Common Wombats (Vombatus ursinus) are just fantastic creatures. Sure, they can be a nuisance, but anyone that has come to know a wombat, or even raised one, knows how easy it is to fall in love with them. And, though persecuted by humans across large parts of their range, they are amazingly adaptable and resilient.
Unfortunately, most people’s experience of wombats is seeing them dash across the road in front of the car, or worse. They are mainly active at night, but in winter they can often be seen out during the day. If you’re observant, you’ll see their scratching and digging on the forest floor and in paddocks, looking for their favorite meal – the tasty leaves and basal stems of sedges and grasses, garnished with some tubers and fungi.
But what do they do in their private time? The above video was taken near Molyullah, SE of Benalla, Victoria and shows interactions between two adult wombats. This location is a fertile, treed floodplain where wombat burrows abound. After each interaction, you’ll see each wombat stop to scratch up the ground and throw some dirt around – perhaps a display of strength, or expression of heightened anxiety/stress. Wombats are generally solitary and territorial and I suspect these two are males maintaining their territory. I presume the site of these interactions is at the boundary between their two territories.
It’s almost comical how they just can’t leave each other alone! These were two of at least six wombats living in this 12 ha bushland reserve (covered by a grazing lease).
Having watched this back and forth for about 20 minutes, the wombat nearest me began to wander in my direction (below), getting close enough to notice me, but clearly not too concerned (one of the benefits of using thermal detection, rather than white light), as he repeatedly circled back toward me. It’s hard to hear, but in both videos the wombats were vocalizing intermittently making short, high-pitched, wheeze-like coughs.
Notice how, with each step, the ground he contacts warms enough to show where he’s been and the hind foot lands in the front foot’s step. Clearly visible on the infra-red video are the areas that have little or no fur, where heat escapes his body and appears white on the screen. Even the breath he exhales is enough to warm the grass that he’s grazing.
The video is taken using a Pulsar Helion XP28 thermal scope during field work surveying remnant vegetation on the Molyullah floodplain for the Squirrel Glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) – a Trust for Nature project supported by the Victorian Government.