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Although the koala resembles a bear, it is not a bear. Actually, this cuddly little mammal is a member of a group called marsupials. Marsupials are characterized by a pouch (called marsupium) in which a female rears its young. Other animals in this group include kangaroos, opossums, wallabies, and wombats. The koala and most other marsupials are native to Australia. Below are interesting and fun facts about the koala.
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The koala is 2-3 feet tall and weighs about 20-30 pounds. Koalas have wool-like fur and specialized hands and feet to make climbing easy. Their hands have two thumbs and long, sharp claws and the bottom of their feet have ridged skin for traction. Unlike many marsupials who have a pouch that opens at the top, koalas have a pouch that opens at the bottom. The reason for this was to keep dirt from entering their pouches when digging. Although koalas don't burrow (dig) as in prehistoric times, the pouch remains the same.
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Koalas are slow moving, so to protect themselves from predators they have adapted to living in eucalyptus trees. Once they could be found living across Australia but today they are found only in eastern Australia, where eucalyptus trees are plentiful.
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Behavior & Activity
Koalas are not very friendly with other koalas. They only interact with each other when mating or disputing for territory. The koala is nocturnal (active at night) and will spend about 18 hours a day sleeping and resting.
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A koala's diet consists mostly of eucalyptus leaves. They will eat from a variety of eucalyptus trees and it is said that the leaves on each have a different taste. Some leaves are poisonous but the koala is able to break down the toxic oils. Most of their water comes from the leaves they eat.
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Koalas breed once a year and normally give birth to one baby (called a joey). Gestation lasts about 35 days. At birth, the joey is about 3/4 of an inch long and weighs about 1/50 of an ounce. Although small and unable to see or hear, the joey can climb from the birth canal to the pouch using its strong hands and legs. Once inside, he or she will attach to a nipple to drink milk and will remain there as it grows during a 5 to 7 month period. After leaving the pouch, the joey will return to feed. After he or she is weaned (by 12 months), they only return to the pouch for protection. At 18 months, the joey is ready to find a home of its own.
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Once there were millions of koalas. Now there are fewer than 100,000. During the 1920s, their numbers dropped dramatically (about eight million) because they were hunted for their fur. Today, they are protected by the Australian government and international law. However, an estimated 4,000 koalas are killed a year, mainly by vehicles and dogs.
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The following are more interesting and fun koala facts:
• Koalas have pouches in their cheeks to store food to snack on at a later time.
• They can eat so many eucalyptus leaves that they smell like a cough drop.
• Koalas eat small amounts of dirt to help digest the leaves they eat.
• They can climb up to 150 feet in a tree and are able to leap from treetop to treetop.
• In the wild, the koala lives about 10 years.
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Koala image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Friendly_Female_Koala.JPG
Baby koala image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cutest_Koala.jpg