The unwelcome guests – Wombats apparently immune to “ugly lights”, and will sleep through just about anything

Some people just can’t take a hint. The same could be said for certain marsupials.

Zombat! A wombat detected under the house at night time with the ugly lights on.

Zombat! A wombat detected under the house at night time with the ugly lights on, at historic ‘Bundanon’, in NSW.

Although wombats often appreciate the cover that buildings provide, their presence is not always appreciated by their landlords. Furry bulldozers of the bush, wombats are renowned for causing carnage, shoving their way through fences, burrowing in under houses, and destabilizing building foundations, before collapsing in exhaustion to sleep it all off.

Australian scientists from the University of NSW recently spent a year surveilling the movements of a gang of common wombats (Vombatus ursinus) living under an old, heritage-listed cottage, to determine whether turning floodlights on them might encourage them to snooze elsewhere.

Although many landholders would like to see wombats move out from under their houses, only a heartless bastard would want to see them harmed. Many scientists have trialled non-lethal methods to move nuisance animals along, using lights and sounds in much the same way nightclubs use the ugly lights, or shopping malls use classical music, to encourage undesirables to leave. Other studies have shown that altering light levels can diminish nocturnal derring-do in rats, by interfering with their natural body clocks.

Professor David Eldridge and the late Dr. Phil Borchard were inspired by these previous studies – if lights could tame deer and rodents, would the common wombat be similarly swayed?

The historic Musicians' Cottage - note the floodlights mounted next to the steps, and the easy access provided by the sandstone piers.

The historic Musicians’ Cottage – note the floodlights mounted next to the steps, and the easy wombat access provided by the sandstone piers.

No one had tried this sort of thing on wombats before. Anecdotal evidence suggested it just might work. Unless they’re sick, wombats avoid foraging during the day, preferring to hole up somewhere until it gets dark, and the scientists were banking on the fact that lighting up the marsupials’ bedroom like a Christmas tree would discourage them from napping there.

It didn’t. Over a year, the team alternated ten weeks of illumination with ten weeks of natural light patterns, and it didn’t appear to affect the wombats’ nocturnal activities at all. In fact, the floodlights may have made them even more active during their normal slothful daylight hours, possibly due to disturbance of their body clocks.

The team did get a range of other interesting data on how light patterns affected other, more sensitive creatures, including Eastern grey kangaroos, lace monitors, and a range of insect eating birds, many of whom found the extra illumination provided by the flood lights very useful for capturing their daily meals.

But unfortunately, the underlying hope of the study – that wombats could be deterred by floodlights – was left unfulfilled.

“Overall, our study has shown that the activity and movement patterns of wombats could not be reduced effectively using artificial light… With our main focus on managing wombat activity, there remains a need to examine alternative methods to manage wombats where they come into contact with humans and their infrastructure.”

Meaning, it’s back to the drawing board for dozy wombat deterrents. Michael Bolton, anyone?

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Many thanks to Professor David Eldridge, of the Arid Ecology Lab, for permission to use the late Dr. Phil Borchard’s images.

Dr. Phil was a great champion of wombats – read about his work and make a donation to wombat protection here.

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2 thoughts on “The unwelcome guests – Wombats apparently immune to “ugly lights”, and will sleep through just about anything

  1. Pingback: V is for Vombatus ursinus! Cryptic wombats, and their roll-proof poo. #MelaleucaMiscellany | tasbiophilia

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