Beware a wombat’s bottom – it can be deadly

When you think of all the potentially fatal encounters with wildlife in Australia, the backside of a wombat isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But with rock-solid bottoms that they can use for a whole variety of purposes, you better make sure that you don’t get on the wrong side – literally – of a wombat. 

wombat's bottom deadly bum wombat
A common wombat. (Getty Images)

Wombats, as you may already be aware, have cubed-shaped poo. They’re pretty famous for it. What you might not know, however, is that excreting is just one of the many uses of the wombat’s unique derriere. 

A wombat’s bottom consists of four plates fused together and then surrounded by cartilage, fat, skin and fur. It’s a rock-solid structure and it means the wombat might just have the most impressive backside in the animal kingdom. They put them to good use. From burrowing and mating, to bonding as youngsters, to plugging their burrows from predators by simply putting their bottoms at the entrance and blocking the way, using their titan backsides as an impenetrable wall.

wombat's bottom deadly bum wombat
A wombat in a bath in 1950. (Photo by Orlando /Three Lions/Getty Images)

Alyce Swinbourne is a leading expert in the specific field of wombat bottoms. She works at the University of Adelaide and told The Guardian how wombats learn to utilize their bums from a very young age. 

“Even as juveniles coming out of the pouch, they kind of learn to defend themselves from their mother. She will bite them and they will back into her using their rumps,” Swinbourne said.

“When they are playing with other juveniles they will learn to use their bums to back up and kick with their back feet. That play fighting then can turn into actual fighting when they grow up.”

Read More: The kangaroo that lives up in the trees

As they get older and begin mating, biting each other on the bottom is one of their main ways of flirting. “A female will go and bite the bum of a male and then run off, and he has to chase her. Or the male will bite her rump, which will cause her to run and he will chase her…It’s very much a part of the ritual.” 

Despite being at least somewhat affectionate, Swinbourne describes it as “a brutal process…you can come in the next morning and there will be chunks of fur all around the enclosure where they’ve just had a huge mating bout.” 

“When people watch it they go, ‘Wow, I did not expect that, this is insane.’ She is yelling, there is this constant running, she will kick him, he will chase her and just kind of jump on top of her back and claw at her and roll her over. It’s pretty intense.”

wombat's bottom deadly bum wombat
Ringo the Wombat eats a treat at Sydney Zoo. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

The size of the marsupials might be surprising to some – they can weigh over 80 lbs (35kg) and measure nearly 3.5 feet. After species of kangaroos, they are the world’s largest marsupial and the world’s largest burrowing animal. Discarded skulls of dingos and foxes at the entrance to burrows led to theories that fellow mammals were having their heads crushed by wombats’ bottoms, but Swimbourne is skeptical. 

“It is possible, by their physiology and everything, but there is no evidence that that is actually happening…For a lot of predators it wouldn’t be worth going up against a wombat for what they will get out of it. An 8kg fox going up against a 20kg wombat – why would they do that? We haven’t really seen dingo skulls down there, so it’s more likely that the predators have died down there and been removed.”

Whether or not they’re skull-crushing regularly or not, the moral of this story is simple: never underestimate the power of a wombat’s bottom.

Like this Great Big Story? Check out another tough-skinned animal we met a few years ago in the video below.

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