It’s been a while since we’ve looked toward Mother Nature to provide us with our daily dose of “REALLY?!” And sure, in the past we’ve documented the uncanny resemblance one giant eagle shares with Nic Cage, or the giant crab that may or may not have killed Amelia Earhart. But for the most part, if one is looking for some hardcore gonzo nature, one needs to turn toward the country/continent where everything is weird and deadly: Australia. The land where nightmare spiders prowl, and the koalas have STDs. It’s there that you’ll find a special marsupial called the wombat — and in particular, the wombat’s special tuchus.
The most popular wombat-butt factoid involves their poo, which is copious and cubic. Like, they sh*t little bricks. In fact, they sh*t 80-100 little bricks per night — and the shape means they’re easier to stack on rocks and things without them rolling off. You see, wombats are nocturnal, and since their eyesight is poor, they mark their territory with the smell of their own feces.
This fact leads to what is probably my favorite Google auto-fill search phrase ever: “Do Wombats have square Buttholes?” No, Random Internet Users: Wombat poo isn’t like Play-Doh, where all you have to do to make it come out like a square or a star is shove it through a different mold. Though obviously THAT WOULD BE AMAZING. Instead, the shape is, uh, shaped thanks to a few different quirks of wombat digestion. They digest their food for more than two weeks, and they have very long digestive tracts, which means that most of the nutrients and moisture are effectively removed from the feces, which gets compacted along its journey. The first part of the large intestine has ridges which likely shape the poo into cubes early on, and nothing in the rest of the tract ends up changing that shape (probably because by the time the feces is ready to enter the world, it’s too hard and dry to be re-shaped by the rectum).
But like, we all poop in myriad, fascinating ways, amirite? What else does a wombat butt have to offer?
Well, apparently wombat butts can crush skulls. Now, if you listened to the latest episode (#239) of No Such Thing As A Fish, my favorite weird-news podcast, you have probably already heard the low-down on all of this, but I’m sharing it anyway because SKULL-CRUSHING BUTTS, PEOPLE. Basically, wombats are burrowers, who can create warrens up to 10 ft deep with as many as 50 openings. But they aren’t exactly small animals, so those warrens need to accommodate a creature that weighs around 26 kg (or about 57 lbs on average). And that means the tunnels can also allow in predators like foxes.
So it’s a good thing they have a pretty badass asses, according to the Washington Post:
“A wombat’s rump is very tough,” says Alyce Swinbourne, a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland. “Their dermal shield is essentially four fused back bones or plates covered in cartilage, fat, thick skin, and fur.”
Picture this: a wombat escapes a predator by diving into its warren, blocking the entrance with its rump — and leaving the predator with access only to that rump if it continues trying to pursue. Which isn’t a big deal, since that well-protected posterior can resist some biting and scratching. But it’s also sturdy enough to inflict some damage if need be. In a pinch the wombat can take that butt and slam it against the roof or walls of its warren, crushing the predator’s skull in the process.
The last butt-fact is a bit of a cheat, but bear with me. Wombats do that whole “carrying their young in a pouch” thing that other marsupials do, only they’re such prominent diggers that a regular forward-facing pouch won’t work really. Wouldn’t want to be constantly shoveling dirt on top of their babies, now would they? So instead, wombats have backwards pouches, in that it opens backwards… toward their butts. Which means that if you catch a momma wombat from the right angle when she’s carrying her baby, it might look like she has a head coming out of her ass.
Don’t ever change, Nature.