Bare-Nosed Wombat

Vombatus ursinus

Everybody loves wombats!
These chunky, short-legged animals, trundling around like little bears, look quite docile, but actually have a ferocious temperament and are incredibly strong!

Open 7 Days from 9am to 4pm

Bare Nosed Wombat03

Known as the ‘bulldozers of the bush’ they are marvelously adapted to create the extensive, complex burrow systems in which they live.


The word ‘wombat’ is the European interpretation of the name wambad given them by the aboriginal Dharug people who originally inhabited the Port Jackson area around Sydney.

Aboriginal people hunted wombats for food and made string from wombat fur.

Wombats were also called badgers by early settlers because of their resemblance to European badgers.

The genus name Vombatus is a Latinized form of the aboriginal wambad. The species name ursinus is from the Latin  ursus for bear, meaning ‘bear-like’.  Put it all together and you have a wombat that looks like a bear!

This species is frequently referred to as the common wombat, but this name is becoming increasingly misleading as their numbers decline.

The large, bald nose differentiates them from hairy-nosed wombats which have silky fur on the skin around the nostril.

There are two species of hairy-nosed wombat in Australia: the southern (Lasiorhinus latifrons) and the northern (Lasiorhinus krefftii). The latter exists in only a small area of Queensland, and is critically endangered with a population estimated to be about 400 individuals.

Bare Nosed Wombat04
Bare Nosed Wombat05


Fun Fact: Wombats are endemic to Australia—they live nowhere else on earth!

The distribution of bare-nosed wombats is widespread across coastal southeastern Australia, but has become more fragmented since European settlement.

Today they are found in southeast Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales and as far north as southern Queensland, as well as throughout Tasmania. There is also a population on Flinders Island in the Bass Strait.

They occupy a variety of habitats, including eucalyptus forest, woodlands, alpine grasslands and coastal areas.  Slopes above creeks and gullies are favoured sites for burrows.

In the northernmost parts of their range in New South Wales and Queensland they live in sclerophyll forest at cooler altitudes above 600 m.



All wombats have a stocky, robust body with short, powerful legs, built for burrowing!

Bare-nosed wombats are about a metre long (40”) , with an average weight of 26 kg (57 lb), but can weigh up to a hefty 35 kg (77 lb)! Tasmanian wombats tend to be slightly smaller than those on the mainland.

They have coarse-textured fur which can range in colour through glossy black, dark grey, grizzled brown to sandy or even cream-coloured.

The head is broad, and the skull is extremely strong—useful for bulling its way through obstacles in its path! They have small, dark brown eyes and short furry ears with rounded tips.

The nose is the distinguishing feature: it is large and hairless.

The front feet are broad, with five long strong claws. The hind feet are longer and narrower, and only four of the toes have long claws.  Wombats are plantigrade, meaning they walk with the soles of their feet flat on the ground.

Although they mostly walk, if threatened bare-nosed wombats can sprint for short distances at speeds up to 20 kph ( >12 mph).

Fun Fact: The closest living relative to the wombat is the koala. They belong to the same superfamily- Vombatoidea- and have in common a short, rudimentary tail and a thick cartilage plate on their rump.

The wombat’s rump is composed of four fused plates surrounded by cartilage, fat, skin and fur.  It’s used to block access to their burrow to predators such as foxes or dingoes.

If threatened by a dingo or wild dog, the wombat rapidly retreats to the nearest burrow, and blocks the entrance with the thickened pad on its rump.

Fun Fact: If a predator does manage to get its head inside the burrow, the wombat can actually thrust upwards with its strong legs and crush their skull against the roof of the tunnel!


Wombats are strict herbivores.  Bare-nosed wombats prefer native grasses, sedges and moss.

With a low metabolic rate and large digestive tract, they are able to feed on vegetation that may be of poor quality.

Fun Fact: The teeth are rootless, and continue to grow throughout their life! Otherwise they would be worn away by the tough and abrasive vegetation that they feed on.

Wombats also chew on fibrous strips of bark, burnt logs and twigs, in order to keep the teeth trimmed.

It takes 4 to 6 days to digest their food, during which time excess water is absorbed. They need to drink water only if the grasses have lost their moisture in dry weather.

The faecal pellets are dry, compressed and inflexible—and roughly cube-shaped!  Wombats communicate partly by scent-marking. Cube-shaped pellets deposited on rocks or logs tend to stay in place to help mark their territory.

Bare Nosed Wombat06
Bare Nosed Wombat07


Fun Fact: One of the earliest studies of wombats and their burrows was made in 1960 by a schoolboy, Peter Nicholson, who actually crawled into their tunnels, mapping them, collecting bones and observing .the wombats’ behaviour!

Bare-nosed wombat burrows are classified into three groups according to length: major burrows, more than 5 metres (15 ft) long, medium burrows 1.5-5metres (5- 15 ft) long, and minor burrows, up to about 1.5 metres (5 ft)long. 

A major burrow is used year after year by successive generations, has a very large entrance and has a large mound of soil outside the entrance.  They are usually dug on sloping ground to prevent flooding from surface run-off. Within the burrow are several oval resting chambers, often lined with vegetation.

Between 2 to 9 wombats occupy each large burrow. Wombats move from place to place, spending a few days in one burrow and then moving on to another.

The smaller burrows are used as a retreat in case of danger, and may be used by younger wombats who have been driven out by adults.

Where burrows are close together, tunnels may interconnect to form an underground network.

In creating a new burrow, the wombat seeks out a suitable site then begins to loosen the soil with its strong, spade-like front claws. With its broad palms it scoops up the soil and thrusts it sideways and backwards.  If it encounters an obstacle such as a tree root it bites through it and shoves it out of the way.

The back legs kick and push the loosened soil backwards, then the wombat will slowly shuffle backwards, using its broad rump like a bulldozer, shoving all the soil out of the tunnel where it builds up into an entry ramp.

It may also lie on its side or its back, to enlarge the tunnel by scratching away dirt at the sides or roof.

Burrows provide an environment with a relatively constant temperature and humidity.

Wombats cannot sweat and are unable to regulate their own body temperature above about 30 deg C (86 F). Temperatures in the deepest burrows remain between 10 and 27 deg C all year ( 50-80 F).

Fun Fact: Wombats are the only large, burrowing herbivorous mammal. 

A diet based strictly on plants is low in energy. Other burrowing mammals such as the aardvark eat protein-rich diets such as insects.


Bare-nosed wombats are nocturnal, mainly solitary  mammals, although their home ranges frequently overlap.

They emerge from their burrow at dusk to graze for several hours. If threatened, they rapidly retreat to the nearest hollow log or burrow, which may not be the one they slept in.

When they are browsing, if another individual approaches too closely they give a guttural growl and a rasping hiss.

As they move about their home range, they leave scent trails to mark their feeding territory. Large volumes of scats are also deposited every night to define their preferred feeding locations.  Wombats have poor eyesight, so the sense of smell plays an important role in their nightly excursions, both for finding food and for locating other wombats.

Bare Nosed Wombat09


Bare-nosed wombats may breed at any time of year, but births are more frequent in summer.

Courting behaviour includes the female becoming aggressive and biting the male on the rump, and prolonged sessions of ‘tag’ with the male chasing the female. Mating occurs within a burrow, and the gestation period is a mere 21 days. Only a single joey is born (rarely twins). 

Wombats are marsupials. The tiny, undeveloped joey makes its way into the pouch and attaches to a teat.  The pouch is held tightly shut by a strong sphincter muscle when mum is digging to prevent dirt and twigs from getting in.

The joey begins to leave the pouch at 6 to 8 months of age.  By 9 months it leaves the pouch permanently, but will suckle from the teat while at heel, up to about 15 months of age. Both sexes reach maturity at 3 years of age.

Bare-nosed wombats can live up to 15 years in the wild. In captivity, they can live an average of 20 years, but a few individuals have been reported at over 30 years of age!

Fun Fact: At present the oldest bare-nosed wombat in the world is Wain, who turned 35 years old in April 2024! Originally from Cradle Mountain in Tasmania, he lives in Satsukiyama Zoo in Ikeda, Japan.

Bare Nosed Wombat08


The bare-nosed wombat is listed by the IUCN as ‘least concern’. However, some researchers think that numbers are declining, and more work needs to be done to determine the true extent of their range and population numbers.

Bare-nosed wombat burrows are of benefit to other species including wallabies, reptiles, dingoes and echidnas, which use them as shelters in bad weather or to escape predators or bush fires.

Bare Nosed Wombat10


Land clearing has destroyed large areas of their habitat, and huge numbers of introduced rabbits compete for their preferred food resources.

Building roads across their habitat has led to a massive toll from car strikes. Wombats are creatures of habit; they stick to the same trails to reach food sources, and will cross roads that pass through their home range.

Since European settlement, farmers have been at war with wombats because they dig holes in pastures and push through fences. Before they were declared a protected species, wombats were killed in their thousands.  In some parts of their range, farmers can still apply for permits to cull wombats if they can prove that their burrowing and grazing affect their livelihood.

Climate change will affect populations as temperatures rise across their range, causing increased periods of drought and degrading the quality of native grasses.  Wombats will not breed in low rainfall years.

Another threat to the species is sarcoptic mange which can kill 80–90% of affected populations/groups. It’s an infectious condition caused by a mite which burrows into the skin and causes intense irritation.  Scratching the affected areas damages the skin and eventually affects the wombat’s vision and ability to eat, leading to certain death. It can have a devastating effect in small isolated populations.

The extent of loss to predation by dingoes and wild dogs needs further study.


We are fortunate to be home to two bare-nosed wombats, Reuben and Allira. Both were hand-raised after their mothers were killed by cars.


Born in 2015, Reuben has spent his whole life around people. He is now part of the national breeding program for his species. Reuben is the most relaxed of the wombats here at Billabong Sanctuary and enjoys receiving scratches each morning from our rangers.


Allira was rescued as a joey in NSW back in 2012. She is currently here on loan from Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures as part of the national breeding program for her species. Allira is a very independent and fierce lady.

Bare Nosed Wombat11

Further Reading

Wombats. Barbara Triggs. 2009. CSIRO Publishing

Distribution, abundance and threats to bare-nosed wombats (Vombautis ursinus). Thorley & Old. CSIRO Publishing. Australian Mammalogy

Things to do in Townsville

We are proud to offer Australia’s best interactive wildlife experience!

Buy Tickets

Opening Hours & Prices

Show Times

How to Get Here

Interactive Experiences

Club Billabong