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Koala, Phascolarctos Cinereus, Young on Tree, Germany

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The koala or, inaccurately, koala bear (Phascolarctos cinereus) is an arboreal herbivorous marsupial native to Australia. It is the only extant representative of the family Phascolarctidae and its closest living relatives are the wombats. The koala is found in coastal areas of the mainland’s eastern and southern regions, inhabiting Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. It is easily recognizable by its stout, tailless body and large head with round, fluffy ears, and large, spoon-shaped nose. The koala has a body length of 60–85 cm (24–33 in) and weighs 4–15 kg (9–33 lb). Fur color ranges from silver grey to chocolate brown. Koalas from the northern populations are typically smaller and lighter in color than their counterparts further south. These populations possibly are separate subspecies, but this is disputed.

Koalas typically inhabit open Eucalyptus woodland, as the leaves of these trees make up most of their diet. Because this eucalypt diet has limited nutritional and caloric content, koalas are largely sedentary and sleep up to twenty hours a day. They are asocial animals, and bonding exists only between mothers and dependent offspring. Adult males communicate with loud bellows that intimidate rivals and attract mates. Males mark their presence with secretions from scent glands located on their chests. Being marsupials, koalas give birth to underdeveloped young that crawl into their mothers’ pouches, where they stay for the first six to seven months of their lives. These young koalas, known as joeys, are fully weaned around a year old. Koalas have few natural predators and parasites but are threatened by various pathogens, such as Chlamydiaceae bacteria and the koala retrovirus.

Because of its distinctive appearance, the koala along with the kangaroos are recognized worldwide as symbols of Australia. They were hunted by Indigenous Australians and depicted in myths and cave art for millennia. The first recorded encounter between a European and a koala was in 1798, and an image of the animal was published in 1810 by naturalist George Perry. Botanist Robert Brown wrote the first detailed scientific description of the koala in 1814, although his work remained unpublished for 180 years. Popular artist John Gould illustrated and described the koala, introducing the species to the general British public. Further details about the animal’s biology were revealed in the 19th century by several English scientists. Koalas are listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Among the many threats to their existence are habitat destruction caused by agriculture, urbanization, droughts, and associated bushfires, some related to climate change. In February of 2022, the koala was officially listed as endangered in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, and Queensland.

The word koala comes from the Dharug gula, meaning no water. Although the vowel ‘u’ was originally written in the English orthography as “oo” (in spellings such as coola or koolah — two syllables), later became “oa” and is now pronounced in three syllables, possibly in error.

Adopted by white settlers, “koala” became one of several hundred Aboriginal loan words in Australian English, where it was also commonly referred to as “native bear”, later “koala bear”, for its supposed resemblance to a bear. It is also one of several Aboriginal words that made it into International English, alongside e.g. “didgeridoo” and “kangaroo.” The generic name, Phascolarctos, is derived from the Greek words phaskolos “pouch” and arktos “bear”. The specific name, cinereus, is Latin for “ash-colored”.

The koala was given its generic name Phascolarctos in 1816 by French zoologist Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville, who would not give it a specific name until further review. In 1819, German zoologist Georg August Goldfuss gave it the binomial Lipurus cinereus. Because Phascolarctos was published first, according to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, it has priority as the official name of the genus. French naturalist Anselme Gaëtan Desmarest proposed the name Phascolarctos fuscus in 1820, suggesting that the brown-colored versions were a different species than the grey ones. Other names suggested by European authors included Marodactylus cinereus by Goldfuss in 1820, P. flindersii by René Primevère Lesson in 1827, and P. koala by John Edward Gray in 1827. Wikipedia

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An image of a Koala, Phascolarctos Cinereus, Young on Tree, Germany

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