The Unique and Adorable Australian Koala

Mother and Baby Koala in Tree
Mother and baby koalas share a cuddle.

The koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) is actually not a bear, as you might already know, and is actually a marsupial whose closest relative is the wombat. Being a marsupial means that the female incubates the young koala in her pouch rather than in the womb. The pouch is called a marsupium. Once the baby is ready to emerge, they come out of the marsupium and ride on their mother’s back. Something really cute about mother and baby koalas is the sounds they make to one another, which sound like squeaks or hums.

Koalas are well known for their love of Eucalyptus leaves, but did you know that they hardly need to drink water at all, because they get most of their hydration from the leaves that they eat. And they eat a large amount of them every day, too. The average koala eats about 2 1/2 pounds of leaves daily, and they also have pouches in their cheeks to store some for later. The eucalyptus leaves may be poisonous to most, but not to the koalas, who have a specialized digestive system which breaks down the tough leaves and keeps them unharmed from the poison. The koalas eat so many leaves every day that they even begin to smell like their favorite food, which smells a bit like cough drops. Only in Australia will you find tree-huggers with fuzzy ears who smell nice and refreshing, if you like cough drops, I suppose. To eat the amount they need, though, each koala needs about 100 trees (and only very certain varieties), and with the forests in Eastern Australia in which they primarily live dwindling, it is putting them at risk and giving the population a status of “Vulnerable”.

Close-up Photo of Koala's Paw
These unique fingers help the koala climb and hold onto tree branches.

About the tree-hugging, staying close to the trunk of the tree actually helps keep them cool in the hot summer months. Their arms and legs are almost the same length and adapted to provide the koalas with the strength they need to stay in the trees. On their hands, they have five fingers just like us, but with two digits opposed to the other three rather than one, like our thumb. This gives them a better grip to climb with.  Take a look at the photo on the right which shows just how well they can hold onto branches.

When a koala is getting ready to climb a new tree, he springs up and quickly bounds up the trunk. Scratch marks are left behind on trees which are popular with koalas. While koalas spend a lot of time in trees, they do move across the ground to move to other trees. During this time, they walk or sometimes run, and they are most vulnerable to predators such as dingoes and foxes. Some have even observed koalas swimming, although instances of this are rare.

Do you know any facts about koalas that you want to share? Have you ever seen a koala in the wild before? Comment below and let us know! Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed. Until next time, goodbye!

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