Koalas: Eucalyptus gourmets
Among the kangaroo, the koala is Australia's most iconic animal. It's Down Under's national symbol and represents the country's many threatened species. Learn more in our blog.
The koala is a 61 to 85 cm tall and 4 to 14 kg heavy, tree-dwelling marsupial native to Australia. Its height and proportions depend on age, sex, diet and distribution area. Living in cooler climates, koalas reach larger body sizes and have a darker and denser fur than animals in warmer climates. Despite these adjustments, there are also exceptions. The fur of the koala is generally brownish-silver-gray and very woolly. When it rains it is water-repellent and is therefore an ideal adaptation to more humid areas. Its sharp, long claws allow the animal to move safely in the treetops where it spends most of the day. Due to its large ears and the distinct nose the nocturnal animal has very accurate senses, which are essential for tracking down suitable food, territory marking, protection from enemies and partner search. The diet of the koala is particularly characteristic.
Its diet consists exclusively of eucalyptus leaves, bark and fruits; the selection of suitable plants is conducted very careful as all eucalyptus species contain toxins. These are also harmful for the koala but can be tolerated in low concentrations. Of the approximately 500 eucalyptus species occurring in Australia, this applies to only about 70, locally even only 5 to 10 species. When choosing food, koalas first pick leaves from various eucalyptus species and then sniff them thoroughly. A sample is then taken to enable the animals to decide whether or not the species tested is fit for consumption.
The teeth of the koalas are perfectly adapted to the consumption of the eucalyptus leaves, since the molars not only grind the leaves, but also cut and tear them. This really juices them, so in the end a moist leaf pulp is formed.
Koalas drink very rarely. The majority of their liquid requirements are covered by the water-rich eucalyptus leaves. Interestingly, the term "koala" comes from the Aboriginal language and means "without water".
Koalas have a distinct social behaviour. This is determined by hierarchies within the group and territorial struggles. The communication between the individual animals takes place via a series of sound noises. These can be heard especially at night. They serve as a warning of predators, but also for mating and territorial behaviour.
Through hunting (because of its soft fur), the koala was decimated strongly in the 20th century. Today it is strictly protected so that stable populations have been able to establish themselves, especially in Queensland. On Kangaroo Island, where koalas were artificially settled, the rapidly growing population even had to be decimated again. Despite the recovering stock situations, the koala is likely to be one of the species severely affected by climate change. Natucate volunteer work in Australia gives you the chance to observe koalas in the wild.
SourcesAnn Sharp: The Koala Book. Australian Koala Foundation. Pelican Publishing, Gretna La 1995
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