Koala on eucalyptus tree

The koala is native to Australia. Often called “Koala Bear” for its similarity to a teddy bear, the koala is not a bear. The koala is a tree-dwelling mammal; it is also a marsupial. A marsupial is an animal that carries its young in a pouch.

Koalas live in the eucalyptus forests of eastern and southeastern Australia. Koalas spend about 10 percent of their day eating and the rest—somewhere between 18 and 22 hours a day—sleeping.

Koalas are adapted for life in trees. They have six opposable “thumbs,” strong legs and sharp claws that make them adept at climbing, an activity they do between naps.

A koala’s front paws have five digits, while its back paws each have one large clawless opposable thumb used to cling to branches and fused digits used to comb through its thick fur.

Koala in eucalyptus tree
Koala in eucalyptus tree

A koala climbs by an impressive series of jumps triggered by its hind legs. To accommodate hanging in trees, the koala has a uniquely-shaped body. It has a curved spine and tailless bottom padded with cartilage and a lot of thick fur well-suited for sitting.

Koalas feast almost exclusively on eucalyptus leaves. (Eucalyptus leaves are extremely high in fiber but are poisonous to many other animals.) To digest such a particular diet, koalas have a close-ended digestive organ called a caecum. The caecum aids in breaking down the fibrous eucalyptus leaves using a method of fermentation.

The koala is a marsupial. Marsupials are pouched animals that bear young differently than other mammals. Undeveloped young are born early, maturing more completely in the safety of a mother’s pouch.

The mother’s pouch is located at the bottom of her body and it opens outward. (Kangaroos are also marsupials. The female kangaroo’s pouch opens upwards.). A baby koala lives in its mother’s pouch where it feeds off the mother’s milk and other secretions until it is old enough to live outside the pouch on its own.

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