When the European settlers first came to Australia and saw the koala, they thought the animal was a bear or monkey. This would explain why koalas are still called koala bears. However, these animals are not bears. They are marsupials, like kangaroos. This basically means female koalas have a pouch where they keep their baby, known as a Joey, until it is big enough to venture out on its own. There are so many cool Facts about Koalas for Kids it is hard to know where to start.
Koala Hug (not a wild koala)
Photo Credit: Daddy Nerd
Made for Tree Living
Koalas have all the adaptations required to live on trees. They have two opposable digits and their front paws are made for holding onto branches and plucking leaves from eucalyptus trees. The sole of their feet are rough and have long claws to ensure they can grip trees while climbing. They also have strong thigh muscles that help them while climbing eucalyptus trees. Koalas also have thick fur on their bottoms along with a cartilaginous pad at the end of their spine. This allows them to sit comfortably on trees while they eat.
My Eucalyptus Diet
While there are more than 600 different species of eucalyptus trees, koalas feast on just two to three types of eucalyptus trees. The leaves of these trees are extremely fibrous and also poisonous. However, the poison has no effect on the koala, as it has special bacteria in its stomach that break down the poison and the fiber.
Koalas absorb just 25% of nutrients from their eucalyptus leaf diet. This explains why koalas move so slowly and sleep for about 20 hours a day. The slow movement helps them conserve their energy.
Photo Credit: Tim Dawson (CC License 2.0)
My Australian Habitat
Koalas live in forests in the eastern part of Australia. However, there are some differences between the koalas found in the northern and southern part of Australia. The ones in the north are comparatively smaller in size. They weigh anywhere from 9 to 19 lbs, while those in the southern part are bigger and weigh between 15 and 29 lbs. Also, the southern koalas have thicker fur to protect them from the colder winters.
Me and My Baby
Female koalas have a gestation period of 35 days. The baby koala, called a joey, is just 2 cm in length at the time of birth. Joeys are blind, hairless and with undeveloped ears. However, they have strong front legs that allow them to climb into their mother’s pouch the moment they are born. In the pouch, the joey finds a nipple and latches on. The nipple swells, so that it stays in place and does not fall off from the joey’s mouth.
The joey lives in its mother’s pouch for 6 months and during this time, it also feeds on a substance known as pap. This is a soft substance that consists of bacteria that the joey needs in order to digest the eucalyptus leaves. After another 6 months, the joey is strong enough to leave its mother’s pouch and will learn how to grasp leaves. But it still returns to its mother’s pouch to sleep or hide when afraid.
I am Threatened
Koalas are preyed upon by dingoes, eagles and large owls. However, it is loss of habitat that is of major concern. The koalas living in Southeast Queensland are listed as critically endangered and today, the Australian government is doing everything possible to protect koalas and their natural habitat. It is illegal to keep koalas as pets in Australia.
Interesting Facts about Koalas for Kids
- Did you know that koala fossils found in Australia date back to 20 million years?
- Koalas only eat eucalyptus leaves
- The koala is related to the wombat, another marsupial that is found in Australia
- Koalas are territorial animals and scratch trees to mark their territories
- Koalas are not bears or monkeys
- Koalas have a small brain compared to their ancestors and scientists believe this is an adaptation to conserve energy
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