When most people think of Australia, one of the first things that come to mind is the country’s adorable koalas.
These furry creatures are known for their big eyes and sweet faces. They are one of the few animals that look like real-life teddy bears.
You may have a variety of questions about the furry animal.
This article will answer a common question; do koalas have tails, and go over other interesting koala facts.
The majority of people may have never laid eyes on a koala since they are native to a small region in Australia.
Today there are only around 43,000 koalas, which is much smaller compared to the nearly 10 million that existed at the start of the 20th century.
Let’s take a look at them, and go over the variety of amazing facts there are to learn about these odd mammals.
What Are Koalas?
Koalas are mammals and are one of the 335 animals alive today that are classified as marsupials.
Despite their similar appearance and nickname of koala bears, these animals are not related to bears at all.
In fact, they are more closely related to kangaroos, wallabies, possums, and other marsupials.
What makes marsupials unique among mammals is the pouches that mothers use to carry and house their young.
The word marsupial originates from the Latin word ‘marsupium’ which means pouch.
While not all marsupials have pouches like the short-tailed possum, koalas are one of the many that do.
The gestation period for a koala is surprisingly only around 35 days, and they give birth to a single baby, also called a joey.
Their pouches are front facing and are located near the lower section of the front of their bodies. They carry their young for around 6 months.
Their pouches are useful for safe nursing, and allow them to bring their young easily across the treetops.
While not the largest of marsupials, koalas typically weigh between 8.8 to 33 lbs.
They are covered in gray coarse fur, with white patches on their chest, ears, and inner arms.
Their noses are large and black, and their eyes are small and beady.
When fully grown, they stand around 2 to 3 ft tall.
They have bodies similar to bears, but the question still remains, do koalas have tails?
Do Koalas Have Tails?
Koalas do not have tails, despite it being common for marsupials to have tails.
While a tail is lacking completely from the body, its skeleton structure has a vestigial tail, which is the remains of a tail that once was.
Small vestiges indicate that along their evolution history, they once had a tail. This is similar to the vestiges that humans have.
A koala’s closest relative is the wombat, which lacks a tail also.
Scientists think that the tail that the koala used to have was long and bushy.
It is likely their tail was useless in providing more balance, which may have caused it to fade away.
One myth to explain their lack of tail is that the kangaroo grabbed the koala’s tail to pull him out of a hole.
Grabbing so hard broke the koala’s tail off, and left them with a stump.
While koalas may not have tails, they do have some other interesting features that you may not know about.
For example, did you know that they have two opposable thumbs on each hand?
This allows them to grip branches tightly as they climb.
They also have extra-strong stomachs that can digest eucalyptus leaves, which are poisonous to most other animals.
Even the fingertips of the koala are interesting, as they have fingerprints that are eerily similar to humans.
Habitats of Koalas
Koalas are endemic to Australia. Their range covers the southeast, and eastern regions of the country, along with its coastlines of Queensland.
Open woodlands and forests are where they live.
Koalas are arboreal, and spend most of their life in trees, only moving to the ground to move to a different tree.
They are lazy animals and spend around 18 to 22 hours a day sleeping.
While tucked into the tops of the trees, when they are awake koalas feed on eucalyptus leaves.
There are over 600 types of eucalyptus trees, but they only feed on a few.
There are only a few types of tree species that they prefer to feed on.
The right amount of trees and the presence of other koalas are what make a place suitable for them to live.
A large enough forest in the right area can make a suitable habitat for koalas, and they enjoy living in groups much like humans.
They don’t even have to go to the ground, as they get much of the water from the leaves they eat.
The Different Types of Koalas
While there is only one species of koala, there are three subspecies recognized.
The Queensland koala (Phascolarctos cinereus adustus) New South Wales koala (Phasoclarctos cinereus cinereus), and the Victorian koala (Phascolarctos cinereus victor), are the types of koalas living in Australia.
Their size, fur color, and the region they inhabit are some of the differences between the koala subspecies.
All three types of koalas have lean muscular bodies to help them climb and claws that allow them to grip.
Due to their tendency to stay high in the trees, koalas are not usually dangerous.
They can be aggressive if they feel cornered, and use their sharp claws to defend themselves.
The ones that live in the south are slightly larger and have thicker fur.
They may be darker colored and can have brown coloring.
The differences in koalas are likely due to the climate, as the winters in south Australia tend to be bolder than in the north.
What Animals are Koalas Related To?
The wombat is the closest living relative to the koalas, which is another marsupial that lives in Australia.
There are several other marsupials in the world, which are surprisingly only seen in Australia, and the Americas.
Koalas and wombats likely diverged around 40 to 30 million years ago.
While koalas adapted to living an arboreal lifestyle in the trees, wombats stayed on the ground.
It may surprise you to find out that Australia is home to more marsupials than any other place in the world, housing around 120 species.
South and Central America have 90, while North America only has two species.
Some of the marsupials in Australia include:
- Sugar Glider
- Tasmanian Devil
- Greater Bilby
- Eastern Grey Kangaroo
Where Did Koalas Come From
Fossils of koala-like animals have been discovered that date back 25 million years ago.
It is believed that the first koalas likely evolved from their terrestrial wombat-like ancestors.
Continental drift separated Australia from Antarctica, and slowly the mass drifted northward.
Millions of years this occurred, which changed Australia’s climate to be drier, and prompted new evolution to evolve.
The eucalyptus plants that koalas eat began to emerge after Australia’s drift. This new food source allowed koalas to evolve, and become arboreal.
Throughout earth’s history, there have been several types of koalas, many of which are now extinct.
Fossil evidence suggests koalas range was much more widespread than it was today than when the continent was filled with rainforests.
Koalas and Humans
Koalas and humans have an extensive history, dating back to Australia’s Indigenous people that lived on the continent around 60,000 years ago.
Humans hunted koalas and used them as a reliable food source.
Like other animals found on the continent, koalas are intertwined with Aboriginal culture and myths.
Early European settlers setting foot in Australia gave the koala its scientific name Phascolarctos cinerues in 1816, which means ‘ash grey pouched bear’.
These settlers encroached on the natural habitat of koalas, causing them to lose much of their population.
It was also the beginning of the animals being hunted for the fur trade, which lasted from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.
Habitat loss and human activities are one of the main reasons why koalas are a threatened species, and are listed as vulnerable under the IUCN.
Several charities, and organizations are in place to help koalas, which is an easy way to support their preservation.
Laws are also being created to help defend against the damage to their habitats.
Over the last two decades, koalas have seen a population decline of around 50%, possibly more.
Even with their vulnerable status, it is not too late to save these creatures.
So, there you have it! The truth about Australia’s cutest animal.
Koalas may not have tails, but they are still incredibly fascinating creatures.
If you ever have the chance to see one in person, be sure to take a closer look as you might just learn something new!
Do you have any other questions about koalas?
Let us know in the comments below!
And if you found this blog post interesting, be sure to share it with your friends.
After all, knowledge is meant to be shared, and who doesn’t love learning about furry and cute koalas?
Check out our other animal FAQs here:
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