Taxonomy: Animalia; Chordata; Mammalia; Marsupialia; Diprotodontia; Phascolarctidae; Phascolarctos cinereus
Common Names: Koala, koala bear, monkey bear, native bear, and tree bear.
Localities: Koala are found in the coast regions of eastern and southern Australia in the Eucalypt woodlands.
A arboreal herbivorous marsupial found in Australia that attracts many tourists annually Down Under for a chance to see this bear in the wild. They were named after the Dharuk gula which was changed to “koala”. Its genus is derived from the Greek word “phaskolos” meaning “pouch” and “arktos” meaning “bear”. Although referenced as a “bear”, the koala is not related to the bear. It was given this description because of its bear-like resemblances. Its closest family is the wombat and actually physically resembles them. The earliest fossils of Koala date from 20 million years ago. It is estimated that from 20 million to 50,000 years ago, giant koalas inhabited the rainforests. The origin of these creatures are unknown, though believed to have descended from terrestrial wombat like creatures. The Victorian koala have long, thick, dark grey fur with chocolate-brown highlights on its back and forearms with a prominently light-colored ventral side with fluffy white ear tufts. They have been known to weigh upwards of 26 lbs for males and 19 lbs for females. The Queensland koala though are smaller averaging at 14 lbs for the male and 11 lbs for a female with a lighter scruffy color and shorter thinner fur. There is a golden tinged koala, known as the “golden koala” that has a slight golden tinge to its fur. Some others may have white fur due to recessive genes. They have a slow metabolism and sleep mostly through the day. Koala have a thicker coat than the wombat, much larger ears, longer limbs, and large sharp claws for tree climbing. Their five fingers include two opposable thumbs giving them excellent gripping ability, and is one of the few mammals outside of primates to have unique fingerprints representing strong similarities to human fingerprints under a microscope. They have two sharp incisors they use to clip leaves at the front of their mouths, separated from the grinding cheek teeth by a wide diastema, owning a dental pattern of 3-2-2-4 on the top, and 1-0-1-4. The male has a bifucated penis and the female has two lateral vaginas and two seperate uteri. They walk on four legs while on the ground with their infants clinging to the back. The koala has a much smaller brain size than its earlier ancestors, most scientists believe this is due to the change towards a low energy diet. It is one of the only animals to have a strangely reduced cranial cavity. The Koala is very silent except for the male during mating season. If stressed, the koala will issue a loud cry similar in tone and intensity to that of a human baby. They have been known to live upwards of 18 years in age. Males mater by age 3 or 4, and Females at age 2 or 3. When birthing, females produce one young a year for upwards of 12 years in a row with a 35 day gestation period. Infants are called a joey, sized at about a 1/4 of an inch long, sleeps downward facing in the pouch, and are blind, earless, and hairless. They remain in the pouch upwards of 6 months at a time, feeding on the mother’s milk, during which time they will grow ears, eyes, and fur. When it begins to explore outside the pouch, it starts to consume the mother’s “pap” innoculating its gut with microbes required to digest eucalyptus leaves. The koala populations are diminishing so are a protected species. Some estimate between 80 and 100,000 left. The Australian government does not deem them to be a threatened species, but the US Government does.
Loss of Habitat, Humans, impacts from urbanization, dog attacks, traffic accidents, chlamydia, and feral animals.
Koala bears are herbivores and rely almost entirely on eucalyptus leaves. Three to Five of their waking hours is spent eating leaves, upwards of 18 ounces a day. Jaws turn the leaves into a fine paste which gets filtered by the liver to deactivate the toxins in the Eucalypts. In addition to eucalyptus, some other species such as Acacia, Melaleuca, and Leptospermum get ingested and differences of preference varies from region to region. The southern koala like the Manna gum, blue gum, and swamp gum best while northern koala prefer tallowwood and grey gum.
Once hunted for its fur, it is now a protected species as it was almost hunted to extinction in the early 20th century.
Folklore and Magical Uses:
Written and researched by Thomas Baurley, Leaf McGowan, Technogypsie Research Services. November 25, 2011.