The Bare Facts: Koala Physiology


Koalas only live in Australia as part of a natural environment and are hard to keep in non-Australian zoos since they are finicky eaters. They eat only certain types of eucalyptus leaves and prefer only fresh tips. Eucalyptus leaves are of little nutritional value and thus koalas need to preserve energy.

Koalas are nocturnal and sleep up to eighteen hours a day. There are three koala types belonging to the same species, weighing between 10-30 pounds depending on their origin. New South Wales koalas are what most people think of as the "typical" koala (photo on left). It has thicker fur than the hotter climate, northern Queensland koalas, but not as thick as Victorian counterparts. The southern, Victorian, koalas are up to twice as big as their cousins and often have brown instead of gray fur.

Koalas have two thumbs on their front paws. Both front and hind-paws have a thick, black, leathery skin which helps with a tight grip and they are the only non-primate with distinct and unique fingerprints. Two fused toes (that really look like fingers) are used to comb their fur. Koalas live in trees and sometimes come down to the ground to seek shade or ascend another tree.

Koalas rarely drink as they get their water from eucalyptus leaves. They are an important part of Aboriginal lore and featured in many myths and legends. Some myths describe koalas as all-knowing gods in the trees, some as rainmakers to be worshipped. Many people believe that the word koala was derived from a aboriginal word meaning "no drink," as koalas are described as stealing water in some legends. Chances are, that the word koala instead came from an early typographical error, though it seems to have been adopted from Aborigines living near Sydney. Some of the names for koalas actually used by aborigines were kullawine, karbor, coolah, colo, koolabun, and koolewong. Japanese consider koalas as bringers of good luck.

Owing to their lack of natural predators in history, koalas don't have the same flight or fight responses of most other animals owing to underdeveloped adrenaline glands. Their gentle predisposition has made them easy pray to modern dangers. It has also made them become one of the most endearing animals to man. Hopefully, this will help them in their fight for survival. Their unblinking stare and cuddly look, has helped ware awareness among modern day human beings that the world would not be the same without them and that we all share the responsibility to preserve their future.

A newborn koala is approximately the size of a gummi bear. It is born 35 day after conception and immediately crawls into its mother's pouch, where it stays for six to seven months, before taking its first peek out.

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