Today’s factismal: Baby koalas must eat a special “pap” made from their mother’s poop before they can digest eucalyptus leaves.
It’s not easy being a koala bear. They live a solitary life in the eucalyptus trees that are simultaneously their refuge and their dinner; a baby koala only stays with its mother until it is about a year old, and then it heads off to its own tree. Their solitude is broken once a year during the spring rutting season, when the males will rub their chests (where the scent gland is located) over every tree they can find, hoping to attract a mate. And if that doesn’t work, they call through the forest with a loud, low-pitched bellow (very similar to the human “Hey, baby!”). If all goes well for the male, about a month later, a baby joey is born.
The first thing that the joey has to do is make its way into the mother’s marsupial pouch. Thanks to her thick, sharp claws and short, clumsy arms, the mother koala can’t help the joey on its journey without hurting it; it doesn’t help that the joey is just an inch long and weighs about half a gram. Once the joey is safely ensconced in the pouch, it attaches to one of the mother’s milk glands and stays there for the next six months. And that’s when things get a little gross…
At six months old, the joey is big enough to start eating eucalyptus leaves. But those leaves have very little nutrition value and lots of poison value. So the koala needs a special suite of microbes in order to digest them properly. And for a joey, the best place to get those microbes is from dear old mom’s poop. The mother creates a special type of poop that is only partially digested and rich in microbes; called “pap”, the poop will give the joey the digestive wherewithal to grow into a big and strong koala. But first the joey has to eat it and you know where it comes from (hint: kolas aren’t birds).
Once the joey has turned into an adult, it leaves mom and her tree and heads off into the forest to make his or her own way in the world. But koalas don’t compete well with things like people and dogs; as a result, the koala population in the wild has been declining. In order to help protect them, scientists need your help. If you see a koala, please report it on Koala Tracker: