Wombats the Size of Cars? Be Glad You Didn’t Live Back Then!

Taking a stroll down Mother Nature’s Memory Lane can be fascinating, but it’s also a reminder that humans today couldn’t cope with the everyday perils that lay in wait tens of thousands of years ago. Sharks the size of school buses, avians the size of Sesame Street’s Big Bird, lions that would all but dwarf modern-day kings of the jungle, and so many other creatures that would blow your mind. Add to the list wombats as big as cars. You read that right. The smallish creatures as we now know them were super-sized at one time.

Photo: Pixabay/Budgme

Today’s Wombats

Native to Australia, wombats are short-legged, muscular marsupials with stubby tails that weigh between 45-85 pounds. All three of the extant species are members of the family Vombatidae. Known to dig extensive burrow systems with their strong front teeth and powerful claws, they have one distinctive adaptation in that they have backward pouches. The belief is that the advantage of having a backward-facing pouch is that, when digging, they don’t bury their young with soil while in burrowing mode.

Photo: Pixabay/LuvCoffee

Yesterday’s Wombats

According to a recent study published in Papers in Paleontology, the discovery of the remains of a true giant wombat relative known as Ramsayia magna has been made. Until recently, the long-extinct Diprotodon was commonly believed to be Australia’s closest wombat ancestor, but this latest find makes Ramsayia magna the closer of the two. It was the discovery of a mostly complete skull of the Ramsayia magna that helped the team of researchers reconstruct what the animal looked like, when it lived, and where it roamed.

Photo: Pixabay/pen_ash

Distinctive Wombat Features

Besides being the size of small cars, research has shown that giant wombats had extensive cranial sinuses. “This indicates that the wombat had a large, rounded skull for the attachment of specific and strong chewing muscles,” said co-author and associate professor Julien Louys from Griffith University’s Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution. “The giant wombat also possessed a ‘premaxillary spine,’ an indication that it had a large, fleshy nose. In this paper, we show that all true giant wombats evolved large body sizes first, then individually became quite specialized to eat different types of grasses.”

The paper dates this species at 80,000 years old, which is said to be earlier than when humans arrived in Australia (about 48,000 to 50,000 years ago). It is unknown at this point when Ramsayia magna went extinct.

Photo: Pixabay/pen_ash

Wombat Oddities

Today’s wombats have their own peculiarities. For instance, wombats produce distinctive cube-shaped feces that they leave and arrange to mark their territories and attract mates. It’s believed that the box shape makes them more stackable and less likely to roll away. The reason or method for producing them in this shape isn’t clearly understood, but it’s thought that wombat intestines stretch preferentially at the walls, with two flexible and two stiff areas. So, there’s your wombat trivia for the day.

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