Two koalas snuggling in a ball on a tree while they sleep.

Koalas aren’t bears but they ARE an icon

Recognized worldwide as a symbol of Australia, koalas are an adorable animal thought of fondly by people from around the world. But, there’s more to them than meets the eye.

A koala munching on some eucalyptus leaves at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Clip taken by Zoolife community member chelseajohn.

Most importantly, koalas are not bears. This popular misconception likely has grown from their bear-like appearance (especially the rounded ears) but, they’re not bears. Koalas are members of a group of pouched mammals called marsupials which also includes kangaroos. Just like kangaroos, koalas have pouches and give birth to underdeveloped young. This isn’t the only misconception that we need to clear up. 

Koalas can sleep for up to 20 hours a day. Because of this, people often refer to them as lazy – but, that’s far from the truth. Eucalyptus, their main source of food, is low in nutrition so koalas need to sleep a lot to conserve energy.

Now that we have those two big facts out of the way – let’s learn more about this beloved species from down under. 

Two koalas snuggling in a ball on a tree while they sleep.
Koalas can sleep for up to 20 hours a day. Phone taken by Zoolife community member Psyckoda.

Eating and napping and repeating

With specialized teeth for chewing tough leaves and bodies shaped for napping in branches, koalas are well-adapted for life in eucalypt forests. Their specialized diet focuses on leaves, eating from approximately 50 of the 800 species that grow in Australia. Although koalas can be found in a variety of woodland types, ultimately their habitat is defined by whether it has their select group of food trees. Toxins from leaves are no problem for them as they have adapted the ability to flush out toxins from leaves, so they can chew their way through pounds of them daily without getting sick.

A koala sitting on a branch with one leaf sticking out of its mouth.
Koalas have a specialised diet of eucalyptus leaves, eating approximately 50 of the 800 species that grow in Australia. Photo taken by Zoolife community member AmusingAmur56591.

Living that marsupial life

Being marsupials, koalas give birth to underdeveloped young. They finish developing in their mother’s pouch over six to seven months. Many other marsupials, like kangaroos, have upward facing pouches but koalas do not. Instead, koalas have a pouch that opens toward their hind legs. This strange switch comes from the koalas burrowing ancestors where having such a pouch placement would help prevent dirt and other debris getting inside. Although the modern-day koalas now live in trees, they still have the primitive, back facing pouch.

As asocial animals, bonding exists only between mothers and their young. Koalas communicate by making a deep growling or grunting noise known as a bellow. This sound is used by males to attract females or intimidate rivals.

A koala lounging in the fork of a tree, sitting up and hanging out with its front arms.
The koala is native only to Australia and can be found on the nation’s eastern side from northern Queensland to Adelaide in South Australia. Photo taken by Zoolife community member TiredTurtle32252.

Meeting the world’s first koala sanctuary

The biggest threat to the existence of koalas is habitat loss caused by urbanization, agriculture, droughts and associated bushfires, and climate change. As their trees disappear, so do the koalas. But, thankfully, there are many dedicated organizations working to keep this iconic species around.

As the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary, Lone Pine is dedicated to the species’ research, welfare, & conservation. Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary opened in 1927 and is named after a hoop pine that still stands today by its front entrance. It is said that the single pine tree used to be a location marker for guests visiting the sanctuary via the Brisbane River, mooring their boats at the lone pine. The tree was originally planted in 1867 when the property was a cotton farm.

Koalas lounging awake in trees.
As the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary, Lone Pine is dedicated to the species’ research, welfare, & conservation. Photo taken by Zoolife community member TiredTurtle32252.

Lone Pine has since grown into a world renowned location for these marsupials and more. The sanctuary collaborates with universities, government, students and other reputable organizations, and over the years has contributed to hundreds of wildlife research projects. The Zoolife cameras at Lone Pine currently feature fifteen of the koalas who call the sanctuary home. With a range of ages, unique names, and personalities, they are a delight to see each day. 

Want to help support Zoolife’s partners and learn about wildlife conservation from the comfort of your own home? Visit https://www.zoolife.tv/lpks today to support them through a Zoolife subscription!

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