Koalas are not bears but that doesn’t mean these aren’t interesting and amazing creatures. By some estimates, the Koala is associated more with its home Australia than its fellow marsupial, the Kangaroo.
Koalas have a nutrient-poor diet that mostly consists of leaves from the Eucalyptus tree, but also eats leaves from other trees such as the Acacia. As a result of this nutrient-poor diet, the Koala has many adaptations including one of the smallest brains compared to the body mass of any mammal.
While native tribes in Australia respected the Koala and its habitat, European settlers did not. Millions of Koalas were killed in the 1800s and early 1900s. While the Koala is a Protected Species in Australia, the Eucalyptus tree is not protected and as more of these trees are cut down, the numbers of Koalas are reduced.
19 Facts about Koalas
1. Koalas Can Hold Food in Their Belly for Over 8 Days
Koalas eat a diet primarily of eucalyptus leaves. To get more energy out of this diet, the Koala ferments part of what it eats in its gut. Koalas don’t ferment eucalyptus leaves in their stomachs. Instead, the fermentation occurs in the organs after the small intestine in the digestive process, the large intestine, and the cecum that connects the large intestine to the colon.
While the Koala is brewing its own special brew, bacteria are breaking down the vegetative matter and releasing more nutrients that the Koala absorbs for energy. Despite this extra energy, the Koala has a relatively poor diet. Koalas have evolved to have a lower metabolism and smaller brain size to compensate for its nutrient-poor diet.
2. Koalas Really Love Only 30 of the 600 Varieties of Eucalyptus
While there are more than 600 varieties of Eucalyptus available in the Koala’s habitat, the animal really loves to eat roughly 30 of these species. Koalas tend to like high protein varieties of Eucalyptus.
It’s a common myth that Koalas only eat Eucalyptus leaves. Koalas actually eat from a number of trees including Melaleuca and Acacia. However, the Koala’s diet is primarily made up of leaves from the Eucalyptus tree.
Koalas get a lot of the water they need from the food they eat. Female Koalas can survive on the water from the leaves they eat alone! Male Koalas need to drink a little more water than their diet provides.
3. A Koala Sleep 20 Hours a Day
Wow, we thought cats really knew how to nap! Cats sleep up to 16 hours a day. Well, the Koala has got that beat. They sleep for around 20 hours a day. This is also related to its poor diet. The Koala has adapted to expend very little energy. One of the ways it does this is by only foraging 4 hours a day. The rest of the time, the Koala is taking one big siesta.
When it comes to looking for a place to nap, the Koala doesn’t look very far. Most Koalas will eat and sleep in the same tree. Perhaps this explains why Koalas are so often photographed. They’re in the same tree for over a day, and not moving very much.
4. Koalas Only Spend 15 Minutes a Day Hanging Out
Sometimes being social can take the energy out of you. Koalas are not the social butterflies of the animal kingdom. Koalas only spend 15 minutes a day in social activity.
Perhaps with sleeping for 20 hours a day and foraging for the other 4 hours, there’s not much free time in the Koala’s schedule for chitchat. This is not for lack of overlap in territory or opportunities. Koala territories generally overlap and there are residents who stay in the same territory, and transients who move from territory to territory.
Despite their cuddly appearance, there can be fierce competition for mating rights between koalas and at the fringes of territorial boundaries. There are some funny videos on the Internet showing fighting koalas that have gone viral. These videos capture some of the strange noises these animals make. Mother koalas are also known to be incredibly fierce.
5. There Are 40 Compounds in the Chest Gland Secretions of Koalas
Koalas have complex scent-marking behavior that they exhibit in their normal activity and during aggressive encounters. When a male Koala checks out a new tree, he’ll start by smelling the bottom of the tree for any scent markings left by other males. Then, he’ll climb up the tree and rub his chest on the tree, marking the tree with the secretions of his chest gland.
There are 40 different compounds that have been identified in the secretions of the Koala’s chest glands. As scientists are able to identify and analyze the different compounds, we may learn that Koalas have a more complex social life. It’s simply not conducted through real-time interactions.
In addition to the secretions of the chest gland, male Koalas have also been observed dribbling urine onto trees as another means of marking the tree.
6. Koalas Are Born Only 30 Days After They Are Conceived
Koalas, like Kangaroos, are marsupials, and they have short gestation periods. This means that the babies are born relatively quickly after conception and are much less developed compared to newborns of other large mammal species. Koalas are born only 33-35 days after being conceived.
When a Koala is born it is blind and hairless. However, mother Koalas have a pouch in their body that protects the newborn as it continues to develop for another 6 or 7 months. In the pouch is the teat of the mother. The Koala starts with a diet of milk.
Perhaps one of the weirdest Koala facts is that before the baby Koala leaves the pouch, the mother weans it from milk by feeding it some of the fermented vegetative matter from her cecum, an organ that connects the large intestine and the colon.
7. The Koala Was Discovered by Westerners in 1798
The Koala has been a part of native culture in Australia for thousands of years. Many myths and legends from the Aboriginal culture in Australia were based on the Koala. Given their lack of movement, staying in one tree all day, and sleeping for 20 hours a day, Koalas were an easy source of food.
However, native tribes in Australia did not hunt the Koala into submission, and Koalas were abundant all over Australia until Europeans arrived in 1788. The first written account of the Koala was by John Price in 1798.
At first, the Koala was thought to be a bear, and its scientific name Phascolarctos cinereus means gray pouched bear. It was later recognized that Koalas are part of a special group of animals found mostly in Australia and New Guinea, known as marsupials. After this, there were no Koala bear facts and only Koala facts.
8. Koala-like Animals Date Back Over 25 Million Years
The Koalas we know now are very specialized herbivores who have adapted for a nutrient-poor diet in a dry environment. Koalas get most of their water from the leaves they eat, and they lead relatively inactive lives.
The ancestors of Koalas may have been different. It’s approximated that the Australian continent separated from Antarctica 45 million years ago. At 25 million years ago, Koala-like animals began to emerge on the continent.
Australia was not as dry then. As the climate changed, Eucalyptus trees evolved to live on the continent and the Koala evolved to live with them. Koalas really live with the Eucalyptus and other trees that they eat, they spend 4 hours a day eating in a tree, and 20 hours a day sleeping in a tree, often in the same tree.
9. Koalas Were Extinct in South Australia by 1924
When European settlers arrived, they were not as kind to the Koala as the native people of Australia. The Koala was seen as a source of fur and millions were shot up until the 1930s. Considering the low level of activity of the Koala due to its nutrient-poor diet, it must have been more like target practice than hunting.
Some of the saddest facts about koalas have to do with the shooting of Koalas in the early 1900s. In a six-month open hunting season in 1919, 1 million Koalas were killed. In 1927, a similar season was opened and 800,000 more were killed. The numbers overwhelmed the public and the Koala was given status as a protected animal before 1940.
Unfortunately, there are no laws that protect the Eucalyptus trees on which the Koalas depend. For the remaining areas where the Koala lives, the main threat to the animal is the loss of the Eucalyptus trees.
10. Koalas Have 2 Opposable Thumbs
Koalas are specially adapted for life in the trees. While not technically classified as thumbs, koalas do have two opposable digits on their hand. Their remaining three fingers are on the other side, giving them a total of five digits in their claws, just like a human hand. Having two thumbs gives you a good grip on a tree!
There are additional traits of the koala that make it especially adept at climbing. The animals have a short muscular body with longer upper limbs to help them climb. The koala’s muscles in its hind limbs are attached lower down on the leg bones compared to other animals. As the forelimbs grip the tree, the hind limbs provide power to propel the koala up the tree.
11. It is believed that the word Koala means “no drink” in the language of Native Australians
This comes from the fact that koalas receive the majority of their water from eucalyptus trees rather than another water source. However, when it is particularly warm or there is a drought koalas will seek other water sources.
12. Chlamydia is a major problem in the Koala community
Many koala populations are vulnerable to chlamydia although it is a different strain from that which affects humans. In koalas, chlamydia develops when the animals are stressed. This can result in infections in their reproductive traces and/or blindness.
13. Koalas in the south of Australia are larger than those in the north.
Koalas in the south of Australia are not only larger than those found in the north they also have thicker fur. It is believed that this is because temperatures in southern Australia drop much lower in the winter than those in the north of Australia.
14. Koalas communicate with each other through noises
Koalas exhibit a range of noises. They are best known for their rather loud snore which is followed by a belch. This delightful noise is known as a “bellow”.
15. Female koalas have one Joey a year
Younger females who are breeding generally give birth to a Joey once a year. However, not all females will breed every year. Older females, in particular, may only breed every two to three years.
16. Joey’s don’t leave home until they are between 1 and 3 years old.
Once a Joey ventures out of its mum’s pouch it will ride on its mother’s stomach or back. The Joey will continue to return to its mother’s pouch for milk until it is too big to fit inside the pouch. The age at which the Joey “leaves home” will depend on how long it is until his brother or sister arrives.
17. Mature Koalas have to find their own homes.
Female koalas are fully mature by the age of 2 years and males are fully mature at some point between their third and fourth years. Once a koala matures it needs to find its own home. That home needs to be empty so it must be new trees or a tree where the former koala has passed away. A forest can only have a certain number of koalas based on its number of gumtrees. This is called a forest’s “carrying capacity” and is why koalas need quite a large territory.
18. 80% of Koala habitation has already disappeared
Unfortunately, the home of the Koala, Australia, has one of the highest land clearing rates in the world. Although koalas are a protected species their land isn’t protected and they cannot survive without their gumtrees. Most of the remaining land for koalas is private and thus isn’t protected under the law.
19. Koala fingerprints look just like ours
The fingerprint of a Koala looks just like a human fingerprint. But our hands are quite different as their’s are covered in warts!