The koala is a famous marsupial herbivore found on the east and south coast of Australia. This family itself is ancient, about 30 million years old, it was very diverse, numbering more than 15 species. It is likely that both tree kangaroos and koalas had a common ancestor.
When James Cook discovered Australia, he did not notice this amazing animal. Koalas are first mentioned in travel reports in 1798. But the scientific description of the animal was made only in 1802. The next year, the koala was caught and studied in detail.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the gullible animal became the target of mass extermination because of its fur. Today, these cute, harmless animals are the adornment of any zoo.
Despite all the public attention to them, the meek disposition of the animal hides a lot of interesting things. And the image of a koala is in many ways a composite of myths, which we will try to debunk.
Koala is a relative of the bear. The very name of the genus of koalas - Phascolarctos, comes from the addition of Greek words, literally meaning "bear with a sack." The English-speaking inhabitants of Australia called the harmless animals exactly bears for their external resemblance to representatives of this family. People simply did not see the bag. Even today, the phrase "koala bear" is used throughout the world. But the closest relatives of this mammal are wombats. Koalas are part of a group of marsupials found in Australia and New Guinea.
Koala is a lazy, sedentary animal. The usual state of a koala is half-asleep sitting on a tree. This is how the animal manifests itself during the day in front of a person. In this state, it spends 16-18 hours a day. But at night, the animal is transformed. It begins to climb trees in search of food, it can go down to move to new branches. Koalas can even quite deftly jump from tree to tree, they can swim. At the moment of danger, these marsupials can accelerate at a gallop to a speed of 40 km / h. Once the Australians even filmed a video of a koala chasing an ATV, eventually clutching a wheel. In general, a sedentary lifestyle is determined by the characteristics of nutrition - there is very little protein in eucalyptus leaves.
Koala practically does not drink water. This myth comes from the name of the animal. In the Darak language it sounds like "gula". Probably the word literally means "does not drink." It seems that even Aboriginal people have noticed the koalas' adherence to a dry diet. In fact, the animal needs moisture, but most of it gets from the succulent leaves of the eucalyptus and from the dew drops. And in times of drought or illness, the koala can even go down to the stream and drink water from there. It is known that males need more water, and females sometimes have enough moisture from only leaves.
Koala is a harmless creature. The koala looks like a large teddy bear, absolutely harmless. Under normal conditions, this marsupial is really not aggressive. But when the mating season comes, the males arrange real fights for the sake of their chosen ones. The case may even result in serious injuries. If a person turns out to be next to an angry koala, then he may not be well. Marsupials can seriously injure each other.
Koala is a silent beast. Few people manage to hear the koala. But these marsupials are able to communicate with fellows. Sounds like snoring or belching. Mothers communicate with cubs with quiet clicks or grunts. Also, a cute animal is capable of emitting monstrous moans, a cross between the sounds of a circular saw and a cat's cry. The Australians attributed these sounds to a certain spirit of the forest, unable to believe that a cute koala was making them. In the mating season, the calls of the male can be carried hundreds of meters. In general, the koala prefers not to waste a few forces on loud sounds.
Because of the thick fur, the koala feels uncomfortable. The durable and thick fur of the koala makes it comfortable during the unfavorable rainy season in July. The structure of the wool is such that it does not allow water to pass through. And the fur does not let the hot sun rays through in January, creating a comfort zone for the owner.
Koalas sleep so much being drunk with eucalyptus leaves. Eucalyptus leaves are rich in toxic phenols and terpenes. In autumn, hydrocyanic acid, which is deadly for most animals, also appears in them. But the koala's powerful liver is able to neutralize these natural poisons. Eucalyptus leaves also have a narcotic effect. Koalas spend their whole life as if "high". But they sleep a lot not for this reason, but for the sake of restoring energy. It is spent mainly on the digestion of food.
Koalas eat only eucalyptus leaves. The animal's menu is still not so monotonous. Koalas can also eat leaves of acacia, leptospermum and tea tree. And not all types of eucalyptus are suitable for these marsupials - they choose those in which there are fewer poisons. As a result, out of 800 plant species, koalas use only 120, and according to other sources, even 30.
The koala can be kept at home. It is forbidden to do this in any country in the world, even in Australia. The only exceptions are zoo staff or scientists caring for orphaned or sick koalas. They receive special permission from the authorities, but are obliged to return the animals to their natural conditions as soon as they recover. The unique physiology and diet of koalas requires special training from people.
All koalas smell like eucalyptus. Most koalas smell like they've recently eaten a cough drop with eucalyptus extract. This smell is pleasant. But mature males usually exude a strong scent from their glands. This musky scent overpowers the scent of eucalyptus. And young koalas have not yet had time to smell their main food. Mothers teach their offspring to eat different types of plants in order to be able to balance their diet. Different leaves act as a natural insect repellent.
Man no longer destroys koalas, this is strictly prohibited. Currently, koalas are under state protection. Despite the fact that koalas were massively destroyed in the 19th-20th centuries, their population was restored. Today they are threatened only by fires, deforestation, as well as ticks brought from other countries. However, sometimes populations grow so that this leads to depletion of the food supply for animals. On Kangaroo Island in the 2000s, environmentalists even suggested shooting half of the koalas, but this decision was not made by the authorities for fear of deterioration of the image. And in early 2015, 686 koalas were destroyed by humans in Victoria. So the authorities reduced the population, allowing other animals to eat normally. This news is terrifying, but this was the only way to save the bulk of the koalas in the area.
There are several types of koalas. Science distinguishes one kind of koalas. However, the scientific community is trying to distinguish two or three subspecies (like human "races"). But there is no consensus on this score, as well as whether there is such a division in nature at all.
Koalas feed on their own excrement. This myth is only partially true. The main food of adult animals is still leaves. Feeding on excrement can be discussed in relation to baby koalas. For the first six months, they consume mother's milk, and then switch to feeding on the mother's excrement. During this period, her body stops completely digesting the leaves, giving a semi-prepared gruel at the exit. Adult animals eat rough food, which is due to the bacterial environment in the intestines. Microorganisms help to digest rough food. And young koalas get the necessary microflora by eating partially digested leaves in their mother's excrement.
Koalas are intelligent animals. Most species evolve to improve their brains. But in the case of the koala, the opposite happened. In the ancestors of the animal, the brain filled the skull completely. But due to the special nutrition and lack of energy, 40% of the skull of a modern koala is filled with cerebrospinal fluid. The brain-to-body weight ratio is only 1.2%. Of course, such low intelligence is reflected in animals. For example, in the event of a fire, koalas do not descend from the tree and do not run away, but simply press tightly against the trunk. And they cannot resist aggression either.
Koalas have no natural enemies. On the trees, no one competes with them or quarrels with them. But on the ground, koalas can become victims of domestic dogs or dingoes. Foolish marsupials are not aware of the danger and do not run away, being torn to pieces. But the meat of these marsupials is not eaten by other animals because of the strong smell of eucalyptus. Today, scientists are increasingly sounding the alarm - the decrease in the number of eucalyptus trees causes stress, and its consequence is chlamydia. Koalas are generally considered sickly animals, which determines the monotonous diet. These animals also often suffer from cystitis, conjunctivitis, sinusitis, which turns into pneumonia.
Koalas can be bred in Russia. Keeping koalas in captivity is a difficult task, especially in our environment. The fact is that every day this animal needs at least a kilogram of fresh eucalyptus leaves. In our country, such trees grow only in Sochi, and the domestic species of koalas is not suitable for food.