Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Why Do Wombats Poo Cubes?

Wombats have poor eyesight, and communicate with each other through smell by piling their faeces in prominent locations, such as on top of rocks and logs. It is important that their faeces do not easily roll away, so the cuboidal shape of their faeces is advantageous.  Credit: Scott Carver

Wombats have poor eyesight, and communicate with each other through smell by piling their faeces in prominent locations, such as on top of rocks and logs. It is important that their faeces do not easily roll away, so the cuboidal shape of their faeces is advantageous. Credit: Scott Carver

By David L. Hu

Wombat faeces stand apart from others you might encounter in the bush. How do they create cubic faeces, and why?

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It was 7pm on a Friday night, and University of Tasmania biologist Scott Carver was unwinding with a movie when he took a phone call. “Yes, I’ll be there right away,” he said. He put on his jacket and started the car. A thirty-minute drive to an after-hours veterinary clinic in Tasmania led him to a metre-long brown course-haired lump that had been brought in by a member of the public.

The common (or bare-nosed) wombat had been humanely put down by the veterinarian after being fatally injured in a collision with a motor vehicle. The body was still warm, but Carver didn’t have much time before its blood cooled. He gently wrapped the wombat in a hessian sack and picked it up as he would a sleeping child before sliding it onto the tarpaulin in the trunk of his car before heading back to his laboratory.

For several months Carver had been responding to calls from Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, which works with the public and Tasmanian government to coordinate orphaned and injured wildlife rescues, such as wombats that had been struck by cars. For the past 6 years he had been studying the wombat’s susceptibility to sarcoptic mange, a disease caused by mites that kills individual wombats and occasionally wipes out entire populations. To study mange he needed fresh wombat tissues to perform genetic testing. This meant collecting freshly killed wombats and taking them...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.