Phylum: Chordata (has a spinal cord)
Order: Diprotodontia (describes its toes)
John Price was the first to record the koala in the late 1700’s. Price described the mammal as a bear, although the koala is not a bear at all. The koala is a type of mammal called a marsupial, which means the baby koala, or a joey, is carried in the mother’s pouch until developed more completely. Furthermore, koalas were shot for their fur during the 1930’s, lessening the population. Other names the koala has been called includes: koolewong, colah, and boorabee.
Koalas live in trees, so they are not usually found on the ground unless they are moving to another tree. Most of the time, however, they can jump to the next tree. They are mainly active in the night when it is cooler. The koala usually avoids contact with other koalas and prefers to spend time alone. The most time koalas spend with each other is the time spent with the mother and joey. Koalas will typically only make noises if the male is trying to attract a female or if the koala is injured or frightened.
The Koala is typically 2 ½ to 3 feet tall, or 1/2 to 1 meter and weighs between 9 to 20 lbs, or 4 to 9 kg. Koalas in southern Australia will be larger than koalas in the north.
Koalas eat about 200-500 grams of eucalyptus leaves, or “gum leaves”, every day. For most animals, the eucalyptus leaves are poisonous. Some koalas will also eat other tree leaves. The eucalyptus leaves provide 90% of necessary hydration, so the koala only drinks water when they are sick or when there is not enough moisture in the leaves. Koalas only prefer to eat about 10 kinds of eucalyptus, but they will eat 50-60 out of the 600 variations. These leaves do not have a lot of nutrition, however have a high amount of fiber. However, the Koala eats large amounts of the leaves, because the caecum organ breaks down only 25% of the fiber eaten.
There is a myth that koalas sleep such large amounts because they get drunk from eating the eucalyptus leaves, but this is not true. It simply takes a lot of energy to digest the leaves.
Koalas live in eucalyptus forests on the eastern coast of Australia.
Koalas can use their sharp claws and teeth to defend themselves, although they move at a slow speed. Koalas typically do not have great eyesight, however, they can rely on their excellent sense of hearing and smell. Living high in the trees also greatly helps them stay out of reach from predators.
Predators of koalas include dogs, dingoes, foxes, wild cats, and pythons. Eagles sometimes snatch small koalas from the tree tops. Their largest threat is humans, because of fur trade, getting run over by cars, and the clearing of forests.
Typically, koalas live from 13-17 years old. Males tend to live shorter lives, often under 10 years.
Koalas breed from September through March. The female koala begins breeding at 3 or 4 years old. She can produce as many as 1 koala per year, although some females reproduce as little as 1 koala every 3 to 4 years. The female typically carries no more than 5 or 6 koalas in her lifetime. The joey remains in the mother’s womb for about 35 days. When born, the baby koala is underdeveloped with no hair, ears, or sight. The joey matures in the mother’s pouch for the first year of its life.
Species survival status
Because the quantity of koalas fluctuate in given areas, there are various listings for the species survival status including: Potentially Vulnerable, Vulnerable, and Threatened. The Australian Koala Foundation, however, suggests the koala should be listed as “Critically Endangered”.
Fast Fun Facts
- Koalas occasionally eat dirt to help them digest the eucalyptus leaves.
- Australian fossils indicate koalas were once the size of an adult bull, which weigh over 2,000 pounds or 907 kg!
- Koalas can swim really well.
- The closest relative to the koala is the wombat.
- Koalas are the only mammal to have individual fingerprints like humans.
- Chlamydia is a common infection amongst koalas. They are infected through sexual intercourse, open wounds, and the urine and chest secretions males place on the trees to mark their territory for mating.
Check out the Australian Koala Foundation to learn more information.