Koalas are cute tree-hugging marsupials with big round ears. They can be identified by their prominent black oval noses. Koalas are the iconic symbol of Australia, which is the only place in the world where koalas are found.
Similar to wombats, opossums, and kangaroos, koalas have pouches that they carry their newborns with. These adorable marsupials spend most of their time eating and sleeping.
It might interest you to know that even though koalas are often referred to as koala bears, they aren’t bears at all. Although both animals are mammals, and we could say they are distantly related, however, koalas are more related to wombats and kangaroos than they are to bears.
Koalas got their “bear” tagline from anglophone settlers in the late 18th century due to the bearlike behavior and appearance that koalas have.
The error, nonetheless, is reflected in the name of the genus, “Phascolarctos,” which is gotten from the Greek word “Phaskolos,” meaning “pouch,” and “Arktos,” meaning “bear.”
Size and appearance
Koalas are 60 to 85 centimeters (2 to 3 feet) tall when fully grown. The weight of a koala solely depends on where it lives. Southern kolas can weigh around 7 to 14 kg (15 to 29 lbs), while Northern koalas could weigh up to 4 to 8.5 kgs (9 to 19 lbs).
According to the San Diego Zoo, male koalas can weigh about 50% more than females.
Koalas range in color from reddish-brown to slate gray. Their fur isn’t as soft as it appears. They are, in fact, are very coarse. Koalas furs are naturally designed to help keep water out and keep them dry in the rain.
Koalas possess large, sharp claws to make climbing tree trunks easy for them. Their hands and feet are built to establish their grip on tree branches very firm. There are two opposable thumbs on their hands, which provide optimum gripping effects.
Their sense of hearing is impeccable. Their big fluffy ears help them to trap sounds around them easily. Since koalas have poor eyesight, they rely on sounds to help them detect predators easily.
Their sense of smell is even much better, which helps them in selecting what leaves are preferable to eat.
Where do koalas live?
Koalas can be found in eastern and southeastern Australia- in the states of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, and Victoria- in woodlands and the eucalyptus forests.
They dwell in eucalyptus trees and spend plenty of their time lounging between forks in branches of trees. They spend 90% of their time eating, sleeping, and hanging out in trees. The only time koalas leave their trees is when they scout for a better supply of food.
These mammals move from one part of their trees to another, looking for shades where they can rest. When koalas are done resting, they go about their usual ways in sunnier spots on trees.
Despite their outdoor nature, they prefer to spend their sleeping and eating period all by themselves. The only time koalas prefer the company of another is when they want to mate and when raising a young one.
Koalas spend only 3 hours everyday eating, mostly at nighttime, while the remaining 16-18 hours is used for resting. The primary reason they sleep that much is that they need energy and time to digest the food they eat.
Lots of energy is required to digest the fibrous leaves of the eucalyptus. According to the San Diego Zoo, koalas only eat eucalyptus and can consume about 454 to 680 grams (1 to 1.5 lbs) of food per day.
Despite their voracious eating nature, koalas are somewhat picky eaters. There are well over 700 species of eucalyptus, but koalas will only feed on fewer than 50 of them.
Like kangaroos, a baby koala is also referred to as a joey. It takes 35 days to complete a gestation period for a baby koala.
After birth, joeys are only around .79 inches (2 centimeters) long, which is about the size of a kidney bean. They can weigh about 0.017 ounces (1/2 gram).
After birth, joeys would climb into their mother’s pouch and latch onto one of mama koala’s teats. The test swells well enough to fit firmly in the mouth of the joey.
The sphincter muscle located at the opening of the koala’s pouch will help keep the joey secured for the next six months, where it would develop and grow bigger and stronger.
They would climb out of the pouch when they become too big. The joey would then latch on its mother’s back where they’d both eat leaves.
Joeys become completely weaned at 12 months. Female koalas are ready to start making babies when they reach sexual maturity at the age of 2 years, while males reach sexual maturity at 3 to 4 years of age. Koalas’ lifespan can last up to 10 to 15 years in their natural habitat.
Koalas are marsupials, which automatically makes that mammals with pouches. As stated by ITIS (Integrated Taxonomic Information System), koalas taxonomy is as follows;
- Family: Phascolarctidae
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Subkingdom: Bilateria
- Infrakingdom: Deuterostomia
- Class: Mammalia
- Superclass: Tetrapoda
- Subclass: Theria
- Infraclass: Metatheria
- Phylum: Chordata
- Subphylum: Vertebrata
- Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
- Order: Diprotodontia
- Suborder: Vombatiformes
- Genus & species: Phascolarctos cinereus
Fortunately, koalas aren’t marked for extinction due to their wide distribution and population, according to The International Union for Conservation of Nature.
It is highly unlikely that the population of koalas would be declining at the rate that would place them in a threatened category.
In 2012, the Australian government announced that koalas are vulnerable. The Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) estimated that there are 43,000 to 80,000 koalas in the wild. Although koalas are listed as “threatened” but the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
According to the San Diego Zoo, koalas have very few natural predators. Large owls and dingoes are known sometimes to hunt them.
However, the biggest treats koalas are faced with come from injury or death caused by attacks from domestic dogs and motorists, loss of habitat due to deforestation. According to the Australian Koala Foundation, over 4,000 koalas are killed cars and dogs every year.
Another known threat to the population of the koala is a sexually transmitted disease known as chlamydia, which can cause infertility, blindness, and even death. Unfortunately, there isn’t any remedy in this setback.
Nevertheless, microbiologists from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland announced recently that efforts to keep koalas chlamydia-free had shown a colossal success.
More koala facts
- The word “koala” gotten from an ancient Aboriginal word that means “no drink.” This is because koalas rarely ever drink water; they get 90% of their hydration from gum leaves.
- Koalas have fingerprints as humans do. They are practically the only mammals, besides primates, that have fingerprints.
- Generally, koalas aren’t noisy animals, but male koalas make loud mating calls during the breeding season that are heard from about a kilometer away. Koalas are able to make other sounds ranging from screams to snores.
- Eucalyptus is toxic to most animals. Koalas are able to feed on them due to the bacteria that the digestive system creates that helps in deactivating the poison.
- There is a scent gland on the chest of koalas that they use in marking their territories by rubbing their chest against trees.
- On average, koalas can live between 10 to 15 years.
What do you think about Koalas? Would you like to get one as a pet? What other exciting information would you like to share about koalas? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.