Basic Facts About Koalas
The koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) is an tree-living herbivorous marsupial native to Australia, and the only living representative of the family Phascolarctidae.
© Angela Heine
Koalas consume eucalyptus leaves and bark from 12 different eucalyptus tree species. They also consume mistletoe and box leaves. Koalas consume eucalyptus leaves and bark from 12 different eucalyptus tree species. They also consume mistletoe and box leaves.
There are fewer than 100,000 koalas in the wild.
The koala's historic range stretches across Australia. Today they can be found only in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. Koalas prefer to live in eucalyptus forests, coastal islands, and low woodlands.
Koalas are nocturnal mammals and sleep for up to 16 hours a day. They are arboreal, which means that they live in trees. They do not live in big groups but rather prefer to be alone.
Koalas breed once a year. Gestation lasts 35 days, after which one koala is born. The baby koala is very small when it is born, and lives in its mother's pouch for five to seven months. After this time, koalas gradually become independent and survive on their own.
Once numbering in the millions, koalas suffered major declines in population during the 1920s when they were hunted for their fur. Today, habitat destruction, traffic deaths, and attacks by dogs kill an estimated 4,000 koalas yearly.
Increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere from climate change are crippling koalas' food supply, reducing the available nutrient level of the already deficient leaves, according to researchers from several Australian universities. Soon these tree-loving marsupials may not be able to get the protein they need to reproduce.
Both species are already threatened by other problems: Koalas face drought, development and exotic species; and butterfly fish face exploitation by the aquarium trade as well as coral die-off from excessive fertilizer, sediment and pollution.
Unless action is taken soon, climate change could just be the final punch that knocks them off the planet.
Height: Koalas on average grow to be 2 feet tall.
Weight: About 30 pounds.
Lifespan: As long as 17 years, although high mortality rates (due to car fatalities and dogs) for males seeking mates lower their life expectancy to 2 to 10 years.