A Closer Look at Baby Koalas’ Fascinating Lives From Joeys To Independence
Baby koalas and one of the most vulnerable little creatures you can imagine. I say imagine, because unless they are very unlucky, you will never see them until they reach at least six months old. These tiny little wonders are transformed in their mothers pouch into these furry, wonderous animals that have become very symbolic of Australian resilience.
In this guide we explore some amazing baby koala facts, and comprehensively answer some of the most frequently asked questions about of of Australia’s most iconic animals.
Baby Koala Facts
Baby Koalas Are Called Joeys
Similarly to other pouch dwelling marsupial babies like baby kangaroos and baby possums, a baby koala is also called a ‘joey‘. As they grow up, males are often called ‘bucks‘ and females are called ‘does‘. Though most people outside of science just call them koalas.
There is no collective noun for a group of young joey koalas, or for any group of koalas in general. It is thought that this is because despite enjoying overlapping territories with other koalas, individuals are quite solitary in nature.
In areas where there are plenty koalas living in overlapping territories, these individuals are sometimes referred to as ‘populations‘ of koala, or ‘koala colonies‘.
Baby Koalas Are Marsupials Not Bears
Koalas are not bears, and should not be referred to as such. Koalas are marsupials, which means they carry their young in a pouch. Bears are placental mammals, which means their young develop inside the mother’s womb. Koalas and bears are not even closely related.
European settlers who arrived in Australia assumed koalas were a type of bear because of their physical similarity to bears, though they are completely different.
Even the taxonomical species name for the koala – Phascolarctos cinereus is inaccurate, based on the original European assumption. In the genus to which koalas belong – Phascolarctos – the ‘arctos‘ comes from the greek ‘arktos‘ which translates as ‘bear‘. Perhaps it’s time scientists reclassified the koala to something more accurate?
Baby Koalas Are Very Tiny And Undeveloped
Newborn joeys are incredibly tiny and vulnerable. They weigh in at as little as a single gram, are roughly 2cm long, with a shape and color similar to a little pink jellybean.
Baby koalas make their way straight into their mothers pouch following birth, and attach themselves to one of their mothers two teats for nourishment. That is where they stay exclusively for around the next six months of their life. It won’t see the world again until this time.
Baby Koalas Are Born Deaf, Blind And Without Any Fur
These fragile little babies are also born blind, deaf and hairless which makes them look very different from the cute, fluffy balls of fur they turn into. It’s not that they just can’t see and hear yet, but they haven’t developed functional eyes and ears when they first move into the pouch.
Over the course of about 22 weeks, their eyes and ears develop, along with their fur coat. Once they reach around 6 months, they will start to poke their head out of the pouch and take their first look at the world as their eyes are now developed and able to open.
Koala Joeys Eat There Mothers Poop When Weaning
Once a koala is able to start investigating the world with its own eyes and ears, and their head poking out of the pouch, they can start to wean from their mothers milk onto a more mature diet. This is usually a few days or weeks after they are able to see – around 6 -7 months.
Before it moves on to the eucalyptus gum tree leaves though, the mothers prepare their your an intermediary diet to prepare them to be able to digest their mature diet. It might sound disgusting, but the mother does this by preparing a special kind of faeces called ‘pap’.
This is runnier than their normal poop pellets, and contains lots of protein. More importantly it contains lots of the micro-organisms that the young joeys will need to prepare their stomachs to digest the leaves of the eucalyptus trees.
If she didn’t do this, the young joeys would never be able to digest and get enough nutrients from their very limited diet.
In order to eat this ‘pap’, the young joey sticks its head out of their mothers pouch and will nuzzle their face against her bum. The mother then defecates, and once her normal bowel movement has passed, the runnier pap follows afterwards. The young joey eats the pap and gets everything they need from it to provide them energy and the bacteria they need.
Baby Koalas Are Born Off Ground
Although koalas appear lazy, they are actually quite strategic in their sleeping habits. Instead of making nests like most animals, Koalas take advantage of the eucalyptus trees in their home ranges by taking quick naps on branches or wedging themselves into the forks of branches.
They even remain in the trees while they give birth. They do not come to ground to bring their young into the world, rather they do so in the safety of the trees. Coming to ground would put both them and their vulnerable baby at risk from opportunistic predators such as dingoes.
Baby Koalas Are Usually Single Births
Most koala mothers give birth to one joey per year, but on rare occasions, twins are born. The breeding season is typically from July until September with most young being born during the summer months when it is warmer.
Mother koalas are sexually mature from around the age of two to four, and can deliver a new addition annually (if they have a suitable mate) for up to 10-15 years of age.
Baby Koala FAQs
What Is The Lifecycle Of A Baby Koala?
The gestation period for a koala once conceived, is around 35 days. Once the joey is born, it will make it’s way directly into the pouch from the mothers birth canal. It does this without any help using the parts of it’s body already developed, such as their strong forelimbs and their sense of smell and touch.
While some of their senses like sight and hearing don’t develop until later, these early developments are critical for finding their way to the safety of the pouch. Once in the pouch, they will attach to a teat which will swell to fill their mouth and ensure they don’t dislodge. The mother tightens the pouch and this is where the baby will stay for around 6-7 months.
From about 7 months (22 – 30 weeks) they will start to emerge from their pouch and move onto a diet of pap in addition to their milk. This pap prepares them for moving on to their leafy, solid diet once fully weaned.
Eventually the koala will come out of the pouch and eat leaves while riding around on their mothers back. They will be fully off milk by the time they reach around their first year of age, though they will generally have left the pouch entirely before this.
They will stay close by to their mother for about another 6 months, until their new sibling appears out of the pouch. However, if the mother goes through a breeding season without giving birth to a new joey, they may stay with their parent for longer.
While a female can breed annually, they tend to have only around 6 to 7 joeys across their average 12-15 year lifespan.
Females tend to live longer than males, and males are more susceptible to accidents near highways and areas of human habitation as they tend to move further away from their original habitat.
How Big Do Baby Koalas Grow?
There are different subspecies of koala, and those that live in the south tend to reach a bit bigger in adulthood than those that live in the north.
They all start out life around 2 cm in length with a weight of around a gram. They will be ten times their birth weight in the first three months and between 6-13 lbs by the time they reach six months old.
Baby koalas in northern parts of Australia, can grow to around 9 to19 lbs (4-8.5 kg) whereas those in the south can grow to around 15 to 29 lbs (7-13 kg) in maturity. They can reach a length of around 24-36 inches (60-85 cm) but again those in the north tend to be on the smaller side.
What Do Baby Koalas Eat?
For the first few months, it’s an exclusive diet of mothers milk for a baby koala joey. Then they start to introduce ‘pap’ into their diet, which is a special form of their mothers poop. This is an essential step toward them moving onto their mature diet of eucalyptus gum tree leaves. They stick to this herbivorous diet for their whole lives.
While they have been known to hang out around other trees too, particularly Acacia, Allocasuarina and Callitris, they tend to prefer to eat the leaves from around 30 of the 600 different species of eucalyptus tree.
Where Do Baby Koalas Live?
Baby koalas typically live in the eucalyptus forests of eastern Australia. They live in the trees and rely on their mother for protection. As they grow older, baby koalas will start to explore further away from their mothers and eventually live independently.
Baby koalas typically stay with their mothers for around 6 months in the pouch then a further six months after they have been weaned off of their mother’s milk. After their first year, they will set up their own independent range, but stay close by, overlapping their territory with their mother. Beyond this in their third year and beyond, they will spread their range further away from the safety of their mother.
What Are The Natural Predators Of Baby Koalas?
Baby koalas have a few natural predators, including dingoes and Tasmanian devils, that will prey on any koalas that find themselves close to ground. They also have to look out for some birds of prey such as owls or Wedge-tailed Eagles.
Where Does The Name Koala Come From?
The word ‘koala’ is thought to have come from an Aboriginal term meaning ‘no drink.’ Koalas require very little water as they get most of the moisture needed from eucalyptus leaves. Although, in times of extreme drought or when eucalyptus leaves lack moisture, koalas will drink from natural sources such as creeks or puddles.