Koalas are interesting animals with several amazing features. Native to certain parts of Australia, koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) are marsupials (females have a pouch on their belly, inside which they raise the newborn), which lead their life on trees. They belong to the genus Phascolarctos in the family Phascolarctidae. In fact, koalas are the only surviving species of this family. The name of this genus is derived from the Greek word 'phaskolos' that means pouch and the Latin word, 'arktos', meaning bear. It is said that the name of the species - 'cinereus' means ash colored in Latin (this denotes the coat color of the animal). Koalas are sometimes referred to as koala bears, due to their resemblance to bears in their looks. Koalas are adapted to their environment in various ways.
Adaptations of Koala Bears
So, koalas are marsupials that belong to certain parts of Australia. Though, they have some features that resemble bears, koalas are not even related to the latter. These Australian mammals are related to wombats and kangaroos. Whether it is structural or dietary, koalas have numerous adaptations.
Arboreal Life Adaptations
- As koalas lead an arboreal life, these animals have padded feet and long claws for better grip, while moving on tree trunks. Both the front and hind limbs are strong enough to support them while climbing trees and moving in between branches.
- Unlike most of the other mammals, koalas have strong thigh muscles that are among those vital adaptations that help them to lead an arboreal life. Their thigh muscles are found to join the shin at a lower point, as compared to other mammals.
- The paws of a koala have five digits each with sharp claws. In case of front paws, two digits act like thumbs and are opposed to the other three digits. This enables the animal to have a better grip while moving on trees.
- The second and third digits of the hind paws are fused together and the claw on this fused digit is used for grooming. The first digit of hind paws lack claws and are opposed to the other three digits (including the fused one). Koalas lack tail that is one of the main adaptations seen in animals that lead an arboreal life.
- The thick fur is one of the koala bear adaptations that make their arboreal life comfortable. As compared to other parts, the fur on their tail end or rump is much thicker. This provides a cushioning effect for the animal, while sitting on trees.
- The curved spine is also one among the physiological adaptations of koalas. Along with the cartilaginous pad on the rear end, the curved spine of these animals enables them to rest on tree forks comfortably.
- The thick fur of koalas saves them from extreme temperature variations. Apart from that, the fur has moisture-repelling properties that help these animals during rain. The scent gland on the chest of male koalas are used for marking their territory (trees).
Koalas are among those few mammals that are adapted to a diet of eucalyptus leaves, that can be poisonous for many other animals. They are not even found to drink water as the moisture content in the eucalyptus leaves is almost sufficient to meet their water requirement. Let us take a look at some koala bear adaptations that enable them to thrive on this diet.
- Koalas have sharp front incisors that are used for clipping the leaves. The molars are used to cut and chew the leaves to a paste form, before swallowing. The gap in between their teeth enable the tongue to be moved in such a way that the leaves are rotated inside the mouth for efficient chewing.
- It is said that these animals have a keen sense of smell and use their nose to determine the edible type of eucalyptus leaves. Even the toxicity of these leaves are believed to be determined by them, through smell.
- While their liver is entrusted with the function of inactivating the toxic components in eucalyptus leaves, the cecum is said to absorb the maximum amount of nutrients from the leaves consumed by koalas.
- As koalas have a diet that provide them with low energy, these animals are adapted to spend less energy. As compared to the size of their body and head, they have a very small brain with mostly hollow interiors. It is said that the small size of the brain helps the animal in spending less energy.
- These animals have a very low metabolic rate as well as low body temperature. They are found to sleep for at least 18 hours a day. For the remaining time, these animals rest on tree trunks and chew on eucalyptus leaves. All these factors help them in spending less energy.
It is not legal for a layman to keep a koala as pet. However, some people (like research scientists and wildlife carers) are sometimes allowed to raise koalas. Hope you found this AnimalSake article interesting. If you want to know more about koalas, you may conduct a deep study about them.