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How Do Koala Mothers Prepare Their Babies for a Eucalyptus Diet?

Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman

Koala fans may not want to read on, as it’s likely to change how you look at those cute Australian marsupials. Then again, it’s an example of just how amazingly bizarre the animal kingdom is and the incredible diversity of methods animal parents use to feed and nurture their young to help them survive.

After nursing from within their mother’s pouch for about six months, baby koalas (known as joeys) go through a phase in which they eat "pap," a specific type of their mother’s poo. Though we might consider this disgusting, the specialized liquid excrement is rich in protein to help little koalas grow. And more importantly, it provides the joeys with their mother’s gut bacteria.

At around six months old, baby koalas are fed a liquified form of their mother’s feces known as “pap,” which contains gut microbes needed for digesting eucalyptus leaves.
At around six months old, baby koalas are fed a liquified form of their mother’s feces known as “pap,” which contains gut microbes needed for digesting eucalyptus leaves.

This ensures that they will be able to survive on eucalyptus leaves, which are a koala’s main food source. Once they have this bacteria in their digestive system, they are able to break down the tough, fibrous leaves. Otherwise, the toxins in eucalyptus would make it impossible for the koala to rely on this as a dietary source as an adult.

More koala facts:

  • Pap is so important that animal rescue orgnizations will attempt to feed it to the baby koalas in their care, so that they can enjoy a diet of eucalyptus leaves when they grow up.

  • A koala’s pregnancy only lasts around 35 days. At birth, the newborn is tiny and undeveloped, so it will spend the first six months of its life within the mother’s pouch.

  • If you’ve ever smelled a male koala, you probably won’t forget it in a hurry. But female koalas seem to find the smell attractive. Male koalas release this powerful odor from a gland on their chest, which they rub on trees to entice potential mates or possibly to mark their territory. Male koalas are also known to make a loud, low-pitched belching noise to attract mates.

  • Relative to their body size, koalas have very small brains (accounting for around 0.2% of their body weight). The human brain, by comparison, makes up around 2% of our weight. Perhaps this isn’t surprising when you consider that koalas sleep almost 20 hours a day. When they are awake, their activities are pretty much limited to eating and moving between trees.

Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman is a teacher and blogger who frequently writes for WiseGEEK about topics related to personal finance, parenting, health, nutrition, and education. Learn more...
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman is a teacher and blogger who frequently writes for WiseGEEK about topics related to personal finance, parenting, health, nutrition, and education. Learn more...

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    • At around six months old, baby koalas are fed a liquified form of their mother’s feces known as “pap,” which contains gut microbes needed for digesting eucalyptus leaves.
      By: Friedberg
      At around six months old, baby koalas are fed a liquified form of their mother’s feces known as “pap,” which contains gut microbes needed for digesting eucalyptus leaves.