Like tigers, whales, penguins, elephants, gorillas, and sea turtles – koalas are one the world’s most iconic animals! In the wild, koalas act as ambassadors for other Australian wildlife and their delicate ecosystems. Learning more about koalas and how to protect them helps create a ripple effect through their habitat encompassing a wide range of Australian wildlife.
Sure, everyone’s go-to koala fact is that they aren’t koala bears – instead koalas are members of a group of pouched mammals known as marsupials. But this is far from the only koality fact about these amazing animals. Here are eight fascinating facts about koalas!
1. Koalas are native to Australia, but only certain regions.
Understandably, most just assume that koalas are found throughout the entire island of Australia. Koalas are in fact the national symbol of Australia’s endemic wildlife. But the reality is, their range is limited to far southeastern and eastern Australia. Koalas range along the coastline of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria. These regions are where koalas can find adequate eucalyptus sources. One of my Wildlife Bucket List Destinations is Kangaroo Island, off the South Australia coast. Coined the “Down Under’s version of The Galápagos”, this scenic island paradise hosts all manners of Australian animals, including introduced koalas.
2. Eucalyptus – poisonous but nutritious to koalas.
Koalas survive entirely on a diet of eucalyptus leaves, but their pickiness does not stop there. Of the over 700 species of eucalyptus trees, koalas only eat about 50 different types of eucalyptus. Furthermore, koalas will often climb to the top of the tallest trees in search of the most nutritious leaves. These poisonous leaves are a challenge to digest, but koalas have a special digestive organ called a caecum that breaks down and detoxifies the leaves.
3. Koala food comas.
Since a diet of eucalyptus leaves is generally low in nutrients, koalas spend much of their time sleeping while they digest. Though despite the rumors that koalas ‘get high’ or ‘drugged out’ from eating eucalyptus leaves, they simply don’t have the energy to digest and bounce about. Instead, koalas sleep 18-22 hours each day to aid in digestion and conserve needed energy.
4. Koalas have their own built in lumbar support.
Koalas spend almost their entire lives in trees. Napping and snacking wedged between rough branches requires a lot of support! Luckily, koalas are adapted for this lifestyle with strong cartilage at the end of their curved spine. Between this extra cushion and their rounded rear ends they can make any eucalyptus tree a comfortable home.
5. Home tree home for a koala.
Each koala has their very own territory filled with eucalyptus trees. In fact, their homes are made up of several ‘home trees’. These are the same trees they visit regularly for feeding. Other than during breeding, koalas typically avoid each other’s ‘home trees’ and stick to their own range instead. The size of a koala’s territory depends greatly on the quality of the habitat and trees – rich environments lead to smaller territories while scarce resources lead to more expansive ranges.
6. Sadly, koalas are on the decline.
The largest threat to koala populations is habitat destruction, leaving koala territories fragmented or completely decimated. Sources estimate nearly 80 percent of koala habitat has been lost to development, drought, and bushfires. With more and more trees gone, koalas are having to spend extra time on the ground in search of eucalyptus sources. This leaves koalas extremely vulnerable to human-wildlife conflict like attacks from dogs and being struck crossing roadways.
7. Koala kommunication – they have a lot to say.
Most people assume that koalas are completely silent given their very laid back lifestyle, but koalas can communicate with each other by making a range of noises. The most shocking and unexpected noise from these placid marsupials is their ‘bellow”. This sound is similar to a roar or a deep loud snore.
8. Climate change – changing koala homes.
From late 2019 into early 2020, Australia was ravaged by the most devastating, unprecedented bushfires the country had ever seen. A changing climate has created a tinder box condition to ignite these flames. Sadly, billions of animals were either lost in the flames or succumbed to starvation from being left a burnt landscape. Many species endemic to Australia have been pushed even closer towards extinction, including koalas. These massive bushfires burned more than 26.4 million acres, including essential koala habitats. With our changing climate, koalas are faced with the reality that droughts and extremely high temperatures are increasing in severity. Join me in supporting Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc. (WIRES), Australia’s largest wildlife rescue organization. They have established an emergency fund to help rescue and care for wildlife affected by the fires. WIRES is helping to treat wildlife with life threatening burns and who arrived severely dehydrated from the lack of water and food from the drought.