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Creation 39(4):28–31, October 2017

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The wombat

‘Badger’ of the south

by

wombat

When Europeans first encountered the Australian creature we know as the wombat, they ate it.1 Some consider wombats deserving of ‘elevated conservation status’ to ensure their preservation. But in 1797, sailors from the shipwrecked Sydney Cove had their own preservation in mind when, marooned for a year on Preservation Island in Bass Strait, they ate cooked wombat to survive.

Accompanying the rescue party was Matthew Flinders, who later became a great navigator/explorer. He took a live wombat back to Sydney, presenting it to the colonial Governor, John Hunter. When it died six weeks later, Hunter had it preserved in spirits and sent to the famous naturalist Sir Joseph Banks in London. In the accompanying letter, the Governor noted:

It is about the size of a badger, a species of which we supposed it to be, from its dexterity of burrowing in the earth, by means of its forepaws; but on watching its general motions, it appeared to have much of the habits and manner of a bear … 1

Well equipped with powerful claws and shoulders, reports indicate that wombats can dig through 1.8 metres (6 ft) of hard soil in an hour.2 They use their incisor teeth to cut through underground obstructions such as roots.

The wombat is widely considered an agricultural pest, and not just because of its burrowing habits and its appetite for pasture grass (being semi-nocturnal, it mostly feeds at night). It can also cause considerable damage to rabbit-proof fences when it powerfully pushes its stocky body and wide pelvis through them. Wombats were declared vermin in 1906 in the State of Victoria—and still are, though population control requires a permit.3 Elsewhere in Australia, wombats are protected by legislation.

Revealing underground secrets

Burrow diameter closely matches the wombat’s size—up to half a metre (20 in) wide, large enough for a small person to crawl into. In 1960, schoolboy Peter Nicholson did just that, mapping the larger burrows he explored in the bushland surrounding his school in central Victoria. The written account of his wombat investigation, for which he won a student science talent prize,4 is still regarded as one of the most useful in-depth studies of wombats published. Nicholson’s and later research showed wombat burrows can be up to 30 metres (100 ft) long and 3.5 metres (11 ft) deep, with multiple sleeping chambers, side tunnels, and extra entrances.

When threatened by a predator (e.g. a dingo5), a wombat scurries into the nearest burrow and wedges itself so its very thick-skinned rump blocks the way of the pursuing attacker. Sometimes a wombat may allow an intruder to force its head over the wombat’s back, and then the wombat uses its powerful leg muscles to stand up forcefully and thus suffocate the predator, or even crush its skull against the roof of the burrow. Crushed skulls of foxes and dogs have been found in wombat burrows.

While wombats fit snugly in their burrows, they are agile and can turn around in them. The wombat has an amazing ability to flatten out its chunky body when lying prone. A wombat 24 cm (9.5 inches) high at the shoulder was observed to squeeze itself through a gap only 10 cm (4 inches) high, with little apparent effort.

three-living-species-wombat
The three living species of wombat.
Left—the common wombat, Vombatus ursinus. Being less common than it once was, it is now usually called the bare-nosed wombat. Right—the southern hairy-nosed wombat, Lasiorhinus latifronsMiddle—the rare northern hairy-nosed wombat, Lasiorhinus krefftii, also known as the yaminon. Some taxonomists consider all three as subspecies of Vombatus ursinus. Biblical creationists would likely agree that all three are descended from the same pair of ancestral wombats aboard Noah’s Ark, along with the two extinct giant wombats in the Phascolonus genus (Greek phaskolos = pouch), known from Australian fossils in Pleistocene strata, i.e. post-Flood. The largest was Phascolonus gigas (gigas = giant)—at up to 200 kg (450 lb), some five times the weight of the largest wombats today.

Mistaken identity then, mistaken origins now

In his 1798 letter to Banks, Governor Hunter, as well as noting they initially supposed the Preservation Island creature to be a badger, added: “This animal has lately been discovered to be an inhabitant of the interior of this country also … . The mountain natives call it Wombach.” He was referring to the discovery in January that year, in Sydney’s Blue Mountains, by former convict James Wilson (who had lived with local Aboriginal people) and one of Hunter’s servants, John Price. In this earliest written description of a wombat, Price reported:

“We saw several sorts of dung of different animals, one of which Wilson called a Whom-batt, which … has much the appearance of a badger.”1

The early settlers consistently mistook the creature for a badger because of its similar size and digging habits, giving rise to Australian place names such as Badger Creek and Badger Corner. But the wombat is definitely not a badger.

'DiverDave' CC BY-SA 3.0 via WikipediaWombat-burrow-Narawntapu
Tell-tale wombat dung outside of a wombat burrow. Thanks to a digestive system that is highly retentive of water, wombat scats are four times drier than those of a camel. Wombats may have up to 12 burrows each, three or four of these being their primary places of residence. Some may be periodically shared with other wombats using them for a daytime stopover when their nightly foraging leaves them far from ‘home’

While both are mammals, the badger is placental, while the wombat is a marsupial. Placental mammals nurture their young in the womb, which develops an elaborate nourishing structure called a placenta. This means the baby is born in a much more developed state than in marsupials, which give birth to very immature young that are then suckled in a protective pouch. A baby wombat is born only about 1 gram (0.04 oz) in weight and < 3 cm (about an inch) long, after some 21 days gestation. It then crawls into its mother’s pouch, to live there for the next seven months.

All this is a challenge to the modern (mistaken) view that everything just evolved; the similar-but-different wombat/badger example is just one that exposes fundamental inconsistencies in evolutionary thinking.

The fickleness of evolutionary theory

The classic argument for evolution is that similarities between living things are due to relatedness, or common ancestry. But as evolutionists themselves recognize, that argument can’t be used to explain the wombat-badger similarity. Both biblical creationists and evolutionists use similarities to (correctly) link badgers and weasels, along with stoats, ferrets, minks, sables, and otters, to a recent common ancestor—for creationists, a single breeding pair aboard the Ark.6 But the placental-vs-marsupial reproductive modes are just too different for common ancestry to explain wombat-badger similarities. (Evolutionists claim that the wombat and Australia’s other marsupials evolved from a common ancestor who happened to be on that continent, whereas placental mammals evolved on other continents.7)

What’s more, the wombat is not the only marsupial to look like a placental mammal counterpart. The marsupial mole looks like Africa’s placental golden mole, the quoll is a lookalike to the cat, the bilby to the hare, the thylacine to the wolf, the marsupial mouse (dunnart) to the placental mouse, the feathertail glider to the flying squirrel, the numbat to the anteater. The number of such similarities is incredible, especially had they all arisen by chance mutations and natural selection, as evolutionists claim. And since evolutionists acknowledge that these and many other similarities in nature are clearly not due to common ancestry, how can evolutionists know that any similarities are due to evolution?8

To try to account for all these look-alikes, evolutionists say it was because they happened to be in similar ecological niches and so evolved similarly to fill them. The scientific-sounding term they use for this is convergence, or parallel evolution. But this is really just a convenient label for similarities which cannot be explained through common ancestry (evolution). Also, if similar niches automatically generate similar creatures, why is the kangaroo not more like horses, cattle, or deer—its ecological counterparts on other continents? Having the same Designer makes sense of both the similarities and differences.

Designer pouches

Photo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, bjornfree.comwombat-dung
The distinctive ‘square’ (cubic) dung of the wombat.

Even just within the marsupials, the evidence thwarts evolutionary ideas, and points instead to a Creator. E.g. if all marsupials had a common ancestor that had evolved a pouch, as evolutionists say, which way did this supposed original pouch open? In various marsupials it opens backwards, but in others it opens forwards. In wombats and marsupial moles the pouch faces backwards—which makes very good design sense for creatures that burrow through the dirt. But for a kangaroo the downward force of each jump would expel the joey (baby) out of a downwards-facing pouch, and similarly for the possum as it jumps from branch to branch. So it makes good design sense that for these marsupials the pouch is forward-facing.

If marsupial pouches first evolved in a common ancestor (whether up- or down-facing), then in at least one line of its evolving descendants, the pouch must have reversed. Evolution is supposed to happen by many small accidental increments over long time periods, with each selected for because of its superior survival value. Yet why would nature ‘select’ for a partly-reversed pouch, making its owner distinctly un fit for survival? Design makes much more sense!9

It’s almost as if when God designed the wombat and all the other marsupials, and their placental mammal lookalikes, He did so in a way that would thwart naturalistic attempts to explain nature. As the Bible says, there really is no excuse for denying His handiwork (Romans 1:20).

References and notes

  1. Except where otherwise indicated, information in this article from Triggs, B., Wombats, 2nd Edn, CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia, 2009. Return to text.
  2. Wombania’s wombat information centre, wombania.com, acc. 29 June 2017. Return to text.
  3. Wombats, bushheritage.org.au, 22 May 2017. Return to text.
  4. The wombat boy, ABC Australian Story transcript, abc.net.au, 25 March 2002. Return to text.
  5. The dingo was likely brought to Australia from SE Asia by Aboriginal people as a canine companion but now roams wild through much of the mainland—creation.com/dingo. Return to text.
  6. See creation.com/badger. Return to text.
  7. But the American opossum, a marsupial, lives in North America. Return to text.
  8. Batten, D., Are look-alikes related? Creation 19(2):39–41, 1997, creation.com/lookalikes. Return to text.
  9. The koala’s pouch further anchors the case for design—see creation.com/practical-pouches. Return to text.

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