Wed, Nov 25, 2009 - Page 9 News List

The life of a koala

By Emine Saner

When a koala dies, a new occupant won’t move into its home range (a group of several trees that they regularly visit) for about a year — the time it takes for scratches on the trees and scent markings to disappear. Then, as long as they are not disturbed, koalas keep their home ranges throughout their lives — up to 18 years.

Often called koala bears because of their cuddly teddy-bear appearance, they are in fact marsupials — and can be aggressive. They breed once a year (koalas usually only produce a single cub, or joey, though occasionally give birth to twins), and once a cub is born — 2cm long, blind and hairless after a gestation period of 35 days — it relies on its sense of smell and touch to crawl into its mother’s pouch, where it stays for the next six months, feeding on milk. After it emerges, the cub will remain with its mother until it is one year old, riding on her back or clinging to her belly.

The adult koala’s days are filled with sleeping and eating. They survive on a diet of predominantly eucalyptus leaves and bark — to most animals, eucalyptus leaves are incredibly poisonous, but the koala’s digestive system has evolved to manage the toxins. It is often said that eucalyptus makes koalas “stoned” — probably because they sleep for up to 18 hours a day, wedged between branches of eucalyptus trees — but this isn’t true: Their high-fiber, low-nutrition diet means they have to sleep to conserve energy.

They also don’t tend to drink, getting almost all the water they need from leaves. Indeed, the name koala is thought to come from a name in one Aboriginal language meaning “doesn’t drink.”

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