Happy Wild Koala Day! Koalas are an iconic species native only to the land down under, they’re as Australian as kangaroos and Crocodile Dundee.
Observed every year on May 3rd, Wild Koala Day was established by concerned koala conservationists across Australia to celebrate this species and to protect their habitats. Anyone is welcome to join, and is encouraged to pin a gum leaf (or any other leaf if you don't have access to eucalyptus) to their shirt, change their profile photo to a koala, and/or share a koala photo on social media, tagged #wildkoaladay.
Unfortunately due to deforestation, agricultural expansion, and climate change, koalas are increasingly under threat. In fact, they are on the top 10 list of animals most threatened by climate change. Wild koalas are an indicator species, showing the health (or lack thereof) of the ecosystems upon which they depend—and clearly, the pressure is on.
That's why we're not only honoring koalas today, but actively working to restore their habitats through reforestation and conservation in Australia.
So in the spirit of some serious Koala appreciation, we’ve compiled a list of 11 reasons why we love this wildlife species.
1. They’re totally unique!
A common misconception is that they’re bears, but that’s actually not true: their closest relative is the wombat—many, many times removed. And as the only living members of their family, phascolarctidae, they’re unlike anything else on this planet.
2. They have fingerprints
In fact, they’re the only animals other than primates that have them—and just like us, each one is an individual. They also have unique patterns on their noses, which helps wildlife biologists to identify and track them.
3. They don’t have to drink (much) water
Their name is thought to mean “no drink” and was coined by Aboriginal people (who have coexisted with them for thousands of years). And in fact, they don’t need to drink much because they get a lot of water from their dietary staple, eucalyptus leaves. They can and do drink from creeks and water holes if necessary, but if you see a koala drinking, it’s probably in distress.
4. They smell like eucalyptus
While mature males tend to have a stronger, muskier odor, females and juvenile males give off a slight eucalyptus smell— which doubles as a natural insect repellant!
5. They’re picky eaters
Although there are around 700 species of eucalyptus trees, koalas tend to only eat from 50 of those. In fact, individual koalas usually have 1-3 specific eucalyptus species that they will eat regularly, reserving others for the occasional snack or resting spot. And even then, they will climb to the very top of the tallest trees to get the best leaves, which contain more liquid and nutrients.
6. They can squeeze water from a stone
Their main source of food, eucalyptus, is toxic, fibrous, and not very nutritious. And while they have an unusually long (200 cms) caecum to help them digest and break down fiber, they’re only able to absorb about 25% of what they consume—which is why they have to eat so much. In fact, an adult Koala eats about 1/2-1 kilogram of leaves…. every night! Think about how you feel after eating a heavy meal, and you’ll understand why they sleep 18-20 hours a day!
7. They have some extra junk in the trunk
As you might imagine, spending all that time in trees would make for a pretty sore tush. Fortunately, they have strong cartilage at the end of their curved spine, which allows them to live comfortably in their arboreal homes.
8. They’re loners
As solitary creatures, koalas stick to their home ranges and generally respect the boundaries of others. Each koala has a different sized range, depending on sex, age, social position, and habitat quality, but mature males have scent glands in the center of their chests, which exude a dark, sticky substance that they rub on trees to mark their territory. Climate change, deforestation, and other human activities have pushed koalas closer together, causing them a great deal of stress.
9. Joeys are very attached to their mamas
As marsupials, their babies (joeys) are born very premature and continue to develop in their mother’s sack. These deaf, blind, and furless babies rely on their well-developed senses of smell, touch, and an inborn sense of direction to feel their way to the pouch, where they attach themselves to a teat. Once attached, the teat swells in their mouth, fusing them to their food source so that their mother can move freely. They spend about 6 months in the pouch, and then another 6 months or so riding on her abdomen or back—and they stay with their mothers until another joey is born, typically 1-3 years.
10. They have strong well-developed paws to climb trees and grip their food
Each front paw has 5 digits, two of which are opposed (similar to our thumbs) and able to move separately from the others. On their hind paws, the 2nd and 3rd digits are fused together for grooming.
11. They’ve flipped the script
Southern Koalas are much bigger, darker, and fluffier than their northern counterparts. Scientists believe that this is an adaptation to keep them warm in the colder southern winters. But interestingly enough, Koalas seem to tolerate cold better than heat. This must present a challenge when living on a fire-formed continent!
After reading this list, we hope you’ll agree that there’s more to koalas than meets the eye—and that they should be protected. That's why we're working to plant 1 million trees in Australia and protect koala habitat. Want to help us to protect these amazing creatures? Plant a tree in Australia with us today!
We plant trees on 4 continents around the world. Want to choose where yours are planted?
by Meaghan Weeden