Koalas are marsupial animals found in Australia. They are sometimes referred to as “koala bear”. Koalas possess poaches necessary for the development of their offspring.
They are known to have grey fur, and strongly clawed feet that play a key role in their survival on tree branches.
Despite being called “koala bears”, koalas are not bears. They are not even related to bears. So why do people refer to them as koala bears if they have no relationship with bears? This could be because Koalas have certain resemblances to teddy bears.
If a Koala is not a bear, what then is it? Koalas are marsupial mammals. They are similar to kangaroos and wombats. If koalas similar to kangaroos, one may wonder if they have pouches too.
Do Koalas Have Pouches? Yes, koalas have pouches just like their relatives, the kangaroos. It is worthy of note that, pouches are reserved for only female Koalas as they use this to carry their newborns until they get older.
The koala pouches, however, are quite unusual compared to that of the kangaroos. A kangaroo pouch usually opens forward towards their heads while that of the koala opens backward towards the hind leg.
Koala Pouche Direction
For most marsupials, such as kangaroos, their pouches face upwards. This way, the newborns face the same direction as their mother. Other marsupials such as the wombat and the koala, however, have their pouches facing backwards.
Rear-facing marsupial pouches may sound strange, but they come with advantages. The backwards-facing pouches provide better protection for the young ones as opposed to the kangaroos’ front-facing pouches.
Koalas spend a lot of time hopping from one tree to another, usually in search of food. It would be dangerous for them to carry out such activities with open pouches like the kangaroos.
Koala Pouches & the Special Muscles
You may wonder how koalas carry their babies with upside-down pouches and still manage not to drop them. Well, koalas have special sphincter muscles at the opening of their pouches which ensures the safety of their young ones.
The muscles close the opening of the pouch so that the baby stays in there safely.
Other marsupials also have sphincter muscles, including the Kangaroo. In their case, however, the muscles are used to close in and keep the babies warm.
Baby Koalas (joey)
Joey is the name used to refer to a koala baby as well as all marsupials’ babies, including kangaroos, possums, wombats, and sugar gliders.
A mother koala carries her joey for a gestation period of around 35 days. At birth, a joey is only 2 inches long and weighs half a gram.
The joey remains in its mother’s pouch for at least 6 months. At this age, the joey is usually too big to fit into its mother’s pouch. When this happens, joey rides on its mother’s back as they go about their daily activities.
At 12 months, the joey becomes completely weaned. When male koalas get to 3-4 years, they become sexually active. For females, they start as early as 2 years. Koalas generally have a life span of 10 – 15 years and each mature koala female gives birth to an offspring every year
Koalas usually mate between February and August. During this period, you may observe an increase in Koala movements. The previous joeys leave their mothers during mating season and begin life on their own.
However, the joey may stick around if the mother does not become pregnant. Scientists have observed that joeys that stay with their mothers after being weaned have lower chances of survival as opposed to those who leave.
Koala Babies Holding Onto the Pouches
Keeping the babies inside the pouch does not rest entirely on the mother as the newborns also play a role. After birth, a joey has to locate its mother’s pouch without any assistance.
Newborns have to crawl from the birth canal to their mother’s pouch. These newborns are generally blind and earless and thus, rely on instincts and strong senses of touch and smell to locate their mothers’ pouches.
After finding the pouch, the babies grip onto the pouch and hang on as tight as possible. Afterwards, they reach out to one of their mothers’ teats, which provides extra grip for the babies until they become old enough.
Out of the Pouch
Baby Koalas stay in their mother’s pouches until they are about 22 weeks old. They spend those weeks in the pouches with their eyes closed, while developing their fur.
The babies begin to peep outside the pouches the moment their eyes open. At around 30 weeks old, the newborns hardly spend time in the pouches. They only return to the pouch to eat and sleep.
When baby koalas get to 36 weeks, they stop being dependent on their mothers for food. As a result, they spend less time in the pouch. The babies become able to feed themselves at this age. However, most baby koalas still nurse at 36 weeks. They continue to stay with their mothers until they get to about 12 months old.
A peek at a joey’s diet
As stated earlier, a joey remains in its mother’s pouch until it is about 22 weeks old. During this period, the mother’s milk is its only source of food.
The joey opens its eyes around 22 weeks and gets introduced to a substance known as “pap,”. The mother produces this substance alongside normal milk.
Pap is a specialized form of dropping, which helps the joey to transition from milk to eucalyptus food. The pap usually comes from the mother’s caecum. The mother koala sends the micro-organisms present in her digestive system to the young one.
The micro-organisms are necessary for easy digestion of eucalyptus leaves. They are also a great source of proteins for the newborn.
The joey keeps feeding on pap until it comes of age to leave its mother’s pouch. Baby Koalas begin to feed on eucalyptus leaves the moment they get out of their mother’s pouches. The joey then rides on its mother’s back while looking for fresh leaves to munch on.
Although the joey leaves its mother’s pouch, it does not stop nursing until the age of 12 months. The mother’s teats elongate and protrude outside the pouch to make it easy for the joey to nurse.
Mature koalas feed completely on eucalyptus leaves. A koala can eat up to one kilogram of eucalyptus leaves per day. This is fascinating because eucalyptus is considered to be poisonous to most animals.
Scientists have observed that koalas do not drink a lot of water since they get liquid content from munching on juicy eucalyptus leaves all day. However, they rely on various sources of water to stay hydrated during heat waves and droughts.
The life Joeys after departing from their mothers
Joeys leave their mothers to begin their own home at around 12 months old. The young ones become used to being around their mothers, but suddenly have to leave. Life becomes a little bit difficult for them as they have to establish their territories.
The baby koala begins to search for a new place to call home; somewhere with lots of eucalyptus leaves, which is at the same time near other koalas. The young Koala must also search for a place that is safe from all kinds of threats including habitat destruction.
Final Thoughts: Do Koalas Have Pouches?
While koalas are well known worldwide, they are currently at risk of being extinct. This is as a result of the constant destruction of their natural habitats due to deforestation and wildfires. With most trees gone, koalas are forced to spend more time on the ground searching for food and shelter. This exposes them to certain risks like being hit by cars or even being attacked by wild animals.
Are koalas born in the pouch?
When a baby koala “joey” is born, it is born with underdeveloped ears and eyes along with the eyes being closed. Joeys make their way from the birth canal to the pouch with no form of help from the mother, reaching up through the abdomen and fur to the pouch opening.
Do all marsupials have pouches?
Not all marsupials have pouches!
The word ‘marsupial‘ may come from the Latin word ‘marsupium’, meaning pouch, does not mean all marsupials possess pouches. The primary objective of the pouch is to provide support to offspring while they suckle on the nipples. In some species, the pouch is just a fold like the pockets of a new jacket.
How big are Koalas?
In South Australia, koalas are noticeably bigger with thicker and often browner fur than their northern counterparts. The reason for the disparity is believed to be linked with adaptations to colder winters experienced south of the country.
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