As one of the most iconic animal species endemic to Australia, the koala is well-known for its bear-like appearance with a stout body and predominately gray fur. Often found climbing in the canopy of trees, koalas are fuzzy and muscular marsupials that are the only remaining representative of their family on Earth.
To learn more about this teddy bear lookalike, read on to find out some of the lesser-known fun facts about koalas!
Where Do Koalas Live?
Found only in its endemic range of Australia, the koala appears in the highest density levels around the eastern and southern coasts or inland areas of Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, and New South Wales. In addition, koalas have been reported in smaller population clusters around the offshore island groups of Kangaroo, Phillip, and French Island as well as the mainland Adelaide region along the Murray River. In these temperate to tropical climate areas, the koala is most likely to be located inhabiting the open eucalyptus woodlands and forests.
What Do Koalas Eat?
Known for being a leaf-eating specialist, the koala’s diet is mainly restricted to the foliage of eucalyptus species and the leaves of gum trees. Although the eucalyptus leaves are typically rather poisonous to most animal species, the koala’s digestive system has been specially adapted to be completely immune to it. Therefore, it is the only mammal besides the Great Glider and Ringtail Possum to survive on a diet of eucalyptus leaves.
Unlike most mammals, the koala has an unusually long caecum in the intestines to detoxify the leaves from their poison and special cheek teeth that grind the leaves to a fine paste for digestion by microbes. While they can feed on the leaves of other trees, koalas cannot eat more than three pounds of fresh leaves each day or they will get indigestion.
Easily recognizable, the koala has a compact, stout, and tailless body that is adorned with round fluffy ears and a large spoon-shaped black nose. With soft wool-like fur covering the entirety of their small bodies, koalas are typically gray with white on the underbelly below the neck and long white hairs on the tips of their ears. Adapted for a life spent climbing in the tree canopy of their natural habitat, koalas have unusually long forelimbs with considerably shorter hind limbs and padded paws to make gripping easier.
Adult koalas normally have a body length between 24 and 33 inches with a weight that may range from just 9 to 30 pounds. Not only are male koalas considerably larger with a broader face than females, but they also are further distinguishable by a brown gland on their chest that is able to produce a unique scent to mark trees. Females are also simply to recognize for their pouch, which has a strong, ring-shaped muscle around the opening to prevent the young joey from falling out in transit.
Primarily nocturnal, the koala spends the majority of its time in the branches of the tree canopy where it can easily feed, rest, and gain camouflage from various predators on the ground. As a fairly sedentary species, koalas usually spend most of their time sleeping up to 18 hours daily because their diet does not provide much energy. Also considered anti-social animals, koalas spend just 15 minutes each day on social behaviors. Males tend to be territorial of their spaces by dribbling urine or rubbing their chest glands against the trunks as an aggressive form of scent marking.
Both males and females reach sexual maturity at around two years of age, but the male is typically not large enough to start competing for access to mating until four years old. While younger females will typically mate once each breeding season, some of the older females will only reproduce every second year. As a marsupial, all underdeveloped newborn joeys crawl rapidly to the pouch to feed on the mother’s milk and feed on pap for six months. After leaving the pouch, the joey will ride on the mother’s belly or back until the next season’s joey emerges.
As a time of greatly increased activity for koalas with males bellowing and fighting for the right to mate with females, the breeding season tends to run from August to February with the births subsequently taking place from October to May.
Once a female has conceived, it is a short 30 to 35-day gestation period before the birth of the new baby called a joey, which weighs less than one gram, is totally hairless, and resembles a tiny pink jellybean.
Typical Litter Size
With twins being a very rare occurrence, female koalas usually give birth to a single little joey. Although the newborn is completely blind and still in the embryonic stage when born, it relies on its well-developed senses of touch and smell to help make its way to the pouch without help.
With there being a massive decline in the koala population over the years to deliver a grim decreasing trend, the Australian Koala Foundation indicates that there is now estimated to be less than 80,000 koalas throughout its endemic continent.
Threats to Koalas
Classified as vulnerable in the southeast Queensland and New South Wales regions, koalas are mostly threatened from land clearing for urbanization, which will result in the loss or degradation of their natural habitat in Australia. Since the koala is confined by its specialized diet, the species is also at risk from forest fires that can destroy its precious eucalyptus trees.
According to the Australian Koala Foundation, more than 4,000 koalas each year are also killed by being attacked by dogs or hit by cars. Due to the fact that it can cause increased carbon dioxide levels and reduce protein levels in plants, climate change is another grave threat to koalas’ survival.
- With a total of five digits on each paw, the first and second digits on the front paws are opposed like thumbs to help the koalas grip branches with ease. On the other hand, the second and third digits on the hind legs are fused together partially in order to perform grooming tasks, including removing ticks.
- Koalas that are from the northern parts of the Australia continent are much smaller and have a lighter gray fur, but those from southern Australia have longer fur that is a darker and more brown color due to the colder environment.
- The name “koala” is believed to derive from the ancient Aboriginal word meaning “no drink” because these animals rarely have to drink water and receive up to 90 percent of their hydration from the water inside the eucalyptus leaves.
- Similar to humans, koalas have fingerprints and are famous for being the only other mammals on Earth besides primates to have them.