The creature was originally called gula by the australian natives but the penchant of Europeans to add oo’s and aa’s, deformed it into koala. The animal resembles a cute little bear and is sometimes mistakenly called a koala bear, although it has no relation to the bear family.
The genus name, Phascolarctos, is derived from the Greek words phaskolos “pouch” and arktos “bear”. The species name, cinereus, is Latin for “ash coloured”. So one could call it a pouched bear that is ash-colored. Although , some can be tan-colored too.
The Koalas are related to wombats and Marsupial lions, and like the ancestors of wombats, also live in trees. They are usually small and squat, measuring between 60-85 cms and weighing in at between 4-15 Kgs. The males are typically 50% larger than females. Their coat is much denser on the back and lighter on the chest. They have scent glands in the middle of the chest which they use to mark their territories.
Koalas have very interesting adaptations to suit their habitat and eating habits. They eat only eucalyptus leaves of a certain type, some of which are quite toxic, so they have a very large ceacum(an organ between the small and large intestines) to help them digest this diet. Due to such long digestive tracts, their bowel movements can be 100 hours apart. They tend to sleep between 16 to 20 hrs because of this too.
Males have loud, booming territorial calls that they make with their additional vocal chords that are placed between the nose and mouth. These are called velar vocal folds and can produce calls three times longer and 700 times heavier than the normal vocal chords.
Baby koalas, when they get to 6 months old are fed pap which contains bacteria from the mother’s intestine which a baby needs to digest the poisonous leaves that they begin feeding on. The babies stay with the mother for about three years and then go their own solitary way.
The Koala is not in any danger of extinction but due to lots of tree felling in its range, there is a large danger of population fragmentation. To help stop felling of Koala trees please donate to savethekoala.com