What do they look like?
There is only one species of Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). Differences in physical features such as fur colour and body size are attributed to different environmental conditions. Males are generally larger than females. Koalas from the northern populations are typically smaller and lighter in colour than their counterparts further south. In the north, Koala tends to have shorter, silver-grey fur, whereas in the south it has longer, thicker, brown-grey fur.
Where do they live?
Koalas live in eucalypt forests in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.
The distribution of the Koala and its habitat is influenced by altitude, temperature and, in drier areas, leaf moisture. Koalas naturally inhabit a range of temperate, sub-tropical and tropical forest, woodland and semi-arid communities dominated by Eucalyptus trees.
- Koalas might look like a bear and have the nickname ‘Koala bear’, but they are marsupials.
- A Koala receives over 90% of its hydration from the eucalyptus leaves. Koalas will only drink when there isn’t enough moisture in the leaves, like during a drought.
Koala – the full story
Koalas are marsupials that live in eucalypt forests in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.
They are fussy eaters. In Australia, there are over 600 types of eucalypt trees but Koalas will only eat a few species. Their diet consists mainly of a certain type of eucalyptus leaf which is poisonous to other animals. They can eat up to one kilogram of leaves each day. From a young age, Koala joeys are fed a form of fecal matter called pap that helps them to digest the leaves.
You could think that eucalypt leaves make Koalas drunk, because they seem so dozy. This is a myth – Koala food provides little energy, so they rest through the day, saving their energy to look for food at night.
A Koala receives over 90% of its hydration from the eucalyptus leaves. Koalas will only drink when there isn’t enough moisture in the leaves, like during a drought.
Koalas can live up to 18 years. They breed once a year, usually between September and March. Once the joeys emerge from the pouches of their mothers, the mother communicates to her young with soft clicking, squeaking and gentle humming sounds.
Koalas live in long-term communities and are territorial. They will live their entire lives in the same place unless they’re forced to move on. Relocated Koalas adapt very poorly to new environments and the majority do not survive, which is why injured Koalas that have been looked after by a wildlife carer can only be returned to their home territory once well or housed in a sanctuary.
Within a community of Koalas their home range needs to have suitable areas of forest, ideally eucalypt, which is large enough to support a healthy Koala population and allow expansion for their maturing young.
The home range needs ‘home trees’ and ‘food trees’. A Koala community will only develop and thrive if the habitat is just right. They need to find a space in the forest that has good rainfall, suitable soil and their favourite gum leaves.
The breeding season starts in October, during which male Koalas make loud grunting noises to attract potential mates. They also warn off potential rival males by making a loud gurgling noise in their throats which can be heard from over 800 metres away. Male Koalas also attract females by letting off a powerful, musky odour that comes from a mixture of their urine and scent glands that they rub on the trees as they climb.
Like many of our native animals, Koala populations are under threat from loss of habitat.
Over 80% of Koalas’ habitats are now on private land and with our houses getting closer to Koalas ‘home range’ there is a higher risk of dog attacks and road accidents. By taking simple measures like keeping your pets inside at night, planting and maintaining the Koalas favourite eucalypt trees and being more aware on the road, you can help Koalas survive.
Did you know?
By helping to maintain and plant new eucalyptus trees in and around the forests Koalas live in, you will be encouraging the survival of the Koala population by helping create a safe and sustainable environment for them to live in.
- Native trees as they are the safest place for a Koala. Try to keep large trees in your backyard and plant replacements.
- Large areas with lots of trees, so that they can move safely between trees.
- Quiet time for sleeping during the day to save their energy.
But they don’t like:
- Dogs which frighten or even attack them if allowed to roam free, or if the Koala enters the dog’s backyard.
- Garden pesticides, which can harm Koalas if they absorb chemicals through their paws or from the leaves they eat.
- Fast traffic as Koalas take their time as they cross the road, so drive slowly in Koala areas.
Be a Buddy to Koalas
- keep your dog indoors at night and closely supervised when in Koala habitat.
- find out what type of eucalypt trees Koalas like in your area and plant some in your backyard.
- plant other types of trees along fence lines and creeks to give your Koalas travel corridors safe from cars and dogs.
- slow down when driving in Koala areas at night.
- keep the number of your local wildlife rescue group in your car.
- using pesticides in Koala areas.
- cutting down trees that may be a home to and a food source for Koalas.
Don’t be surprised if:
You see a Koala trying to cross a road that winds through the bush. They only want to get to a nearby area to find food or a tree to rest in. Slow down when driving near trees and densely vegetated areas as animals could be about.
A few more Koala facts
Koalas are commonly called ‘Koala bears’, but they are marsupials. The closest living relative to the Koala is the wombat.
Newborn Koalas are so tiny they could fit on your thumbnail. Koala joeys stay in their mother’s pouch for about seven months.
The body of a Koala is made for climbing trees. They have rough paw pads with sharp claws which help them grip tree trunks and branches.