Starre Vartan

Amazing Natural Packaging: The Wombat's Super Butt!

by , 09/03/10

sustainable design, green design, packaging the future, green packaging, wombat, natural packaging, biology, ecology

If you’re into marsupials (and who isn’t?), my favorite, hands-down, is the wombat. Not just because they are vegan and terribly, terribly cute, or because they’re a bit lazy and are known Down Under for their ability to find shortcuts between A and B whenever possible — but because they have developed an incredible physical adaptation: The reinforced rump. When a predator attacks a wombat, it runs to its burrow and uses its tough cartilage-filled bum to block the hole. Since the super tough wombat behind is just made from modified skin cells, this physical feature would be a smart place for designers and fabricators to look when they are considering more natural alternatives to non biodegradable, unsustainable plastics.

sustainable design, green design, packaging the future, green packaging, wombat, natural packaging, biology, ecologyPhoto © Phil Whitehouse

Sure, kangaroos and wallabies can hop, and platypuses have those crazy bills, but in terms of pure practicality, the wombat’s rump is a feat of nature to be beat (literally!) The naturally slow-moving wombat might be called a pacifist since they rarely start a fight, but when they get attacked by other animals, they are quick runners, heading towards their underground burrows (they are the largest mammals that live underground) for safety. But they don’t just hide inside and hope that whatever animal wants to eat them (like a dingo) can’t crawl in after them. They actually push themselves most of the way into their burrow, and stick their butts out, blocking the hole (and protecting whatever young wombats or other family members are inside).

sustainable design, green design, packaging the future, green packaging, wombat, natural packaging, biology, ecologyPhoto © Rob Chandler

According to Animal Planet, “[The wombat] lacks a meaningful tail and most of its rump is made of cartilage, which makes it nearly impossible for a predator to bite it from behind.” So with its bum outside, and the rest of its body safely inside the burrow, the wombat just waits out the attack. This amazing rear is unique in the animal world (zoologists call it a ‘dermal sheild‘) though other animals use this hardened skin shield in other ways. The Impala has one where blows are most likely to fall during fights between males at rutting time, for example.

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7 Comments

  1. Packaging the Future: F... November 4, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    [...] of strength, buoyancy and moisture-retention (coconut shells), tough-but-flexible protection (wombat butts) and light tensile strength (ant exoskeletons). Now it’s time to look at the softer side of [...]

  2. PACKAGING THE FUTURE: I... October 1, 2010 at 11:56 am

    [...] far in our Packaging the Future Series, we’ve looked at how plants (coconuts) and animals (Wombat butts) can serve as inspiration for planet-friendly (or even better, environmentally benign) packaging. [...]

  3. anisfairy September 3, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    That’s nice. Well, here in Mexico there’s a student who developed plastic from corn and potato, I wonder if it will success because it’s such an amazing discovery but… What can I say. Anyway, returning to wombat thing, the wombat is cute ;)

  4. Jill Fehrenbacher September 3, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Starre – I heart you – this is the best article ever!

  5. chrismerwin September 3, 2010 at 11:17 am

    Dermal Shield! How awesome is that!?

  6. Diane Pham Diane Pham September 3, 2010 at 11:00 am

    interesting article. never knew a thing about wombats til now!

  7. Yuka Yoneda Yuka Yoneda September 3, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Never knew such a cute creature was so tough! What a great example of nature teaching us about design again.

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