Female wombats indicate fertility by biting males

May 10 (UPI) — Female wombats bite the rumps of males to let them know they’re fertile and ready to mate. The revelation could help conservationists improve the captive breeding programs.

Strong and temperamental, hairy-nosed wombats aren’t easy to work with. But the future of the species’ declining northern population, may depend on their ability to breed in captivity.

“With only about 200 northern hairy-nosed wombats remaining, being able to breed these animals may one day ensure the survival of the species,” Stephen Johnston, a professor at the University of Queensland, said in a news release. “There has been no captive breeding of the northern hairy-nosed wombat, and even the southern species fails to breed regularly in captivity.”

Johnston and his colleagues measured hormone levels in urine samples collected from female wombats to plot the mammal’s reproductive cycle.

“Through round-the-clock monitoring over multiple breeding cycles, we detected subtle behavioral changes associated with the fluctuations in this hormonal mapping,” Johnston said. “These behaviors could be used to identify when animals in captivity should be brought together for breeding, serving as cues for animal husbandry managers in zoos and wildlife facilities with southern hairy-nosed wombats.”

Researchers found female wombats were more likely to bite the behinds of males when they were most fertile. The knowledge, detailed in the journal Reproduction, Fertility and Development, could help conservationists promote captive breeding programs and improve artificial insemination efforts.