The Koala

 

Thank you Sam, for sending me your  post all about Koalas.

In my book ‘Emily’, the main characters own and operate a Wildlife Park, it is a wonderful way to showcase some of our Australian native animals and bring awareness to the environment.  Happy environment equals happy native animals which equals happy people!

Scientific name: Phascolarctidae

The Aboriginal word, ‘Koala’ means ‘no water’.

Koala 1

 1). Koala activity

They are well known for spending most of there lives asleep in trees, for up to 18-20 hours a day.  It has been rumored in the past that this is because koalas become intoxicated from the eucalyptus leaves.  However koalas sleep so much due to their low energy diet.

The few hours they spend awake are used for eating, socialising, moving about and grooming themselves.  Koalas are nocturnal, waking in the cool of night; therefore they use less energy and sweat less saving valuable liquid.

When the koala decides to move trees it descends the tree climbing down backwards.  Once it is at the desired tree it leaps from the ground, clinging onto the tree with its sharp claws then hops up the tree.  Koalas are vulnerable when on the ground, exposing themselves to predators.

Koalas can bee seen balling up in winter to keep warm and the Joeys like to snuggle with their mother.  In the heat of summer they dangle their arms and legs over the branch they are on, to cool down.

2). The Koala’s body

The mouth of the koala is ideal for the consumption of leaves.  First the koala uses its large nose that has a finely tuned sense of smell to choose leaves to eat.

Then with the front teeth, the incisors, it snips the leaves off.  The sharp molars at the back of the mouth chop up the leaves rather than mulch them.  There is a space between the front and back teeth, the ‘diastema,’ improving the koala’s ability to shuffle the leaves around in its mouth.

It has been noticed that in colder parts of Australia the koalas are marginally bigger.  This is because they have extra body fat, to keep them warm in cooler conditions.

The Koala’s paws are a bit like our hands, they have five digits, however, they have two claws that are positioned like our thumbs.  Their two thumbs face the opposite direction to their fingers allowing them to grasp branches better.  Their back paws have no claw on their largest toe and two of the claws are joined together like a comb in which they brush themselves.

Koala’s fur is thick and soft, keeping them snug in cold weather and cool in the heat of summer.  The fur is resistant to water allowing rain to run off and not soak in.  The thick, soft fur on their bottom also makes for a more comfortable sit, on the solid branches they dwell on.

The colour of fur is individual for each koala. It can fluctuate from light grey to brown and all the shades in between.  Usually there is white fur on the inner body: the front, chest, arms, legs, ears and mouth.  Male koalas have scent glands in their chest that colour the surrounding fur brown.  The fur on koala’s bottoms is mottled with white, breaking up the colour, which helps to conceal them.

Koala 2

 3). More interesting facts

  • Koala’s are native to Australia
  • The average weight of a koala is around 9 kilograms but they can weigh up to 14 kilograms (Adult).
  • There lifespan is about 13-18 years (In the wild)
  • A baby koala is called a Joey.
  • Its closest living relatives are the wombats.
  • Koalas are marsupials, meaning the females give birth to semi-developed young and have pouches.
  • Koalas are one of the few mammals that solely eat eucalyptus leaves.
  • Eucalyptus is toxic to humans and many animals because it cannot be digested. However, koala’s have a very special gut that measure’s about two metres long and is high with super micro organisms that are capable of detoxifying the toxicity of the leaves.
  • The koala is not actually a bear.
  • Koalas obtain 90% of the liquids they need from their diet of eucalyptus leaves and only drink in special circumstances such as a drought or when
  • They are excellent swimmers and can cross rivers if needed, in order to escape g. heavy flooding.

4). Diet

  • Koalas are herbivores and their diet is a well rounded one, because they only like to eat eucalyptus leaves, of specific species, however, Koalas like to vary their diet just a little and have even been seen eating wattle and tea tree.
  • Each day they eat about ½ kg of fresh leaves.
  • They are set in their eating choices which are mainly eucalypt leaves, but sometimes, they do, and very rarely eat non-eucalypts leaves.  (This is when they have been spotted gathering together, eating and sleeping in non-eucalypts).
  • The type of eucalyptus a koala eats depends on what species grow in the area they live.  For example: Around NSW, in particular, the Sydney areas, the Koala is attracted to the leaves of the Red Gums and Mahoganies are there favourites. Depending upon which state, as in the Northern areas, the Koala favours the Tallowwood and Forest Red Gum and in the west Koalas prefer the River Red Gum and Ribbon Gum.
  • Koalas choose areas to live that have up to three favourite species of eucalypts and eat from them often.
  • Sometimes they are found enjoying other trees, such as; Acacia trees, She-oak, Paperbark trees, they use these trees for sleeping, resting and to use as shelter during the day, heatwaves and harsh weather like storms.
  • Koalas are very particular when selecting eucalyptus leaves to eat.  There are over 600 species of eucalyptus in Australia and koalas only eat 40-50 species.
  • In spring koalas love feasting on the new growth but settle for the mature leaves the rest of the year.
  • Koalas have a diet that does not give them very much energy.  To help with this they digest food very slowly, which helps to draw out every bit of energy from their food.

5). Where do Koalas live?

Koalas can be found from Queensland and New South Wales to Victoria and South Australia.  Koalas live in tall eucalyptus forests and low eucalyptus woodlands.

Koalas prefer to live individually, until mating season.  Each koala selects a group of trees to become their ‘home range’.  The home range contains all that the koala needs to survive.  Within the home range there are trees classified into two groups, food trees and home range trees.  Food trees are eucalypts that the koalas favour and eat from regularly, and home range trees are the markers of the boundaries to the home range.  Koalas avoid venturing outside of their ‘home range’ and usually stay within this perimeter most of their lives, while their young population goes forth and find their own home range.

The territory of a koala is determined by the amount of eucalyptus trees and the quality of them.  The home range of each individual koala over laps other koala’s home range trees allowing for contact with others.  Koalas can easily identify each home range.  It has been noted by researchers that a koala’s home range must contain at least one and up to three of their preferred species of eucalyptus or they will abandon the area.

Koalas are very picky so they usually live in areas with good conditions to grow healthy eucalypts, which means sufficient rain and suitable soil.  Areas with poor soil will often be avoided as the eucalyptus leaves are much more potent due to the conditions.

koala 3

 6)Breeding and raising of the young

From September to March is mating season.  During this period the koalas become livelier and the males can be heard bellowing loudly.  Females are of breeding age at three or four years of age.  Depending on the health, environment quality and other circumstances koalas will have one Joey a year.  Otherwise they can have a Joey every two or three years.  Over the lifetime of a female koala she gives birth to around 5 or 6.

Female koalas only conceive one baby every pregnancy and from conception to birth it is only 34 to 36 days.  When the Joey is born it is approximately 2 centimeters long (size of a broad bean), pink, hairless, blind and weighs less than a large paper clip.  It is totally at the mercy of the mother having no ears, sight or fur.  Amazingly the Joey crawls from its mother’s womb to the pouch on its own seeming to know where to go.  Although it has only just been born it has a keen sense of smell, strong limbs and claws as well as a fine sense of touch.

While in the pouch it suckles the mother’s teat and fills the mouth so it stays connected to its food source.  The mother uses the muscles at the top of the pouch to close it.  The Joey drinks only milk from its mother for about 7 months while developing.

After 22 to 30 weeks the Joey is introduced to paps, which are the leaves that the mother has eaten and partly digested. It is thought that pap comes from an opening in between the small and large intestines.   At first the Joey eats the pap from the pouch, but as the Joey starts to grow in size, it is then capable of crawling out from the pouch to eat from the top of its mother’s belly.  Eventually the young koala climbs onto the back of its mother and eats the eucalyptus leaves for itself.

As the Joey grows older and can no longer crawl inside the pouch the teat elongates and reaches outside the pouch.  The young koala stays with the mother while the milk supply continues.  The teat goes back to normal size when there is a new Joey so the cycle can continue.  If the mother does not reproduce that year the Joey will stay with the mother and continue to supplement its diet with milk for longer allowing it better hope of living when it leaves.

The koala mother and her young enjoy a very close relationship. She happily carries her offspring around until it is old enough to be independent.

By Sam (Carer/Caring for Wildlife and Loving Nature)

sam wildlife carer

Emily is available from www.amazon.com/dp/0992477409, Angus and Robertson/Bookworld and other online stores in Paperback and Ebook

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Why are Eucalyptus Trees Magnificent?

Margaret Loveday – Monday, June 08, 2015

My passion is to entwine the ‘Threads of Love’ throughout my book series and this comes also, in the form of Love for the environment and to bring awareness of the beauty and uniqueness of the Australian Bush and its flora and fauna.

In my book ‘Emily’ I have written about Green Coastal Wildlife Park, which is a fictitious Park that showcases all the elements and philosophies that I believe would help to achieve the love and respect that nature deserves. It is an ideal ‘Natural Wonderland’, a compilation of places I have visited and enjoyed.

I would like to contribute to this awareness, by sharing on this magnificent Australian species of trees, called Eucalyptus.

Eucalyptus (Gum) trees

The Eucalyptus Trees are unique and very special trees; they are beautiful and can be found in almost every part of Australia. There are about 700 species and only 15 species of these were introduced to other countries.

The Two Characteristics of the Eucalyptus Trees:       

  1. The unique floral display is like no other tree, and
  2. The fruits (or gum nuts), that each tree produces.

These two characteristics are what makes them easy to recognise, and sets them apart.

The Flowers

Their flowers are not petals, but a ‘showy’ of numerous fluffy stamens, that come in a kaleidoscope of many colours, for example, here are some of the different colours of the flowers found around Australia:-

  • Western Australia – yellow, green, pale yellow or red orange tightly clustered flowers.
  • Queensland – red, orange or pink
  • South Australia – red, white, pale yellow
  • New South Wales – pink, white, dark pink / purplish
  • Northern Territory – scarlet flowers and others are stunning orange with bright yellow tipped stamens (look like a flame), orange.
  • Victoria – white
  • Eastern ranges to coast of mainland Australia – masses of white showy flowers
  • Sandy coastal, swampy south west corner of Australia – red
  • Tasmania – white

Eucalyptus sideroxylon

All the stamens are enclosed in a cap, composed of the fused sepals, hence the woody fruits called gum nuts.

Nearly all Eucalyptus trees are evergreen, different shades of green/blue/white in colour. Some tropical species lose their leaves at the end of the dry season, others Eucalyptus leaves are covered with oil glands, which helps to prevents water loss.

Eucalyptus Tree Identification

Due to the many different varieties ofs Eucalyptus trees, identification has been made easier and this is now done by observing the bark of the trees. This process has allowed them to be placed into five simple bark categories.

A). Bark Identification

  1. Stringybark: – consists of strands which can be pulled off in long pieces. Usually it is thick with a spongy texture. (Stands of thick long pieces – spongy)
  2. Ribbon:- where the bark comes of in thin long pieces but still loosely attached in some places. They can be long ribbons, firmer or twisted. (Long loosely ribbons)
  3. Ironbark: – is hard, rough and deeply furrowed. It is soaked with dried sap exuded by the tree which gives it a dark red or even black colour. (Hard, rough soaked sap)
  4. Tessellated:- bark is broken up into many distinctive flakes. These flakes are like cork and can flake off. (many cork like flakes)
  5. Box:- has shorter fibre’s (Short fibre’s)

Spotted Gum ForestB) Having them divided into only three main groups, helps to know what areas /locations they are found.

Three Main Groups for Location Identification

  1. Forest trees
  2. Woodland trees
  3. Mallee trees

The introduction of Eucalyptus trees into other countries

Following the Captain Cook expedition in 1770, and Sir Joseph Banks a botanist, was the driving force that subsequently started the introduction of the Eucalyptus trees to the world. Today these magnificent trees can be found in countries such as; California, Brazil, Spain, Morocco, Uganda and Israel.

The interest was due to the many valuable uses these trees provide and the importance they have economically, such as:

Being one of the fastest growing sources of wood, saw milling, pulp, charcoal, timber for building homes, bridges, furniture, musical instruments, firewood, essential oils (therapeutically), essential oils (cleaning products), essential oils (used as a natural insecticide), paper, tissue, mulch, fertiliser, dyes and more.

In Israel

These trees were recognised for their fast growth, as an evergreen tree, providing shade for smaller trees and because of the large clusters of flowers that blossom almost all year round. This added bonus has made the bees and the bee keepers very happy, producing larger quantities’ of honey for longer periods during the year.

The Eucalyptus Camaldulensis, imported from Australia was used as an aid to dry out swamps; this significantly reduced the amount of mosquitoes, thus reducing risk of malaria.

Fire

Eucalypts are well adapted for periodic fires; in fact most species are dependent on them for the spread and regeneration. They grow back very quickly. However, Alpine Ash and Mountain Ash only grow back from seeds.

Frost

Most Eucalypts are not frost tolerant, but species like the, Snowy gums, Eucalyptus paucilflora, is capable of withstanding cold, snow and frost about, -20 degrees

snow gum

Branch Dropping

Eucalyptus trees have a habit of dropping entire branches as they grow. That’s why when you visit a Eucalypt forest you see the ground littered with dead branches.  They say that some species of gum trees drop branches un-expectantly, known as “summer branch drop”, such as the River Red gums. It has been noticed to occur mostly during droughts, when trees shed whole branches to save water. Some of these branches weigh a lot, due to the high density and high resin content. Therefore, it is best not to camp under a large Eucalypt.

The Ghost gum, Eucalyptus papuana, sometimes called the ‘widow maker’, named thus because of the high number of workers killed by the falling branches, as they sat or camped underneath them. Note, these branches and even very large ones, can be shed at any time so be mindful, in particular during the summer months.

The magnificent Red Gums, trunks and branches change from orange in summer and lighter orange/pinkish grey in the winter. In December these trees are adorned with bunches of white flowers. When I see them in great numbers up high on a mountain or fly over them, it looks like snow, absolutely brilliant.

Kino

The sap which exudes from any break in the bark is called kino. This is the trees normal reaction to mechanical damage, it oozes, like the tree is bleeding and it usually is bright red in colour. Some species ooze large amounts from their wounds, but with the air and sun exposure the sap hardens.

Kino is used in different ways, for example, having a natural defense mechanism it protects the wood from ship worm and borers, and the tannin, has been used for dyeing fabrics.

Other interesting facts about the Eucalyptus trees

  • On warm days, in Eucalyptus forests sometimes you can see a bluish smog-like haze, it is the volatile oils (compounds known as terpinoids), that the leaves emit, hence the name Blue Mountains, in Australia.
  • Several Eucalypts species are among the tallest trees in the world, namely the E. Regnans, the Australian ‘Mountain Ash’ and the tallest named Centurion is over 327 feet tall, (approximately 100m).
  • The Ghost gum’s leaves were used by Aboriginals to catch fish; the leaves contain a substance that stuns the fish.
  • Didgeridoos, known as an important wind instrument, were made by tree trucks that usually were hollowed out by termites.
  • They oxygenate the air.
  • Are useful homes for many beneficial insects and other wildlife such the koala and the many varieties of birds.
  • And for us to respect, admire and enjoy.

Laughing Kookaburra

Love and Appreciate the Miracle and the Gift of Nature

     By Margaret Ann Loveday  (Lecturer and Guide on Wildlife.  Lover of Nature)

References: Brooker.I.,Kleining,D. (1996) Eucalyptus, An illustrated guide  to identification, Reed Books, Port Melbourne.; Brooker.M.I.H.;Kleining,D.A.(2006). Field Guide to the Eucalyptus. Melbourne;Bloomings.3rd edition.;Wikipedia’Eucalyptus.;Eucalyptus camaldulensis in wildflowers of Israel, E.Aloni & M.Livne.;Brooker.M.I.H.;Kleining,D.A.(2006). Field Guide to the Eucalyptus. Melbourne;Bloomings.3rd edition.;Wikipedia’List of Eucalyptus’.

         You are welcome to enjoy reading ‘Emily’, available in ebook and paperback   www.amazon.com/dp/0992477409   or other online stores

   For Australian online store try Angus and Robertson/Bookworld

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