Wild Things: Koalas
How many types of bears can you name? Black bears, grizzly bears, polar bears…koala bears? You’d never believe it, but koalas aren’t actually bears. Even though we commonly refer to koalas as bears, they’re actually arboreal herbivorous marsupial. Huh? In other words, koalas are tree-dwelling plant eaters who have a pouch to carry their young.
Their Habitat and Diet
Koalas live in eucalyptus forests in the east and south of Australia. Their primary diet comes from leaves of the eucalyptus trees, which are low in nutrients. To most animals, eucalyptus leaves are very poisonous. But koalas have adapted to help digest these toxins. They have an unusually slow metabolic rate that helps slow their digestion. Their slow metabolism leaves koalas with very little energy. That’s why they can sleep for up to 18 hours a day!
Unlike most animals, koalas only drink when they’re sick. That’s because 90% of the water they consume comes from the moisture in the eucalyptus leaves. After all, that’s where koalas got their name; the word koala comes from an Aboriginal word that means “no drink.”
Their slow movements and near constant sleeping patterns make koalas look like cute, animated teddy bears. But don’t be fooled! Koalas can be violent when they’re disturbed. They have long, sharp claws and powerful jaws that help them chew through the eucalypt leaves.
Koalas are tree dwellers. They have impeccable balance that helps them sit, sleep and eat in trees. Their paws have rough pads that make it easy to climb and grip branches. They have thick fur that protects them from all temperatures and weather conditions. The fur on their hind quarters is packed thicker than on the rest of their body to protect their bottoms from hard, rough branches.
Hold a Koala
If you live in Australia or you’re planning on traveling there, head to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary on Australia’s Gold Coast. There you can get your very own picture holding a koala! You can also take a trolley ride around the park where you’ll see other Aussie animals, such as wombats, dingoes and crocodiles. And you can get up close and personal with the kangaroos!