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Are Koalas bears or marsupials? Why do people call them bears?

There is a big misunderstanding among humans about koalas. The majority of humans think koalas are some sort of bears. Apparently, their looks justify this misconception. But in reality, koalas are not bears. While they are called ‘koala bears,’ they are not even closely related to bears. Bears and koalas share the same scientific classification up to a certain level – Mammalia – before both the species begin to divaricate. Koalas first fall into the class of animals that are characterized by giving birth to premature or underdeveloped young and then into the class of Diprotodontia of genus Phascolarctos. Do koala bears have pouches? Yes, andwhat this means is that female koalas give birth to underdeveloped babies and then raise them in a pouch until they are fully mature. 

The genus Phascolarctos is the lone surviving representative of Phascolarctidae, which contains two fossil species that are debatable, five lesser-known fossil species, and six well-known fossil species. Currently, only three subspecies of koala have been identified and described by biologists. However, many scientists believe that these distinctions are invalid and arbitrary. Thus, they fall under ‘cinerus.’

Are koalas related to sloths?

Koalas are not related to sloths, despite some superficial similarities. The term “red koala bear” is a misnomer as koalas are not bears at all. They belong to the marsupial family and are native to Australia. The reason koalas are not considered bears is that they have distinct differences in their anatomy, reproduction, and evolutionary lineage compared to true bears. Female koalas have a pouch where they carry and nurse their young called joeys. Koala populations primarily consist of female koalas since males have smaller territories and do not overlap as much with female territories. These unique characteristics make koalas a fascinating example of Australian animals. They are known to live in eucalyptus forests along the eastern coast of Australia. The Australian Koala Foundation is actively involved in conservation efforts to protect and preserve the vulnerable koala population.

Surprisingly, koalas are closely related to wombats and kangaroos. Bears, on the other hand, belong to the order ‘Carnivora.’ So, to clear things out, koalas are not bears. 

So, why are koalas called bears? 

You might wonder how koalas get stuck with the ‘bears’ label. It is said that the English-speaking settlers from the 18th century started calling koalas ‘bears’ because of their miniature, bear-like appearance and behavior of climbing trees. Also, ‘Phascolarctos’ is derived from the Greek term Phaskolos, which translates to ‘pouch’, and Arktos, which translates to ‘bear.’ This mistake was later reflected.  

So, next time when you hear someone saying koalas are bears, you know what to tell them. 

Some Interesting Facts About Koalas 

Humans have always been interested in koalas for their unique characteristics and personality. Here are some interesting facts about koalas that will make you wonder more about this cute-looking animal. 

  • Koalas are only found in the eucalyptus forests of Australia. They spend the majority of their lives on trees. Koalas have strong, clawed feet that are perfect for living in the eucalyptus branches. Also, they have a distinct grey fur/coat and a cream-colored chest. 
  • They are also called the cuddly critters as they hug the tree branch. Koalas can weigh up to 14 kilograms and measure about 60-85 centimeters. 
  • Koalas give birth to underdeveloped infants. A koala infant is called a ‘joey,’ and when it is born, it immediately crawls to its mother’s pouch. Infant koalas are earless and blind. So, they use their sense of smell and touch, as well as natural instinct, to climb up to their mothers’ pouch. 
  • A joey will remain in its mother’s pouch for about 6 months to develop fully. Once strong enough, the joey will climb on its mother’s back and rides around for another six months. It will only use the pouch to feed. 
  • Eucalyptus leaves are the primary source of food for koalas. Its digestive system has developed uniquely to break down and digest the harsh eucalyptus leaves. Since they barely get off the tree, they rely on the moisture in eucalyptus leaves to take care of their hydration needs. Koalas rarely drink water. This is why koalas are extremely picky about their food. They will only select the tastiest and nutritious leaves from the trees where koalas live. In a day, they can consume up to 1 kilogram of fresh eucalyptus leaves. 
  • When not feasting on tasty eucalyptus leaves, they prefer sleeping. They don’t have much energy, and they spend about 18 hours a day sleeping. Koalas are among the laziest animals on the planet, but they do this to conserve energy. 
  • While these cute, cuddly animals are protected by the law and do not come under the endangered class, their habitat is under significant threat. 80% of their natural habitats have been lost to bushfires, drought, and deforestation. 
  • Believe it or not, humans, koalas, and some monkeys are the only creatures that have fingerprints. If you closely look at koala fingerprints, they are the same as human fingerprints regarding their uniqueness and shape. Many people wonder whether a koala can be framed for a crime. Well, they can confuse the officials on a crime scene. 
  • It is true that koalas have two thumbs. They help the animals climb and hold on to the branches for long periods, especially when they are asleep. Apart from providing them the grip, they also use these thumbs to groom. 
  • A koala call is called ‘bellowing,’ and it can travel up to 800 meters in still air. They use this call to communicate with other koalas. 

Koalas are really interesting creatures. They pose no harm to humans, but we are putting the species in plain danger. It is better that we should learn more about koalas and find ways to save them and their habitat.

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