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.
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).
Photo © 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.