The koalas' round bodies, round flat noses, and large ears often remind us of bears.Taxonomically, however, they cannot be called bears. They are marsupials and are more closely related to kangaroos. Koalas have been around for 25-40 million years, as is evident from fossil records, and they are the only living members of the family Phascolarctidae.
It is due to this long ancestry that these animals play an important role in the culture, myths, and legends of the aborigines of Australia, of which they are natives. Given below is some more information about these adorable Australian animals.
Habitat and Distribution
Koalas are natives of Australia. However, they are not found all over the continent. Their habitat spans over the eastern regions of Australia, that include states like Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria, and also in the state of South Australia. They are not found in Tasmania either.
In Victoria, koalas have a commendable presence as far as their numbers are concerned. It is the only state where they have a stable population on the mainland as well as on offshore islands. The Victorian koalas are larger than those found in Queensland and New South Wales.
They have longer and thicker fur, that is dark in shade on the dorsal side and a markedly lighter shade on the ventral side. In Queensland, they are very commonly found throughout the state except in the southeast regions, where their conservation status is labeled as 'vulnerable'.
Although officially in New South Wales koalas have a conservation status of being 'vulnerable', throughout the state, within its local regions, the status varies from 'secure' to 'locally extinct'. Sadly, in South Australia, their population had been entirely wiped out by the 1920s.
However, recent attempts have brought them back, especially in the areas of the Adelaide Hills and the Fleurieu Peninsula. Some koalas have also been introduced in national parks in Western Australia where they seem to be thriving comfortably.
Koalas are found where there are abundant forests of Eucalyptus trees. However, out of the numerous varieties of these trees, there are only about 60 that the koalas prefer, and 10 to 14 that they show a special preference for. The association of koalas and the Eucalyptus is due to the fact that these animals feed on the leaves of these trees.
But that's not all. Not only do the trees provide for their diet, but they also serve as their homes. Yes, koalas are arboreal and they eat, sleep, and live on Eucalyptus trees. They have individual trees as their home. Their ranges often coincide, but they are hardly seen fighting with each other.
Diet and Eating Habits
One amusing aspect of koalas is their dietary habits. Their dependence mainly on Eucalyptus trees for their food requirements partly explains their habitat. In fact, koalas are very fussy about what they eat
They have a strong preference for specific tree species like the Eucalyptus (although they may also eat some non-eucalyptus varieties like Acacia, Leptospermum, and Melaleuca). In fact, besides the Greater Glider and Ringtail Possum, Koalas are the only other mammals that feed on the leaves of the Eucalyptus.
This is believed to be an evolutionary aspect that was developed to take advantage of an ecological niche that was unoccupied by any other animal. The reason why Eucalyptus leaves are not eaten by other animals is because they have a high amount of fiber and very low nutritional value.
However, koalas are very well adapted to this aspect. They have a very long cecum that harbors bacteria that can break down the otherwise indigestible fiber. In spite of this, a koala is able to absorb only 25% of the fiber eaten.
Their other adaptation is their metabolic rate, which is very low for a mammal. These animals rest for almost 14 to 16 hours a day and even when they are active, they are slow in moving around. Hence, their energy requirements are low. Also, their long periods of inactivity allows enough time for the fiber-rich food to get digested.
Some More Facts
So much so about the habitat and the role of diet in deciding their habitat. Let us know a little more about these splendid mammals through these quick facts.
- Koalas grow around 27 to 36 inches in height and weigh 5 to 9 kg on an average. Southern koalas are larger than the northern ones.
- Males are larger than the females.
- Their life expectancy can stretch up to 17 years. However, females live longer than males.
- Koalas seldom drink water. This need is met by the eucalyptus leaves.
- Each koala eats 200 to 500 gm of leaves daily.
- They breed once a year.
- Females reach sexual maturity within 2 to 3 years. Males take a year longer.
- True to being a marsupial, a newborn koala creeps up to its mother's pouch absolutely unaided, where it lies for the next 6 months, drinking milk from her teats.
Like many other animals, the koalas' habitat is fast shrinking due to deforestation and quick urbanization. However, efforts by some scientists and animal lovers have successfully introduced these creatures back into certain parts of Australia.