Wombats are forest-dwelling marsupials native to Australia. If their cuddly cuteness wasn’t enough to interest you, their poop might. Unlike every other animal on Earth, wombats poop cubes. Biologists have been confounded for years by the creatures’ oddly-shaped scat. Now, after one of the more bizarre studies of our time, we finally have answers.
An Ecology Lesson
A quintessential part of Australian culture and wildlife, wombats are first depicted in aboriginal Dreamtime, painted on the walls of a cave. The oldest of these depictions date back around 4,000 years and describes the wombat as an animal of little worth. Mainland aboriginal stories claim that the wombat was created when a man was punished for being selfish. A Tasmanian origin story claims that wombats were favored and protected by one of the Great Spirits.
Historically, the wombats’ range was much more extensive than it is today. In the early 1900s, the tiny marsupials were declared to be vermin, and a hunting bounty was placed on them. Their meat was once used in a classic Australian stew, but since protections have been imposed on the remaining population, the delicacy has since waned in popularity. The most significant threat to their survival is human interference and encroachment on their habitat.
Unique Among Their Kind
Marsupials are set apart from other mammals most notably by their pouches. When a marsupial gives birth, the still-developing young remains inside the mother’s pouch, latched to its food source, until it is old enough to move about on its own. The pouch is situated on the front lower part of the mother’s torso, usually opening toward her head. In wombats, the pouch is inverted, opening downward.
Their preferred habitats are forestland, mountainous area, and heathland. They can adapt to different habitats as needed, which is a valuable survival trait, given their current battle for living space with humans. As burrowing creatures, their backward-facing pouch prevents the mother from knocking dirt in on her offspring while digging. Aside from this upside-down pouch, wombats differ from other marsupials, and other mammals in general, by their cube-shaped feces.
Although we still don’t know what the evolutionary purpose of wombats’ cube-shaped poop is, we at least now know how it happens. Scientists recently had the opportunity to dissect and analyze the intestines of a recently-dead wombat who had been euthanized after being hit by a car. Their study revealed that the lower portion of the large intestine was responsible for the molding of the bizarre droppings.
Differences in elasticity in the intestine walls are behind the uniquely geometric specimens. As the fecal matter passes through the lower intestine, its moisture is removed, and the masses begin to take on their signature shape as the walls of the organ stretch to accommodate the shaping of the scat. A single wombat produces between 80 and 100 pieces of poo every night, with each piece being almost an inch in size. Their droppings appear to serve as territory markers and a way to attract a mate.
In other bizarre, smelly news from the animal kingdom, tigers are uncontrollably attracted to men’s cologne, especially Obsession by Calvin Klein.
The Wondiwoi tree kangaroo was believed to have gone extinct sometime after 1928, the first and last time it was actually seen and recorded by scientists. Even then, this animal was so rare that only drawings of it existed, no photographs. And thanks to one amateur botanist who went looking for it, this rare animal that was thought to be lost has reappeared again.
The super-rare tree kangaroo has not just been seen, it’s been photographed for the first time in the animal’s history. That’s great news because without photographic evidence this roo is hard to believe. It’s a monkey-like kangaroo that climbs around the trees in the forests of New Guinea. When it was originally discovered, it was described as bear-like. In short, it’s pretty odd-looking.
Very little is known about this rare animal, but that’s all changing thanks to one amateur botanist. Michael Smith, an Englishman, led an expedition into the dense bamboo forests of West Papua, Indonesia in the Wondiwoi mountains, and he discovered that the Wondiwoi tree kangaroo isn’t extinct after all.
Wondiwoi tree kangaroos are medium-sized kangaroos who climb and hop through the trees, one of only 17 species and subspecies of tree kangaroos living in the northern reaches of Australia and the island of New Guinea.
Smith, who led the expedition, doesn’t usually go looking for extinct animals. He heard about the elusive tree kangaroo in 2017 while searching for rhododendrons in the West Papua mountains, and got inspired. With the intention of finding this rarely-seen animal, he trekked into the dense forests and started to climb up into the trees. It only took him a week of searching to find the long-lost kangaroo that has been numbered as an extinct species for years.
Last Known Sighting
The Wondiwoi tree kangaroo was first discovered in 1928 by biologist Ernst Mary, who shot and killed the only known specimen. The pelt was sent to the Natural History Museum in London. After that, the tree kangaroo disappeared. Scientists have believed it was extinct for years, perhaps killed once and for all during that fateful 1928 sighting.
The extremely rare sightings of the animals may be due to the fact that the Wondiwoi tree kangaroo lives at high elevations, hiding way up in the tree canopy. Smith’s team climbed up to about 5,000 feet before spotting the animals, signing it at last just when they were going to climb back down. Smith managed to take several photographs of the Wondiwoi tree kangaroo and made history.
Smith’s experience is only the second-known sighting of the animal, ever, which makes it truly thrilling for the scientific community. As a next step, Smith plans to collect excrement from the kangaroo so that it can be compared to DNA from the pelt. This will conclusively confirm that Smith has found this mysterious animal.
It will take further expeditions into the dense forest for scientists to determine approximately how many Wondiwoi tree kangaroos exist and learn more about these still-mysterious creatures who have remained hidden from human eyes for the last 90 years.
I’m loving the Wondiwoi tree kangaroo newspaper headlines:Roosflash! (The Mail on Sunday)Where have roo been? (The…
Posted by Froggy Library-Cat on Tuesday, August 21, 2018
In other good news, numbers of the endangered Bengal Tiger have more than doubled in recent years!