The koala bear (Phascolarctos cinereus) is an arboreal herbivorous species that is endemic to Australia. It is the only extant marsupial standing for the Phascolarctidae family. The koala bear inhabits in the southern and eastern part of Australia ranging from Adelaide to the Cape York Peninsula. These bears do not exist in Northern Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania.
They are listed as endangered animals by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The koala bears are mainly found in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, and Victoria. These animals were excessively hunted in the beginning of the 20th century possibly because of their furs. Around millions of kola’s furs had been traded from United States to Europe. There are around 80,000 koala bears left in the wild. These animals are not allowed to keep in captivity all throughout Australia. Now let’s see these amazing facts about koala bears for kids.
Koala Facts For Kids
The koala bear has elongated dense fur, slightly grayish, often appears to be chocolate-brown forearms, and ears are surrounded by fluffy white feathers.
The weight of male koala bear measures around 12 kg (26 lb) while females weigh around 8.5 kg (19 lb). Those inhabiting in subtropical and tropical Queensland, the average male koala weighs around 6.5 kg (14 lb) while females weigh about 5 kg (11 lb).
Scientists are not sure about the origin of koala bears but they are thought to have been evolved from terrestrial wombat-like creatures.
Koala bear fossils are extremely rare with some discovered that tells the story of 20 million years ago. The northern Australia was all rainforest during this time.
Koala bears are adept to walk on four legs.
The closest relative of koala bears is wombat; however the former exhibits dense coat, longer limbs, and much larger ears.
With the help of their sharp claws, koala bears easily climb trees.
The fingerprints of koala bear resembles with human’s fingerprints.
The average lifespan of koala bears is 20 years in the wild.
These are nocturnal animals and they are known to produce different kinds of vocals during breeding season.
Koalas are not known to drink too much water rather they acquire most of the moisture from leaves.
- The female koalas become mature after 2 – 3 years while male reach the maturity at 3 – 4 years.
- The female give birth to one young per year and it continues to litter for about 12 years.
- The mating season takes place in between December and March.
- The baby koala (Joey) is blind, earless, and hairless at birth.
- The length of baby koalas measure around 20 mm (0.79 inches).
- These young koalas stay in their mother’s pouch for 6 months. The period of weaning lasts for 12 months.
- The males stay close to their females for 2 – 3 years.
- Koala bears can become motionless for about 16 – 18 hours per day.
- They spend most of their time in sleeping.
- Koalas can be aggressive towards each other.
Koala Facts For Kids
Evolution and Systematics
The koala family (Phascolarctidae) is believed to have evolved some 24 million years ago and it is thought to be the immediate relative of marsupials, the wombats. The earliest fossil record dates back to 15 million years ago and is called Perikoala palankarinnica. Scientists suggest that a giant koala (Phascolarctos Stirtoni) was three times the size of a modern-day koala, but it had become extinct some 40,000 years ago. Fortunately, one species (Phascolarctos cinereus) of this family is surviving today. There are three subspecies of Koala that are endemic to Australia:
i) Phascolarctos c. victor (native to the state of Victoria)
ii) Phascolarctos c. cinereus (native to New South Wales)
iii) Phascolarctos c. adustus (native to Queensland)
Koalas dwelling in the south are larger in size and have longer coats in comparison to those living in the North. The studies have suggested vast differences between the two species in that the Southern populations seem to be homogeneous
Koala has become an iconic animal all throughout the Australia precisely due to its comical ‘teddy bear’ appearance. Contrary to popular belief, koalas are primarily herbivorous and are not related to omnivorous bear family.
These medium-sized marsupials are diverse in their sizes; some are as small as 60 cm (24 inches) while others are as long as 85 cm (33 inches), but the average size measures around 72 – 78 cm (28 – 31 inches).
The body weight ranges from 4 kg (8.8 lb) for northern female, to 15 kg (33 lb) for a southern male, but the average weight is 5.0 – 11.8 kg (11 – 26 lb).
Males are two times the size of a female, and as we move from Queensland to south, we observe a significant difference in its size. The males weigh around 6.5 kg (14.3 lb) in Queensland while those living in the far south weigh at 11.6 kg (26 lb).
Prominent among its features is koala’s nose which is large and black, together with its broad shoulders and head. It has large-and-rounded ears that are surrounded by white edges.
Koalas have a short tail that goes almost unnoticeable because it does not help in climbing. Their powerful limbs and sharp claws are however enough to make a strong grip around trees.
They have five digits on each of their front and hind legs.
Koalas never take shelter in dens or other shades so they have to rely on their furs for insulation. Southern Koalas particularly have woolly coats comprising dense fur on the back with fewer on the belly. Northern Koalas appear lighter in color and have shorter coats. They are found in the tropical and subtropical regions.
The color and pattern of koalas differs from species to species; indeed these markings determine their age. Koalas display from gray to tawny appearance, with white on the chin, forelimbs, chest, and whitish dappling on the rump. Males display a large broad chest gland which is employed for scent marking trees. Like kangaroos, female koalas also have a marsupial pouch which exposed from the back.
These animals are found in the eastern seaboard of Australia, ranging from Atherton tablelands in north Queensland to the southwestern Victoria. Humans have forced koalas to leave their native habitats as they are subject to deforestation, habitat destruction, and historic persecution, despite the fact that eastern and northern part of Australia expands several hundred thousand square miles.
Some koala’s population also lives in the southern parts of Western Australia and ends up in South Australia. In many parts of the country, the species have gone extinct primarily due to overhunting and land clearance.
Since koalas reside in the woodlands and forests of Eucalyptus, they predominantly feed on eucalyptus leaves. Nonetheless, they can also endure altogether different climatic and environmental conditions. Winters are much cooler in the tropical habitats as they are mostly under the heavy rainfall the year round.
Koalas never like to communicate with people and with their other counterparts. They fancy living in isolated circumstances. However, in the breeding season they are observed to interact with each other. Because of their solitary nature, they don’t travel and they live almost half of their lives within 2.5 acres (1 ha) in a fertile habitat, focusing only on few dozen trees.
Koalas are almost entirely nocturnal as they begin to feed after dusk or in complete darkness. They seldom leave the trees except when they have to eat soil which helps them in digesting food, or when they find another food tree. Although rarely, koalas can also run and swim if necessary.
Koalas are the one of the slowest-mover animals as they sleep 20-hours a day. One of the reasons for their excessive sleep is that the eucalyptus leaves are low-energy diet. Koalas spend as little time as 10% on feeding.
Koalas are seen more active in the summer breeding season when males begin to defend their territories with native females. In this season, males often make a ‘bellowing’ sound in order to thwart any nearby male and to attract other females. Mother koalas are heard as ‘squeaking’ and ‘clicking’ sound as they communicate with each other at night. When afraid or feel threatened, they are more likely to produce a cry of a baby or screaming.
Feeding Ecology and Diet
Australia is home to 650 eucalyptus species and thus offering a favorable setting for koalas to feed on. However, koalas are very demanding in that they only feed on 30 species of eucalyptus trees. Of these, koalas are very fond of eating red gum, grey gum, and manna gum. They also sometimes eat other non-eucalyptus leaves such as acacia, box, and mistletoe. Koalas usually consume 600 – 800 grams (1.3 – 1.8 lb) of leaves each day.
Read More: What Do Koalas Eat in the Wild
Koalas are polygynous. Females attain the maturity after two years of their birth but they start breeding after four years. Males become mature when they reach five years. Females have an estrous cycle of 30 days. The gestation period lasts for 35 days. Female mostly gives birth to a single young baby with the weight of 0.2 oz (0.5 g), and length measuring at 2 cm. The baby is called Joey. Joey will attain the weight of 50 g (2 oz) after 13 weeks and once it reaches 22-weeks, joey will open its eyes and begin to look around outside the pouch. Joey spends its first six to seven months inside the pouch. Later it clings to the mother’s belly and sometimes on her back. Joeys have a weaning period of about 6 – 12 months. It will spend most of the time with its mother until the joey weighs 2 kg (4.4 lb) after which it will feed on its own. Joey begins to disperse and find its own breeding group after 2-years age. However, if joey fails to search any breeding group, it will become nomadic.
Koalas have a lifespan of 10 years or more in the wild, while in captivity they live more than 17 years. Their lifespan primarily depends on the level of stress, human interference, habitat degradation, and disease.
Unlike in few areas where they are abundant, Koalas are rapidly disappearing in most of the major habitats in Australia because of excessive deforestation, and habitat degradation. In the mid of the 19th century, the population of koalas numbered in millions in spite of the bushfires and epidemic diseases. The start of the 1900 saw a great decline in its population with large-scale hunting and forest clearance. People used to hunt koalas due to its warm, durable, and thick fur. Koala’s population had a worst year in 1924 when more than 2 million koala pelts were exported to America and Europe consequently reducing its population in New South Wales and Victoria, and almost disappeared in South Australia. It didn’t end there that is to say in 1927, around 600,000 koala’s skins were exported by the state government and the population of Queensland had become the next sufferer.
The public uproar however forced the authorities to eventually shift their priorities to the conservation efforts and in 1920s, captive breeding had started which indeed recovered some portion of its population. Even at present, koala’s population faces a real threat from extinction but they are not classified as threatened by IUCN.
Over the past two centuries, almost one-third of the eucalyptus leaves have disappeared. In the semi-arid regions of Queensland, still the urbanization and agricultural development is clearing out thousands of acres of vast eucalyptus woodlands. Tourism industry is also trying to delimit the eucalyptus trees. According to a recent survey, around 10,000 koalas have been put to death by road accidents. Some are even killed by domestic dogs since koalas offer little or no resistance to them. Evidence also suggests that isolated population leads to abnormalities in their physical health.
Koalas are also known to cause widespread environmental damage in areas where the population is growing constantly. For the same reason, some of these species have been transported to the isolated islands, the habitat where they had never lived even in 1870s. Some of these islands are French islands and Philip islands in Victoria; and in South Australia the Kangaroo islands.
Koalas are becoming more and more vulnerable to chlamydia, which is an epidemic disease in koalas, but koalas living in islands are safe. Indeed, it explains their transportation to these islands.
The state authorities are now paying more attention to conserve koalas and they have now purchased land specifically for koala’s protected reserves. Sadly speaking, still most of the conservation efforts are being carried out by the non-profit organizations or charities that are not owned by governments.
According to the Australian Koala Foundation, their population has dropped down from 400,000 (in 1980s) to 40,000 and 80,000 today. However, this is a wild guess and is not based on a precise calculation.
Significance to Humans
Aboriginal people have long hunted koalas in order to meet their own needs; some kill for food, some for sports, while others kill koalas for trading purposes. Koalas are always the easiest of targets since they neither run away nor do they afraid of humans. European settlers were the first to kill koalas for ‘sport’ and for furs. Even today, Koalas are commercially significant as it fosters a tourism industry to a great extent.
Koalas are not found in the wild; they are observed only in zoos and in animal sanctuaries. The Australian government keeps a strict control on the exports of koalas.
i) Australian Koala Foundation. Proceedings of a Conference on the Status of the Koala in 2000, Incorporating the Ninth National Careers Conference—Noosa, QLD. Brisbane: Australian Koala Foundation, 2000.
ii) Saunders, N. R., and L. Hinds, eds. Marsupial Biology: Recent Research, New Perspectives. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 1997.
iii) Gizimek’s Encyclopedia 2nd Edition – Volume 13 – Mammals II
a) Ellis, W. A, P. T. Hale, and F. Carrick. “Breeding Dynamics of Koalas in Open Woodlands.” Wildlife Research 29 (2002): 19-25.
b) Moore, B. D., and W. J. Foley. “A Review of Feeding and Diet Selection in Koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus)” Australian Journal of Zoology 48 (2000): 317 – 333