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Koalas: Bear-Like, Sloth-Impersonating Marsupials

February 13, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

When you think of Australia, generally, what animals first come to mind? Most people imagine kangaroos or crocodiles or a whole lot of venomous creatures, and well…this fella. The koala. Pretty cute, huh?

Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) in a eucalyptus tree on Magnetic Island in Queensland, Australia. Koalas are sometimes called “koala bears”, but despite their teddy bear-like appearance, they are not bears at all; they are marsupials, just like kangaroos and wombats, and they raise their young in a pouch. They inhabit eastern Australia, from Queensland to New South Wales to Victoria to South Australia.

Now, although koalas resemble bears, they act more like sloths than any other mammal. They are sluggish and spend most of their days lounging in trees, eating and sleeping. Yet, they are even LAZIER than sloths. While sloths typically spend about 10 hours a day sleeping, koalas spend 20 hours a day sleeping! And, on top of that, they only spend about 4 minutes a day in active movement! This does not count eating, of course: koalas spend every other waking moment eating.

Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) in a eucalyptus tree on Magnetic Island in Queensland, Australia. So why do koalas need to eat and sleep so much? As you may know, koalas dine primarily on eucalyptus. Eucalyptus has low nutritional value, yields very little energy, and (here’s the kicker) is extremely poisonous to most animals. This is a terrible combination, but the koalas manage. They have a specially evolved digestive system that allows them to consume the poisonous leaves and a slow metabolic rate that allows them to maximize the nutrients gained from the leaves. To boost these adaptations, koalas sleep throughout the day, effectively conserving their energy. They sure have a hard life.

So that's the koala: the bear-like, sloth impersonating marsupials of Australia. For more information about koalas, check out the Australian Koala Foundation and Wikipedia. Thanks for reading and have a great day!


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