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12 Wonderful Facts About Wombats

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Don’t let their unassuming exterior fool you. Wombats have plenty of quirks that help them fit right into Australia’s unusual animal kingdom. Here are 12 facts worth knowing about these rotund marsupials from Down Under.

1. THEIR POUCHES FACE BACKWARDS.

Unlike most marsupials, the pouch a wombat uses to carry her young opens towards her rear rather than her face. This distinction allows mother wombats to dig without scooping dirt into her baby’s home. Because wombat bodies are fairly low to the ground, this backward-facing pouch orientation also provides extra protection to the baby, or joey, while the wombat is walking.

2. THEIR MAIN LINE OF DEFENSE IS A TOUGHENED POSTERIOR.

cactusbeetroot via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

When running away from predators like Tasmanian devils and dingos, wombats rely on their super-powered rumps to protect them. Their rear-ends are mostly cartilage, which makes them more resistant to bites and scratches. At the end of a chase, wombats will dive into their burrows and block the entrance with their butts. They’re also capable of using their powerful backs to crush the skulls of intruders against the roofs of their burrows.

3. THERE ARE THREE SPECIES.

They're the Common wombat (Vombatus ursinus), the critically endangered Northern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii), and the Southern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons).

4. THEY APPEAR IN AN ANCIENT ART WORK.

Depictions of wombats are rarely seen in ancient aboriginal rock art, but one of the exceptions can be found in Australia’s Wollemi National Park. The wombat drawing on the wall of a rock shelter in the area is believed to date back 4000 years.

5. WOMBATS WERE ONCE RHINO-SIZED.

The largest marsupial to roam the earth was a relative of the modern wombat. The diprotodon lived in Australia 2.5 million years ago, and was estimated to weigh around 3 tons and stretch 14 feet from nose to tail. The “mega-wombat” vanished around the same time that tribes of people began appearing on the continent, which has sparked debate surrounding our role in their demise.

6. A GROUP OF WOMBATS IS CALLED A "WISDOM."

Alternative names for a gathering of these pudgy critters include a “mob” or “colony.”

7. THEY’RE FAST WHEN THEY NEED TO BE.

With their stubby legs and stocky bodies, wombats aren’t the most agile-looking creatures on earth. They walk with an awkward little waddle, but when a threatened wombat breaks out into a sprint, they can sustain speeds of 25 miles per hour for 90 seconds at a time. To put that into perspective, Olympic runner Usain Bolt’s top speed was recorded at a little less than 28 miles per hour.

8. THEY LIKE FOOD THAT’S HARD TO DIGEST.

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Wombats enjoy a vegetarian diet of roots, scrubs, grass, and bark. In order to process all that roughage, they have special enzymes in their stomachs that help them break down the tough grub; it takes about two weeks to fully digest a meal. They also have teeth that grow continuously to make up for the constant wear.

9. WOMBAT POOP IS CUBE-SHAPED.

Wombat Poop!

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Wombats have some of the most distinct droppings on earth. They produce 80 to 100 of them a night, and each comes out in a neat, cube-shaped package. Using feces to marking their territory helps wombats to navigate at night via their sense of smell. Instead of pooping in the dirt, wombats prefer to do their business atop surface like rocks or logs where it can be seen. The turd’s unique shape is what keeps it from rolling off and onto the ground.

10. THEY’RE BUILT FOR DIGGING.

Wombats build extensive burrows for themselves, with their underground tunnels sometimes stretching 650 feet in length. Their strong, sturdy feet and long claws help them to clear up to 3 feet of dirt a night.

11. A WOMBAT WAS AN UNOFFICIAL OLYMPIC MASCOT.

When the Olympics came to Sydney in the summer of 2000, a cartoon kookaburra, platypus, and echidna were chosen as the event’s official mascots. There was also “Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat,” a stuffed animal parody mascot created by a Sydney cartoonist for a comedic sports program covering the games. The character was originally created as a criticism of the commercialization of Olympic mascots, but he became so popular with fans that he eventually overshadowed the real thing. At one point, the Australian Olympic Committee tried banning athletes from appearing with the wombat, but their attempts were unsuccessful. A statue of Fatso was erected outside of Sydney’s Stadium Australia following the games, but his popularity turned out to be his downfall—the statue was stolen a few months later.

12. THEY’RE SOLITARY ANIMALS.

Even though wombats sometimes live together in interconnected burrows, they’re generally shy creatures. Male northern hairy nosed wombats live alone, while females can get along well enough to share an underground home.

Sharing a burrow is one thing, but most wombats will still try to avoid their peers when they're on the surface.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Watch a School of Humpback Whales 'Fish' Using Nets Made of Bubbles 

Just like humans, humpback whales catch many fish at once by using nets—but instead of being woven from fibers, their nets are made of bubbles.

Unique to humpbacks, the behavior known as bubble-net feeding was recently captured in a dramatic drone video that was created by GoPro and spotted by Smithsonian. The footage features a school of whales swimming off Maskelyne Island in British Columbia, Canada, in pursuit of food. The whales dive down, and a large circle of bubbles forms on the water's surface. Then, the marine mammals burst into the air, like circus animals jumping through a ring, and appear to swallow their meal.

The video offers a phenomenal aerial view of the feeding whales, but it only captures part of the underwater ritual. It begins with the group's leader, who locates schools of fish and krill and homes in on them. Then, it spirals to the water's surface while expelling air from its blowhole. This action creates the bubble ring, which works like a net to contain the prey.

Another whale emits a loud "trumpeting feeding call," which may stun and frighten the fish into forming tighter schools. Then, the rest of the whales herd the fish upwards and burst forth from the water, their mouths open wide to receive the fruits of their labor.

Watch the intricate—and beautiful—feeding process below:

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