Mapping the secret warrens of hairy-nosed wombats for the first time

Wombat at the entrance to warren. Image: David Taggart

The underground homes of southern hairy-nosed wombats have been revealed for the first time by using ground-penetrating radar.

Scientists had little understanding of the connected tunnels and burrows of the wombat, which weigh more than 20 kg, can live for 30 years and are part of the state emblem of South Australia.

“A major problem we are grappling with is understanding just how many wombats there are and whether their numbers are increasing or decreasing,” says Michael Swinbourne, a PhD candidate at the University of Adelaide.

“At the moment we use satellite imagery to count the warrens and then use that information to estimate the numbers of wombats living inside. This method isn’t perfect because we don’t know much about how wombats share their warrens.”

A model of one part of a wombat burrow:

The research, published in the journal Wildlife Research, found that warrens built under limestone have extensive tunnels and chambers rather than simply a discrete tunnel.

Here’s a wombat at the entrance to one of the warrens:

“These findings have important implications for how we estimate the numbers of wombats, and also how we think about the social structure of a wombat colony. They might be more social than we previously thought,” Swinbourne says.

The marsupials are considered an agricultural pest because their burrowing can damage farm equipment as well as crops.

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