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About Koalas: Facts

Koalas can be cute and relaxed, but they are also exceptionally fascinating. There are so many interesting facts about koalas that you won't find in textbooks! Here we answer the most common questions about koalas and a few you never knew to ask!

interesting facts about koalas

About Koalas: Facts

Koalas can be cute and relaxed, but they are also exceptionally fascinating. There are so many interesting facts about koalas that you won't find in textbooks! Here we answer the most common questions about koalas and a few you never knew to ask!

Interesting Facts About Koalas

Koalas are an iconic species only found in Australia, yet they have captured the hearts of people around the world with their fluffy cuteness, and sleepy behaviour.

Unfortunately, koalas are endangered, and part of our conservation strategy is to help people understand just how special these animals are.

Here we answer many questions asked about koalas, bust a couple of myths and offer interesting facts about koalas and their unusual needs and behaviours.

Please enjoy, we hope it helps you care about koalas just a little bit more.

interesting facts about koalas

What is a koala?

A koala is a tree-dwelling marsupial, native to Australia. Marsupials, a subset of mammals, are unique in that they give birth to a very undeveloped young called pinkie, which is nursed in the very special pouch on their belly.

While koalas may look cuddly, it's important to remember that they are wild animals and should be admired from a distance!

What is a koala's scientific name?

The scientific name for a koala is Phascolarctos cinereus and they are the only remaining member of the Phascolarctidae family.

"Phascolarctos" means "pouch bear" in Greek, and "cinereus" means "ash-coloured" in Latin, which describes colour of a koala's fur. The name was first used by British zoologist George Perry in 1810.

interesting facts about koalas
interesting facts about koalas

Where do koalas live in Australia?

Koalas live in eastern and south-eastern Australia, including Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. They are primarily found in regions with abundant eucalyptus trees, which are essential for food and shelter. The Northern Rivers is home to one of the last genetically diverse koala populations in Australia.

Koalas are widely distributed across the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales although their numbers vary depending on the habitat available. There are regular sightings in Ballina, Byron, Kyogle, Lismore, Richmond Valley, and Tweed.

Are koalas bears?

Worldwide the koala is often referred to as a “koala bear”, because they do look a bit like bears or even teddy bears, but koalas are not bears at all!

Koala's are a type of mammal known as marsupial and are more closely related to kangaroos and wombats.

interesting facts about koalas
interesting facts about koalas

What is the diet of a koala?
What do koalas eat?

The diet of a koala is highly specialized, focused almost entirely on eucalyptus trees. They consume all parts of the eucalyptus, including the flowers, buds, stems and bark.

Even though there are over 700 eucalyptus tree species in Australia, koalas are fussy eaters and rely on just a few. The species they prefer vary throughout the regions. In the Northern Rivers, preferred food trees for koalas are Forest Red Gum (Eucalyptus tereticornis), Tallowwood (Eucalyptus microcorys) and Swamp Mahogany (Eucalyptus robusta).

Eucalyptus leaves are tough, fibrous, and low in nutritional value, but koalas have evolved to cope with this diet.

Their digestive system, which includes a specialized organ called the caecum, allows them to break down the fibrous leaves and extract essential nutrients. The caecum also contains bacteria that help neutralize the toxic compounds found in eucalyptus leaves.


Koalas usually obtain the necessary hydration from the eucalyptus leaves they consume, as these leaves contain about 50-55% water. This allows koalas to survive without needing to drink water frequently.

Interestingly, the word "koala" comes from an Aboriginal term that means "no drink."

This does change however, during times of extreme heat or drought, when eucalyptus leaves may not provide enough moisture. In these times koalas have been known to drink water from various sources, such as tree hollows or puddles.

If you live in Australia and see a koala that looks dehydrated, please call a koala rescue hotline and they can transport them to a veterinary surgeon or trained koala carer. Never offer a koala water from a bottle as this can be detrimental to the animal.

Charlotte the Koala

What is a koala's habitat?

A koala’s habitat is the eucalyptus forests of eastern and south-eastern Australia. Eucalyptus trees play a crucial role in a koala's life, providing them with food, shelter, and an environment where they can thrive.

Koalas spend most of their time perched on branches, feasting on eucalyptus leaves, and taking long naps.

Unfortunately, koalas are facing significant threats due to habitat loss, which has led to a decline in their populations.

To help ensure their survival, we must increase conservation efforts that focus on preserving and restoring their natural habitats, creating wildlife corridors, and raising awareness about the challenges koalas face.

interesting facts about koalas
interesting facts about koalas

Why do koalas have chlamydia?

Koalas are susceptible to a range of diseases, with chlamydia being one of the most prevalent and concerning. Chlamydia in koalas is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia pecorum, which can lead to serious health issues such as conjunctivitis, pneumonia, reproductive tract infections, and even infertility.

The reason why koalas are particularly prone to chlamydia is not yet fully understood, but it is believed that factors such as habitat loss and stress contribute to the spread of the disease. When koalas are stressed due to factors like deforestation or proximity to humans, their immune systems can be compromised, making them more susceptible to infections.

Chlamydia poses a significant threat to the long-term survival of koala populations, but there is hope! A new vaccine has been developed to protect these beloved marsupials. The Friends of the Koala Hospital can vaccinate koalas against this disease, due to a ground-breaking collaborative research project with the University of the Sunshine Coast.

The vaccine has been proven to boost the koala's immune response, helping them fight off the bacteria and reduce the spread of the disease.

How long do koalas live?

Koalas have different lifespans depending on whether they live in the wild or in captivity. In the wild, koalas typically have a lifespan of 10 to 15 years. The oldest wild koala that ever came into care with Friends of the Koala was a female aged 19 years old!

However, their lives are often cut short due to dangers such as predators, diseases such as chlamydia, vehicle collisions, and habitat loss.

In captivity, koalas can live longer, often reaching up to 15-20 years, because of access to regular veterinary care, controlled diets, and protection from natural threats like predators and diseases.

It is essential to emphasize that koalas belong in the wild, where they can live freely in their natural eucalyptus forest habitats. Captive environments, even when designed to replicate their natural habitat, cannot fully cater to the complex physical, emotional, and social needs of these unique animals.

Moreover, koalas play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of their ecosystems, which cannot be replicated in captivity.

interesting facts about koalas
baby koala facts

How long do koalas sleep?

Koalas are expert sleepers, snoozing for up to 18 to 22 hours a day!

This extensive rest allows them to conserve energy and digest the fibrous eucalyptus leaves that make up their diet.

Koalas need to save their energy for moving between trees, digesting the food they eat, looking for mates in the breeding season, and escaping from predators.

Are koalas mammals?

Yes! Koalas are a type of mammal called marsupials, which are a subclass of mammals.

Marsupials are characterized by their unique reproductive system. Placental mammals such as humans, dogs, primates etc. have a long gestation period in the womb where the baby develops before birth. In contrast, marsupials give birth to relatively undeveloped babies.

After birth, the marsupial's young, called joeys, crawl from the birth canal to the mother's pouch, where they attach to a nipple and continue to grow for several months. The mother's milk provides all the nutrients they need to complete their development outside of the womb.

Marsupials are found primarily in Australia, although some species are found in other places. Famous examples of marsupials include kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, possums, wombats, and Tasmanian devils.

baby koala facts
baby koala facts

Are koalas endangered?

Yes, koalas are indeed endangered and were officially classified as such on the 12th of February 2022 under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act – specifically the combined populations of New South Wales, Queensland, and the Australian Capital Territory.

There are several crucial factors contributing to their decline such as habitat loss, climate change, disease, bushfires, road accidents and dog attacks. By understanding the reasons behind koalas' endangered status, we can work to implement effective conservation strategies to protect these iconic Australian animals and ensure their survival for future generations.

There are many ways to help on our website including a chance to adopt a koala or adopt a tree!

Are koalas dangerous?

Koalas are generally docile creatures, but like any wild animal, they can become aggressive when threatened or stressed and they have sharp claws and teeth.

Never approach or touch a wild koala, always enjoy them from a safe distance. If you think a koala needs help, call your closest koala rescue organisation.

In the Northern Rivers, that is us! Friends of the Koala, available 24/7
(02) 6622 1233.

baby koala facts
baby koala facts

Are koalas nocturnal?

Koalas are mostly nocturnal and crepuscular, meaning they are active at night, dawn, and dusk in most instances.

However, koalas can move and cross the road at any time during the day. Please be careful driving in koala habitat at any time of the day!

Who are koalas' predators?

Koalas face threats from predators such as birds of prey, dingoes, and pythons. Domestic dogs and cats can also pose a risk to koalas.

What do koalas sound like?

Koalas produce various sounds, from grunts and snores to loud bellows resembling snoring and belching.

The sounds koalas make are surprisingly varied, and these vocalizations play a big role in their social interactions and communication.

Check out this video from one of our amazing volunteers, Ina Egermann.

Have you ever wondered how a mating attempt in the Koala-World looks and SOUNDS like?

Play Video

Male Bellow
Male koalas produce a deep, resonant bellow. This bellow serves as a territorial signal to other males and attracts potential female mates.
The bellow may be described as a series of snoring and belching noises, with some likening it to a donkey braying.

Female Vocalizations
Female koalas tend to be quieter than males but will produce various vocalizations, including squeaks, grunts, and screams, to communicate with their young, signal distress, or reject unwanted male advances.

Baby Koala (Joey) Sounds
Baby koalas, or joeys, communicate with their mothers using soft, high-pitched squeaks like chirping, which serve as a means of staying connected and expressing their needs.

Sniffing and Hissing
Koalas may also make sniffing and hissing sounds when they feel threatened, disturbed, or anxious.

These noises help warn potential threats to back off and maintain a safe distance.

baby koala facts

Can koalas swim?

Although not natural swimmers, koalas can swim if necessary, using their strong limbs to paddle through the water.

While they do not have special physical attributes for swimming like webbed feet, koalas can use their strong limbs and sharp claws to paddle through the water. They can swim short distances to escape predators, find new trees, or evade floods.

How do koalas feed their babies?

Mother koalas feed their babies, called joeys in a distinctive way! Koala joeys are born extremely small, measuring just about 2 centimetres in length and weighing less than 1 gram.

For the first six months of their lives, these tiny creatures remain in their mother's pouch, feeding exclusively on nutrient-rich milk. This milk provides essential nutrients, including carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and minerals, that are crucial for the joey's growth and development.

The fascinating process of nourishing these joeys involves a special substance called pap, which plays a crucial role in their development. Pap is a soft, pre-digested form of eucalyptus leaves that the mother koala produces in her caecum – a part of the digestive system.

The mother excretes pap through her cloaca, and the joey eats it directly from her body. Pap provides essential nutrients and energy needed for the joey's continued growth and it introduces the joey to the microorganisms that are vital for breaking down the tough fibres in eucalyptus leaves.

These microorganisms help the joey develop its own digestive system, so that it can process eucalyptus leaves efficiently as it matures. Joeys feed on pap for about a month, then, at around six months of age, joeys start to transition to a solid diet of eucalyptus leaves, which is the primary food source for adult koalas.

baby koala facts
baby koala facts

Will koalas go extinct?

Koalas, cherished as one of Australia's most iconic animals, face the alarming prospect of extinction by 2050 in New South Wales (NSW) due to a combination of habitat loss, disease, and climate change.

The koala population's uncertain future highlights the importance of understanding the factors contributing to their decline and supporting ongoing conservation efforts to safeguard their existence.

Eucalyptus trees serve as the primary dietary source and habitat for koalas. Unfortunately, deforestation and land clearing have led to fragmented populations and the loss of vital resources. This habitat destruction has caused a significant decrease in koala numbers, posing the most substantial threat to their long-term survival.

Climate change exacerbates the situation, with increasingly frequent and severe weather events, such as droughts, floods and bushfires, devastating eucalyptus forests and leaving koalas vulnerable. Additionally, koalas are susceptible to diseases like chlamydia, which can cause infertility and blindness, further reducing their population.

Despite these challenges, there is still hope for koalas. Conservation efforts are actively working to protect and restore their habitats, monitor populations, and manage disease.

Friends of the Koala, a vital organization in koala protection, has been implementing strategies since 1989 to protect and restore habitats, treat and prevent disease, influence legislation changes, and educate the public about koalas and their plight.

One key conservation effort involves planting koala food trees in affected regions, helping restore their habitat and ensuring a sustainable food source. Wildlife corridors are also being established to connect fragmented habitats, allowing koalas to safely move between areas to find food, mates, and suitable living spaces.

How are humans protecting koalas?

Humans are actively working to protect koalas and their habitats through various conservation efforts, and the people at organizations like Friends of the Koala play a crucial role in these endeavours.

How we protect koalas from extinction:

  1. Habitat protection
    Conserving and expanding koala habitats is vital for their survival. Friends of the Koala works to preserve and restore eucalyptus forests, which provide essential food and shelter for koalas.
  2. Reforestation
    Friends of the Koala leads and supports reforestation projects that help create new habitats, expand existing ones, and build wildlife corridors that allow koalas to move safely between fragmented habitats. The Friends of the Koala Nursery distributes over 110,000 trees every single year to landholders and habitat restoration partners in the Northern Rivers.
  3. Koala hospitals
    Injured, sick, or orphaned koalas are treated at specialised hospitals, where they receive expert care and rehabilitation before being released back into the wild. Friends of the Koala operates the largest Koala Hospital on the East Coast of Australia, treating hundreds of koalas every year.
  4. Education and awareness
    Friends of the Koala promotes koala conservation through community education, raising public awareness about the threats koalas face, such as habitat loss, disease, and climate change.
  5. Advocacy
    Friends of the Koala also advocates, lobbies governments for better policies and protections for koalas.
  6. Research and monitoring
    To better understand koala populations and their needs, Friends of the Koala collaborates with researchers and contributes to scientific studies, helping to inform and guide effective conservation strategies and positive koala health outcomes.
baby koala facts
baby koala facts

Can I keep a koala as a pet?

No, it is illegal to keep a koala as a pet!

While the idea of having a koala as a pet may sound appealing, it wouldn’t be as fun as you might imagine!

Koalas are wild animals with highly specialised dietary and habitat needs. You would need to collect fresh eucalyptus leaves every day and have up to 50 special trees for this purpose!

Keeping koalas as a pet would also be harmful to their well-being and yours. They are territorial and not as cuddly as they look! Their sharp teeth and claws can do serious harm.

Enjoy koalas in the wild (from a safe distance!) on TV or visit us for an educational tour!

Can I adopt a koala?


You can symbolically adopt a koala through Friends of the Koala, helping support their efforts to protect and preserve koalas and their habitats.

It is a great way to contribute to protecting koalas and a great gift, as you will receive a personalised certificate with the name of the gift recipient and a koala factsheet.

baby koala facts
baby koala facts

Can I pat a koala?

In most places, it is not allowed to pat or hold a koala due to the stress it causes the animal and the risk of disease transmission.

Some wildlife parks offer supervised encounters, but Friends of the Koala recommends enjoying koalas from a distance that is safe and comfortable for them and you. When you participate in the Friends of the Koala educational koala tour, you get to meet our permanent koalas and see them up close – a very special experience!

Where can I do koala tours?

Koala tours are available in various locations across Australia, such as Kangaroo Island, the Great Ocean Road, and wildlife parks in Queensland and New South Wales.

Friends of the Koala in Lismore, about 45 minutes’ drive from Byron Bay, offers free educational koala tours in small groups. You will learn even more interesting facts about koalas from veterinary nurse Marley Christian and get to meet their permanent koalas Charlotte & Ivy.

baby koala facts