Teaching old koalas new tricks (and other interesting koala facts)

By Nicholas Kachel

29 July 2016

3 minute read


Have you ever used the old saying “you can lead a koala to an eco-safety passage, but you can’t make it cross”? If you said yes, you’re lying because we just made it up. But you’d also be wrong, because it turns out you can! Researchers from Griffith University in Queensland have been monitoring 130 new marsupial safety crossings (like retrofitted water culverts or bridge underpasses) and found that koalas have been surprisingly fast in learning how to use them.

“We expected (the koalas) to take a while to get used to them,” Griffith University’s Professor Darryl Jones told ABC Science.

“To our great surprise, they were using them three weeks into it. Can you teach koalas new tricks? You can, that’s the point.”

It is hoped that koalas using these passages will help to arrest the 80 per cent decline in the koala population in Queensland’s Redland and nearby ‘koala coast.’ You can find out more about the report, which we published, here.

A koala filmed on camera using a south-east Queensland eco-passage. Supplied: Griffith University

A koala filmed on camera using a south-east Queensland eco-passage. Supplied: Griffith University

This got us to thinking: what other surprising facts have koalas been hiding from us?

Fur real
Koala’s from different parts of Australia have different fur. Koalas in southern Australia have long shaggy fur, to help them keep warm during winter. Koalas up north have shorter, more tightly cropped fur.

Hey cuz
The closest relative of the koala in the marsupial world is the wombat. As well as being equally adorable, they also both have pouches which open towards the rear.

What’s in a name?
Male koalas are called bucks, and female koalas does. Baby koalas are joeys.

A koala in Coolart, Victoria.

A koala in Coolart, Victoria.

Forever young
Koalas rarely live beyond 20 years of age, even in captivity. The world record for the oldest living koala was a doe named ‘Birthday Girl’ who died in 2011 at the age of 25.

A long time between drinks
Koalas rarely need to drink as they get all the moisture they need from eucalyptus leaves. However they still will drink from water sources during period of drought. It’s also a common misconception that koalas get drunk from eating eucalyptus leaves – this isn’t the case, they’re just sleepy!

Siesta fiesta
Koalas spend up to 20 hours a day sleeping. It’s not because they’re drunk or lazy, but because their toxic, low-nutrition diet requires a lot of energy to digest, and having a nap is the best way to conserve energy.

Thanks to Koala Hospital and the Australian Koala Foundation for the cuddly facts.