The Koala

The diet of a koala consists mainly of the leaves from which plant?

And the answer: eucalyptus.

The vast majority of a koala's diet consists of the leaves from the eucalyptus plant. Eucalyptus leaves are toxic and provide very little nutritional value, so koalas eat a lot, and then sleep for 18 to 22 hours each day to help with digestion.  

Photo credit: San Diego Zoo

Though these lovable creatures may have the soft, tufted ears, big eyes and spoon-shaped noses not unlike that of a bear – sometimes even earning the nickname "koala bears" – koalas are actually marsupials. This means that these Australian tree-dwellers are more closely related to other species in the Outback, such as kangaroos and sugar gliders. Marsupials are primarily defined by the ability to give birth to their young before they are able to survive independently, and they carry their babies to term in a pouch.

Koalas have six opposable thumbs. Their sharp, pointed claws and rough pads are uniquely designed to grip branches. On their front paws, five digits (including two on each paw which resemble a pair of thumbs) help the koala forage and grasp leaves off the trees, while their back paws each have one large, clawless, opposable digit to allow them to hold on.

Of the roughly 650 species of eucalypt trees in Australia, koalas prefer only about 30 of them. While these leathery leaves may seem unappealing to us – and perhaps even toxic – they are very high in fiber and easily digestible for the koalas. In fact, koalas possess a close-ended digestive organ called a caecum, which allows them to digest the leaf fibers through fermentation.

Learn more about these adorable creatures below.

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