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For eight glorious years in Skidmore’s history, the wombat served as mascot for its athletic teams. The story of how the wombat, an Australian marsupial, became the mascot and was later supplanted by the thoroughbred can be tracked through the pages of The Skidmore News. Issues from 1925-2009 of The Skidmore News are available online through the library’s Digital Collections if you’d like to browse it for yourself.
It all started in the fall of 1973 when Skidmore’s Athletic Association formed a committee to investigate and select a team mascot. The association garnered submissions through ballot boxes in the dining halls, selecting five candidates, and then holding a campus-wide vote. Wombats made the cut along with lions, suns, thoroughbreds, and Secretariats. Based on the article announcing the wombat as the winner and noting the small turnout of votes, one can surmise that an intrepid group of pro-wombat students voted heavily in an election that was not well advertised – the small ballot was buried in a later page of the newspaper.
Contentment over the wombat as mascot was short-lived. Less than seven years after this furry, burrowing creature was voted into power, students began to question its legitimacy. At student government association meetings and through lively, tongue-in-cheek newspaper editorials, the wombat moniker was debated and suggestions for different mascots were discussed. At one point, the unicorn gained traction as a potential mascot.
In 1982 students voted for the Skidmore mascot from five choices. Which would have garnered your vote?
The End of the Wombat Era
1981 was the beginning of the end for the wombat, when the Athletic Council began investigating new mascots for Skidmore and finally put five candidates up for an all-college vote. By October 1982, the thoroughbred was the official mascot of Skidmore College.
The Wombat Lives!
While it would never be the official mascot of Skidmore again, in 1991 the wombat made a comeback by becoming the official mascot of Skidmore’s Ultimate Frisbee team.
Now that we've learned about the history of the wombat as a mascot for Skidmore, let's learn a little bit about this unique marsupial that inspired such debate!
(Vombatus ursinus, Lasiorhinus krefftii, and Lasiorhinus latifrons)
Wombats are a marsupial species (like kangaroos and koalas) native to Australia and the island of Tasmania. There are three species of wombats: the common wombat and two species of hairy-nosed wombats. The common wombat has coarse hair and short, round ears while the hairy-nosed wombat has soft fur, larger ears, and, as their name suggests, a hairy nose. The common wombat is more numerous.
Class: Mammalia l Order: Diprotodontia l Family: Vombatidae l Genus: Vombatus or Lasiorhinus
Weight: Common Wombat: 55-88lbs (25-50kgs) Hairy-Nosed Wombat: 42-71lbs (19-32kgs)
Length: About 30 inches (76cm)
Coloring: Sandy brown or grayish hair to blend into their environment
Life Span: 5-15 years in the wild / Up to 20 years in a zoo
Activity: Nocturnal, grazing at dusk and at night on grasses and roots
Habitat: Common wombats live in forests while hairy-nosed wombats live in dry grasslands
Images (left to right): Wombat by Chris Fithall (2019) Flickr CC BY 2.0 / Wombat by Johnny Jet (2009) Flickr CC BY 2.0
Dig Those Wombats
Wombats live in burrows and are specially designed for digging them. They have powerful feet with large claws that can move up to 3 feet of dirt every night. This is a picture of a baby wombat with some very impressive digging tools! Wombats create burrows with a single entrance that then go into different tunnels, which can get up to 650 feet in length.
Image: Wombat Grinning by Shami Chatterjee (2006) Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0
A wombat gestates for 21-30 days and births one baby, called a joey, every 2 years. The babies mature in 1.5-3 years. Like other marsupials, wombats have pouches for their babies to continue growing after they are born. However, a wombat’s pouch faces towards the back. This is to prevent dirt and soil entering the pouch while the wombat is digging its burrow. A joey will stay in the pouch till 9 or 10 months, and then return to feed periodically for up to 15 months.
Image: Baby Wombat by Notmerely (2012) Flickr CC BY 2.0
Wombats love their fiber, eating tough grasses and roots. Similar to rodents, they have teeth that continuously grow and require constant chewing. They have a particularly acidic stomach and use fermentation in their hindgut to digest high-fiber foods, which can take up to 14 days. They get most of their hydration from the food they ingest, so they can go years without ever taking a drink.
Image: David Clode / Unsplash.com
Wombats use an interesting tactic to escape from the dingos and Tasmanian devils that are their natural predators. The rear of a wombat has a very tiny tail and is made of extra thick skin and cartilage. When threatened, a wombat will dive into its burrow head-first, blocking the entrance with its rear. It can even use its tough bottom to crush attackers against the burrow walls.
Image: Wombat Butt by Cactusbeetroot (2014) Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0
Run, Wombat, Run!
While wombats are short-legged and walk with a waddle, don’t underestimate their sprinting ability! They can run at speeds of 25mph for short sprints, which makes them almost as fast as the fastest human.