Koalas are marsupial mammals that live in Australia.
The word koala originally comes from a word in the Aboriginal Dharug language. The Dhurag word ‘gula’ means ‘no water. This name is thought to have been given to koalas as they spend so long in trees, and it seems they don’t need to come down to drink water.
Are koalas a type of bear?
Nope! A common myth about koalas is that they are a kind of bear, often mistakenly referred to as ‘koala bears.’ Their fluffy ears and tree-climbing ways may resemble bears, but the koala’s closest living relative is the wombat. Both wombats and koalas are marsupials.
What are the characteristics of marsupials?
Marsupials are a kind of mammal. Just like other mammals – like lions, bears, and humans – marsupials feed their young on milk produced by mothers and have fur or hair. But marsupials also have a pouch. They carry their young for a short time in the womb (like other mammals), but they give birth very early to tiny, underdeveloped young. Koalas young are called joeys.
A newborn joey will then crawl into the external pouch to grow into a more developed infant.
Koala joeys are tiny, pink, and hairless in their first development stage. But once they’re big enough, they’ll climb out of the pouch and hitch a ride on their mother’s back! It keeps them safe from predators and protects them while they grow.
Life of a koala: What is a koala’s lifestyle like?
Koalas can sleep for up to 22 hours a day. Their few waking hours are mostly spent eating. As koalas are herbivores, their diet is made up of leaves – almost exclusively eucalyptus leaves! They’re known to eat around 350 species of the eucalyptus tree, but they’re quite fussy and have a particular taste for about 30 species.
Life of a koala: How are koalas adapted to their lifestyle?
Koalas are very well-adapted to their life in the trees:
- Koalas have pairs of opposable thumbs on their hands, which they use to grasp branches and food. In addition, they have a large, sturdy, clawless thumb on their feet, and their second and third toe are fused and feature neat, shorter claws. It makes for an ideal comb to clean their thick fur with.
- Koalas lack a tail but have thick fur, strong cartilage, and curved spines, so it’s comfortable for them to sleep in the trees for long periods. They need to sleep to conserve their energy, as eucalyptus leaves may be high in fiber and water, but their food is low in carbohydrates.
- Koalas have a special organ in their stomach called a caecum. It helps them to digest eucalyptus leaves. These leaves contain a chemical that is poisonous to many other animals. So it’s an advantage to eating something few other animals can – it means koalas don’t have to compete with others for food!
Read on to discover why koalas are almost endangered despite these excellent adaptions.
Environment: Where do koalas live?
Koala habitats range across Eastern and Southeastern Australia.
They live along the eastern coastlines of New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria, and Queensland. The area shaded orange on this map of Australia identifies much of the koalas range.
Koalas live in bushland and forests. Some koala populations live on coastal islands in areas with tall eucalyptus trees, while others live in low woodlands or small fragments of forests in towns.
Suitable koala habitats depend on a good number of their favorite trees being present in fertile soils and a good amount of rainfall (which ensures the trees are healthy and have plenty of leaves to munch on.)
Research is finding that different populations of koalas favor different kinds of trees.
What’s more, koalas are social animals. It means they need other populations of koalas around in their habitat to communicate with and support one another as they develop.
Are koalas endangered in 2022?
The koala is now an endangered species in danger of extinction. Unfortunately, human development is the primary cause of their dramatic fall in numbers. In addition, their habitats are under constant threat due to bushfires, land clearing, drought, disease, and other artificial threats.
Although these have been increasing threats, research has shown that the dangers to our furry friends have grown quickly. Koalas have gone from being a thriving species to a vulnerable group to their status as an officially endangered species in 10 years.
Why are koalas endangered?
Research has placed most of the blame for the koalas’ endangered species on climate change and the loss of natural habitats.
Despite their clever adaptations and tenacious attitudes, koala populations are rapidly decreasing.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is an organization that gathers data on all species and ranks their conservation status in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. As of 2021, the IUCN ranks the koala as a ‘vulnerable’ species. Unfortunately, the vulnerable is just one rank higher than the endangered, which is why koalas are at risk of being endangered if we do not protect them.
Koala numbers have dropped by two-thirds in some habitats since 2000.
The main reasons koala populations are plummeting are deforestation and forest fires caused by increasing temperatures due to climate change. Humans have played a large part in the problems koalas face – so what can we do to help?
What are the threats to koalas?
There are many threats to endangered species that can impact their survival. For koalas, their primary threat is the damage and destruction of natural habitats. Due to bushfires and urban, industrial, and rural development, the koalas’ natural habitat is rapidly disappearing. Without their natural habitat in open woodland and forests, they are being forced to travel on the ground to more urban green spaces. This travel alone can be dangerous for the animals as they must cross busy traffic areas – and these animals are not designed for rush hour!
These threats can also trigger elevated stress levels for the creatures. The increase in distress can cause outbreaks of infectious diseases such as koala retrovirus and chlamydia in koala populations.