SPECIES PHASCOLARCTOS CINEREUS
The Koala is unmistakable and iconic. It has a direct evolutionary lineage to Wombats. but while wombats remained on the ground (terrestrial), koalas took to the trees (arboreal). Koalas are stocky rounded marsupials, with a large head and podgy body. They are usually grey-brown on top with irregular pale grey patches around the rump region. They have no external tail. Northern koalas are smaller and lighter in colour while the southern version is darker (almost brown), heavier and have long white ear tufts. These adaptations are a direct result of the climatic differences within their environments.
Koalas, although rare, are widespread up and down the east coast of Australia in Sclerophyll forests and woodlands on either side of the Great Dividing Range down into the Mt Lofty Ranges in SA.
Koalas are arboreal specialists and, on the ground, very awkward! Despite this awkwardness, koalas can also run and swim!
They uncharacteristically also have a very loud voice, with males bellowing and snorting during the spring and summer seasons in response to territorial conflict as well as the mating urge.
The Koala is also synonymous with its association to the eucalyptus tree, and the two of them go hand in hand. They eat from 500g – 1kg of leaves per day. The gum tree produces toxic chemicals as protection, but the koalas digestive system is designed to detoxify these poisons. A keen sense of smell also assists them in choosing the least toxic leaves to eat.
Eucalyptus leaves are very unpalatable, and the Koala’s digestive system needs to work very hard getting enough sustenance to keep energy levels up. To combat this, koalas sleep between 17-20 hours per day, allowing their body to detoxify, break down, and utilise the limited nutritional content in the leaves. These leaves work their way through a micro bacterial factory in the world’s proportionally longest caecum and begin to break down.
Before koala joeys start to eat Eucalyptus leaves, they eat what is called pap, The pap is their first solid food and comprises of decomposed elements of eucalyptus leaves which carry a lot of nutrition to help develop their digestive system.