Meet the bare-nosed wombat, the world's largest burrowing mammal

The first Europeans to encounter bare-nosed wombats likened them to bears—and the comparison stuck. The species’ scientific name, Vombatus ursinus, combines the Latin word for bear with one from the Aboriginal Dharug language. But this cuddly looking herbivore is actually a marsupial whose closest cousin is another Australian favorite, the koala.


Wombat and baby walking, with man for size, and inset of baby in pouch© XAVIER HOENNER PHOTOGRAPHY/GETTY IMAGES, INSET © JONAS BOERNICKE/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

The wombat is the largest burrowing mammal—shown here to scale with an average adult man.


Vombatus ursinus

RANGE Pockets of habitat in southeast Australia
LENGTH About 3 ft.
WEIGHT 50 lb. or more
HABITATS Temperate forests, open woodlands, grasslands, and scrublands

  1. BACKSIDE Soft on the outside, with a short, hidden tail; hard as a rock underneath, owing to four fused backbones, or plates
  2. FEET Short, broad forefeet with long, flat claws for digging
  3. POUCH Backward-facing, so mom doesn’t kick dirt on her young, known as joeys


Surprisingly for such a roly-poly critter, the wombat’s poop resembles a charcoal briquette. The flat sides mean the scat stays put, making for efficient territory-marking.

Wombat feces


The bare-nosed wombat used to be called the common wombat, now a misnomer given the species’ fragmented populations. Two other wombat species are even less common: the southern hairy-nosed and the critically endangered northern hairy-nosed, which was restricted to a single population in a national park until reintroduced to a second site in 2009.


Graphic of wombat tunnels with other animals

The wombat is a world-class digger, creating up to a dozen multiroomed underground homes. Each burrow usually has a single entrance, which the wombat can block with its hard-plated bum to defend against predators. Wombats sometimes share their lairs with other mammals, reptiles, and penguins.



Explore More

World Wildlife magazine provides an inspiring, in-depth look at the connections between animals, people and our planet. Published quarterly by WWF, the magazine helps make you a part of our efforts to solve some of the most pressing issues facing the natural world.

View all issues