Koalas are well-known marsupials that live in Australia. Most people can easily recognize these mammals by their greyish fur, fluffy ears, and large black noses. Though some people call them “Koala bears,” they are not related to bears in any way, shape, or form! In fact, their closest relative is the wombat. Read on to learn about the Koala.
Description of the Koala
These furry marsupials are objectively adorable, with dense fur, round bodies, fluffy ears, and large oval-shaped noses. Their fur is usually grey or grey-brown in color, and their undersides are lighter than their backs.
Most of these fuzzy animals are about two and a half feet long, and weigh at least 10 pounds. Males are larger and heavier than their female counterparts. Koalas in different regions also vary slightly in size and color.
Interesting Facts About the Koala
People love Koalas. They are cute, charismatic, and often become symbolic of Australia. Learn more about what makes these creatures unique below.
- Eucalyptus Every Day – Though Koalas do eat a few other types of plants, the vast majority of their diet consists of eucalyptus leaves. A single animal usually eats about a pound of leaves in a given day.
- Poisonous Problem – The only problem with an all-eucalyptus diet is that the leaves they eat are highly toxic! Thankfully, Koalas have a number of beneficial bacteria in their stomachs that digest and remove the toxins for them.
- Beneficial Bacteria – However, they are not born with this beneficial stomach bacteria. When these animals are young – before they begin eating eucalyptus leaves – they have to develop a full spectrum of beneficial bacteria. To do so, they eat leaves and bacteria that have already been fully digested by their mothers. To put it simply, they eat poop!
- Snack, Snooze, Repeat – Even after all that trouble, eucalyptus leaves do not provide a very nutritious meal. They take a long time to digest, and do not provide very much energy. In fact, pretty much all these marsupials do is eat and sleep! A Koala spends up to 18 hours per day sleeping!
Habitat of the Koala
Because they primarily feed on eucalyptus, and they spend the rest of their time sleeping, it only makes sense to live in the tree that you eat. Thus, they live primarily in eucalyptus groves and forests.
They are arboreal, and live up in the branches of the trees, rarely climbing to the ground. Most of their habitat is lowland forest, and they do not inhabit forests at higher elevations or in mountainous regions.
Distribution of the Koala
Even though they are a primary symbol of Australia, Koalas do not live across the entire continent. These mammals primarily live along the eastern coast of Australia. Their range includes much of Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria.
Humans have introduced them into parts of South Australia as well, primarily Adelaide and Kangaroo Island. Koalas are also present in a number of different zoos across the world.
Diet of the Koala
These mammals are herbivores, and eat only plants. They are incredibly picky creatures, and the vast majority of their diet comes from just three or four species of eucalyptus trees. On occasion, they eat a few other types of plants, but for the most part eucalyptus is king.
However, eucalyptus is highly toxic, and relatively low in nutrients. For this reason, Koalas spend long periods of time just digesting their meals, and their digestive system is incredibly long.
Koala and Human Interaction
Humans once hunted these animals for their dense fur coats, but nowadays this practice is illegal. Sadly, habitat destruction, by both humans and the Koalas themselves, does impact their numbers.
Human destruction of eucalyptus forests means that these mammals do not have very much usable habitat. However, their protection means that the populations in a given area increases quickly, so much so that they destroy their own habitat through overeating. The IUCN lists the Koala as Vulnerable.
Humans have not domesticated Koalas in any way.
Does the Koala Make a Good Pet
No, Koalas do not make good pets. Even though they are adorable and lazy creatures, they require lots of eucalyptus to survive. They also have incredibly strong claws, and if they feel threatened they can do some serious damage. Additionally, it is illegal to capture, harass, own, or kill Koalas.
These cute little cuddlies are quite popular in zoos because they are adorable and beloved by all. Zoos must import fresh eucalyptus leaves to feed their Koalas, because they don’t eat anything else!
As far as the rest of their care goes, Koalas are relatively simple creatures. They spend most of their time sleeping, and want nothing more than a nice spot in the fork of a tree and the perfect ray of sun to snooze in. Zookeepers provide them with eucalyptus to browse on in their trees, and hold the Koalas to give educational presentations to the public.
Behavior of the Koala
For the most part, Koala behavior consists of eating and sleeping. They move slowly and sleep frequently to conserve energy, because eucalyptus leaves do not provide them with very much nutrition.
However, when the breeding season arrives, their activity increases. Males patrol their territories and search for females to breed with. Males only tolerate females within their territories, and will mate with multiple females in a season.
Reproduction of the Koala
Once they have mated, the male and female part ways and the female assumes all care of the offspring. It takes about a month for the female to give birth. The baby, known as a “joey,” is tiny at birth and must crawl into the pouch on its own.
Once in the pouch, the joey develops for about six months before it begins leaving the pouch. Females wean their joeys when they are between six months and a year old. During this time the joey eats fecal matter to obtain the bacteria necessary to eat eucalyptus leaves.
Beliefs, Superstitions, and Phobias About the Koala
Virtually everyone in the world has seen a Koala in some shape or form. Whether at a zoo, in a wildlife documentary, as a cartoon character, in a movie, as a stuffed animal, or in art, Koalas are present in many different shapes and forms across the globe.
Australian aboriginals hunted them as food, but European settlers caused the sharp decline in populations. As Koalas gained notoriety, hunting them became taboo, and people enacted various protections for the species.