcarra grass (Austrostipa nitida) being one of the main components of its diet (3). This grass grows around the wombat’s warren complex, and “grazing halos” of cropped grass often form around the warrens (4).

The southern hairy-nosed wombat has an extremely small home range of only four hectares, partly because it has very low energy requirements, a necessary adaptation to compensate for the low-energy content of its grassy diet (3). The southern hairy-nosed wombat has an astoundingly low metabolic rate, and when resting in its burrow it can slow it to only two-thirds of its normal rate (2). Conserving water is also important in the southern hairy-nosed wombat’s harsh, arid habitat, and this species is so effective at conserving the water it obtains from food that it does not need to drink (3).

Due to the harshness of their environment, wombats have adapted so that breeding only occurs when there are adequate resources, and mating may not occur at all during periods of drought (3). In years with sufficient rainfall and grass growth, the southern hairy-nosed wombat breeds in spring, with the majority of births occurring in October (2). Mating takes place in the burrow, with the female giving birth to a single young, or ‘joey’, after a 22 day gestation period. A separate nursery burrow is used for giving birth and raising the young (2).

The joey is tiny and hairless at birth and weighs just one gram. However, it has well-developed forelimbs that enable it to climb unassisted into the female’s pouch and attach itself to a teat (2), where it remains permanently attached for the first few months of life (3). The wombat’s pouch is directed backwards to prevent the joey from being covered in soil when the female is digging (3). The joey first emerges from the pouch when it is six months old (3), and permanently leaves the pouch three months later (2).

The southern hairy-nosed wombat is not fully weaned until it is one year old, and is not fully grown until three years of age. Female wombats can produce at most one joey every two years (3). Although many wombats fail to survive the vulnerable first one to three years of life, the southern hairy-nosed wombat can have a considerably long lifespan, living to over 15 years in the wild (4).

While dingoes, foxes and domestic dogs may prey upon the southern hairy-nosed wombat, human actions pose the most serious threat to its survival. Once common, the southern hairy-nosed wombat is now restricted to sparsely scattered regions (2). Habitat destruction through clearance for grazing and agriculture has reduced the extent of suitable habitat (2), while grazing animals such as cattle, sheep and rabbits compete with the southern hairy-nosed wombat for the grasses on which it feeds (2) (3).

The southern hairy-nosed wombat also suffers from a disease known as sarcoptic mange, caused by a biting mite. In the Murray Lands, the wombat population is believed to have been reduced by 70 percent since 2002 due to this disease, combined with the hardships of drought (1). Around 80 to 90 percent of wombats with sarcoptic mange die (1).

Although the southern hairy-nosed wombat’s breeding strategy is highly adaptive in its unpredictable habitat, it means that young are not produced every year. Prolonged drought, particularly when combined with other threats, can therefore greatly affect this species, as not enough young are produced to replace the wombats that die. This breeding strategy also means that the southern hairy-nosed wombat population can be slow to recover, requiring at least three years without drought for numbers to increase (1).

Although the southern hairy-nosed wombat is not currently considered at risk of extinction (1), it is classified as an Endangered species in New South Wales (5), as only two colonies remain in this State (1).

As a result of its perilous status in New South Wales, the Department of Environment and Conservation has identified various priority actions to aid the southern hairy-nosed wombat’s recovery. These include raising awareness among local communities, protecting the areas around wombat warrens from livestock grazing, and encouraging landowners to monitor the southern hairy-nosed wombat population (5).

The small southern hairy-nosed wombat populations in the York Peninsula in South Australia are reportedly subject to inbreeding, which can lead to increased susceptibility to disease and reduced reproduction and survival. To reduce inbreeding, conservation measures such as the introduction of individuals from other areas have been recommended (1).

Find out more about the southern hairy-nosed wombat and its conservation:

More information on the conservation of wombats and other Australian wildlife:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Jones, C. and Parish, S. (2006) Field Guide to Australian Mammals. Steve Parish Publishing, Archerfield, Queensland, Australia.
  3. Tyndale-Biscoe, H. (2005) Life of Marsupials. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Victoria, Australia.
  4. Taggart, D.A. and Temple-Smith, P.D. (2008) Southern hairy-nosed wombat, Lasiorhinus latifrons. In: Van Dyck, S. and Strahan, R. (Eds.) The Mammals of Australia. Third Edition. Reed New Holland, Sydney, Australia.
  5. Department of Environment and Conservation: NSW Threatened Species - Southern hairy-nosed wombat (March, 2011)
    http://www.threatenedspecies.environment.nsw.gov.au/tsprofile/profile.aspx?id=10453