koalaScientific name: Phascolarctos cinereus
Conservation status: Least concern

Appearance

The koalas shape is similar to the wombat which is its closest living relative, but the koala has longer limbs.

They have soft wool-like grey fur with patches of white on their stomachs, chests and chins and a fringe of white around their ears. They have a large round head with a large black nose. They have a small tail that is mostly hidden by their fur. Koalas have large sharp claws which help them in climbing trees. They have five digits on each paw, the front paws have two opposable thumbs and three fingers. Two toes on the back paws are joined together which forms a “grooming tool” which the koala uses to comb their fur and get rid of tics. The koala is one of the few mammals that has fingerprints that are similar to human fingerprints.

Koalas can vary in size and colour depending on where they live in Australia. Koalas that live in the southern areas are larger and have thicker grey fur while the ones that live in the northern areas are smaller and have brown fur.
The length of a koala can be between 60 to 85 cms (2 to 3 ft) with their weight being about 4 to 8.5 kgs (9 to 19 pounds) for a northern koala and 7 to 13 kgs (15 to 29 pounds) for a southern koala.

Lifespan

The average lifespan of the koala is between 10 -18 years.

Diet

Koalas are herbivores (plant eaters) but they only eat eucalyptus leaves. Luckily there are over 600 kinds of eucalyptus trees and each one has leaves that look and taste different so they do get some variety. Even though there are so many different types of eucalytpus leaves koalas prefer the leaves of only a small proportion of them. Koalas eat quite a lot each day with each koala eating about 454 to 680 gms (1 to 1.5 pounds) of leaves. Koalas have a special digestive system that allows them to break down the toxic oils in the eucalyptus leaves that are poisonous to most animals. The eucalyptus leaves don’t provide the koala with many calories or much energy but they have a slow metabolism and they spend about a lot of time sitting around or sleeping. Koalas do not drink much water as they get most of the moisture they need from the leaves that they eat.

Habitat

Koalas are found in southeastern and eastern Australia in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
Their habitats are scrubland eucalyptus forests and low woodlands inland.
Although the conservation status of the koala is low risk there is some concern for them as habitat loss is becoming more common as well as the impacts of urbanisation. As the population moves outward and along the coasts some koalas are affected by dog attacks and traffic accidents. The koalas need large areas of connected forest to live in and some of these areas are being taken over by agriculture or residential developments.

Reproduction

koalaKoalas breed once a year between December and March and after a 35 day gestation period they will give birth to one joey (twins are very rare).

At birth the joey is very small, about the size of a large jelly bean, and weighs between .4 to 1 gm (.015 to .035 ounces). When the joey is born they can’t see or hear but they are quite strong.

They will crawl from the birth canal over their mothers fur and into the downward facing pouch where they will attach themselves to one of the two teats in there. The mother holds the baby in the pouch by tightening the muscles at the top of the pouch so the joey will not fall out. The joey will stay in the pouch for the next six months drinking its mothers milk, and during this time they will grow ears, eyes and fur.

After six months the joey will start to venture out of the pouch although it may climb back in from time to time to sleep or hide. At this time they also starting eating “pap” which the mother produces, it is high in micro-organisms and helps to get the joeys stomach ready to be able to digest eucalyptus leaves.

The joey will stay with their mother for about another six months usually riding on her back before they become independent at about 12 months of age.

Behaviour

Koalas are mostly nocturnal and spend most of their day sleeping, usually about 18 – 20 hours. They spend most of their time sleeping in a fork of a tree. When they want to move between trees they will do it either by leaping from tree to tree or by walking on the ground for longer distances. When they are on the ground they are quite slow moving so are in danger of predators, like dogs, dingoes or foxes.
Koalas are very territorial and live within breeding groups, each koala in the group has its own home trees in a range. The size of each koalas range depends on its sex, age and position within the group, koalas usually only visit each others home trees to breed.
Koalas are not normally loud animals but can communicate with sounds like growls, bellows and grunts. The time when they are at their loudest is when the males are making their mating call during the breeding season.

When koalas meet in the wild they will touch noses to greet each other.

Quick facts

Koalas are often referred to as koala bears due to their similar appearance to teddy bears, but they are not bears they are marsupials.

Koalas sometimes eat a bit of dirt to help them be able to digest their eucalyptus leaves.

Baby koalas are known as joeys and they do not develop all of their fur until they have been in their mothers pouch for about six months.

Koalas get their names from the aboriginal word for “no drink”

The scientific name of the koala, “Phascolarctos cinereus” means “ash coloured bear.”

It is estimated that in 1998 alone $1 billion was generated through koala related items and tourism in Australia.