Long before we started going loopy for lemurs, slow loris and sloths, we had koalas — the original poster child for cute and cuddly animals that make us go “Aww!”
Although most people know that koalas live in Australia and eat eucalyptus leaves, there is so much more to know. Here’s the lowdown on the marsupials from Down Under.
1. Although they are commonly called koala "bears," koalas are marsupials and have nothing at all to do with bears, except that they are cute like a teddy bear.
2. The word “koala” is thought to have come from the Aboriginal word meaning “no drink.” Although koalas do drink water on occasion, most of their hydration requirements are fulfilled by the moisture they get from eating eucalyptus leaves.
3. They eat about two and a half pounds of eucalyptus leaves a day; so many, in fact, that they take on the fragrance of the oil ... and end up smelling like cough drops.
4. A newborn koala is the size of a jellybean. Called a joey, it is a while before it reaches full-blown ridiculously cute status; joeys are born blind, earless and without fur.
5. After birth, a mamma koala will carry the jellybean baby in her pouch for about six months; after it emerges, the newborn clings to its mother's back or belly until it is around a year old.
6. Tucked into trees, koalas sleep for up to 18 hours during the day.
7. Koalas may look soft and cuddly, but to the touch, not so much. They have a thick woolly fur that protects them from both heat and cold and also helps to repel water. In fact, their fur is the thickest of all marsupials.
8. In ideal conditions in the wild, male koalas live to about the age of 10; females may live a few years longer.
9. There were once millions of koalas, but the popularity of their sturdy fur resulted in massive hunting of them in the 1920s and '30s, leading to a major decline in their numbers.
10. Habitat destruction, traffic deaths and attacks by dogs are all threats to koalas in the wild. The International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species lists koalas as "vulnerable" with decreasing numbers, estimating in 2014 that there are between 100,000 and 500,000 adults in the wild. In 2019, however, the Australian Koala Foundation announced they believe the koala is "functionally extinct." The group believes there are no more than 80,000 koalas in Australia.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information since it was published in September 2013.