Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat

Lasiorhinus latifrons

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!

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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 given them by the aboriginal Dharug people who originally inhabited the Port Jackson area around Sydney.

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

The genus name Lasiorhinus is derived from the Greek lasios, meaning ‘hairy’ and rhinus, meaning ‘nose’. The species name latifrons is from the Latin latus meaning ‘broad’ and frons meaning ‘forehead’.  Put it all together and you have an animal with a wide head and a hairy nose!

Southern hairy-nosed wombats have silky fur on the skin around the nostril, differentiating them from bare-nosed wombats.

There are two species of hairy-nosed wombat: the southern 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.

The third wombat species is the bare-nosed wombat (Vombatus ursinus).

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

Southern hairy-nosed wombats live in scattered areas of semi-arid and arid grasslands and mallee woodlands across the southern rim of mainland Australia, including the southeast corner of Western Australia, southern South Australia and southwestern New South Wales.

As wombats dig vast underground burrows, they require sturdy soil with a specific ratio of sand and clay to support these structures.


All wombats have a stocky, robust body with short, powerful legs. The southern hairy-nosed wombat is the smallest of the three species, with an average  body length of about 85 cm (33 “) and an average weight of  about 25 kilos (55 lb) but ranging up to 32kg (70.5 lb).

They have soft, silky fur, light to dark grey in colour.

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 narrow ears with pointed tips.

The nose is the distinguishing feature: it looks a bit like a pig’s nose, with extremely large nostrils surrounded by hair.

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 southern hairy-nosed wombats can run for short distances at speeds over 40 km/h (25 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.


Wombats are strict herbivores.  Southern hairy-nosed wombats prefer high-fibre grasses such as spear grasses, as well as sedges.

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, likely to keep the teeth trimmed.

It takes 4 to 6 days to digest their food, during which time excess water is absorbed. The faecal pellets are dry, compressed and inflexible. They are oval rather than cube-shaped like those of bare-nosed wombats.

They need to drink water only if the grasses have lost their moisture in dry weather.

They generally emerge from their burrows to feed at dusk, unless the days are uncomfortably warm, in which case they will remain in the burrow till midnight or later.

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Southern hairy-nosed wombats build complex interconnecting burrows which form large warrens.  One large one stretched nearly 90 metres in length (295 ft) over several levels, and had 28 entrances! They are maintained and extended over several generations.

Several smaller burrows with single entrances radiate outwards from this central warren, about a hundred metres away (>300 ft).

Up to 10 wombats share the warren. When they emerge to eat, they graze the area as far as the smaller burrows, forming an area of cropped grass (a lawn) about 4 ha (10 acres) in size.

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

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 and 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, 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.

In a controlled research study, captive southern hairy-nosed wombats excavated average of 20-30 kg (44-66 lb) dirt in 50 min, with one excavating 42 kg (93 lb).

Deep within the burrow are sleeping chambers where the wombat dozes during the greater part of the day. Smaller chambers along the tunnels may be resting points or places to leave the young.

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. Temperatures in the deepest burrows remain between 10 and 27 degrees all year.

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.


Largely solitary, southern hairy-nosed wombats may share a warren but rarely a burrow.

They are territorial, and males will occasionally fight each other to defend their territory.

At other times, when two wombats encounter each other they give a rough, coughing noise.

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.

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The breeding season coincides with the beginning of peak food supply, generally from July to December, after summer rains. If native grasses do not grow during periods of drought, then the wombats will not breed.

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.

Southern hairy-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!


The southern hairy-nosed wombat was assessed for The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2014 and is listed as Near Threatened.

It had been thought that southern hairy-nosed wombats were extinct in New South Wales. Following a discovery of a small population in the south-western corner, they are currently listed as Endangered in that state.


While southern hairy-nosed wombats are still abundant in the wild, their distribution is patchy across their range, so that individual population groups are vulnerable. In some areas they have disappeared entirely.

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 kill wombats if they can prove that their burrowing and grazing affect their livelihood.

Land clearing has destroyed much of their habitat, and huge numbers of introduced rabbits compete for food.

Building roads across their habitat has led to a massive toll from car strikes. Wombats will cross roads that pass through their home range, and are attracted to the grasses planted on the verge.

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. While it is not as widespread among southern hairy-nosed wombats as it is in bare-nosed wombats, it can have a devastating effect in small isolated populations.

Predation is not a major problem. If threatened by a dingo or 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 push up with its strong legs and crush it against the roof of the tunnel!


During our daily Wombat Experience talks, you can meet our three southern hairy-nosed wombats: Yala, Cleo and Manfred.

Rescued as a joey in 2012 after his mother was hit by a car, Yala was hand-raised by rangers here at Billabong Sanctuary. He’s not part of our breeding program, but keeps other wombats company and helps raise awareness of threats to wombats in the wild.

Cleo was rescued as a joey in 2012 and could not be returned to the wild. She is now part of the national breeding program for her species. She spends a lot of time sleeping and relaxing. You may find her in her den sleeping in her favourite position – on her back.

Fun Fact: Wombats prefer cool temperatures, spending the warm days in their burrows and the cool nights above ground.  To keep them comfortable in the Tropics, our wombats enjoy air conditioning in their dens!

Born in the wild, Manfred was rescued as a joey in 2020 and raised in Wyalla, South Australia. He is part of the national breeding program for his species. Manfred tends to be the most lively and rambunctious of the wombats here at Billabong Sanctuary.

Further Reading

Wombats. Barbara Triggs. 2009. CSIRO Publishing

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