Posted by: Pete | Thursday, March 5, 2009

Pete speaks: The secret lives of koalas

Most of you out in blog-land have probably seen this soon-to-be-iconic picture:

Fireman offering water to a parched koala

This has led to an outburst of koala-mania around the world, but the residents of Jenworld have been big fans of koalas for a long time.  I mean, who could possibly resist this?  And this has been the background on one of our home computers for months.  The girls have even come up with what they think a koala sounds like: “Mrrrr”.  Consequently, they substitute “Mrrrr” whenever they can in conversation.  “Mommy” becomes “Mrrrmy”, “world” becomes “mrrrld”, etc.   A koala’s favorite planet?  Mrrrcury, of course (I was pushing for “Mrrrs”).  They’ve even picked out the perfect name for  a koala: Murray (Murray is actually a very popular name is Australia)!

Anyway, at the behest of the juvenile members of Jenworld, I’ve undertaken some research on koalas and am now the resident expert!  One tidbit that the girls have found endlessly amusing is the fact that koalas have very small brains (compared to their head size), whose size has been likened to “a pair of shriveled walnut halves”.  As a result, a common insult around here for when somebody does something without thinking is a variation of “c’mon, rub your walnuts together!”

Koalas have evolved to subsist solely on eucalyptus, which is toxic and indigestible to virtually every other mammal.  In order to provide their offspring (”joeys”) with the specialized digestive microorganisms they need to digest the eucalyptus leaves, the mother feeds them partially digested food from her gut as she weans them off the milk.  This is also known as “poop”.  For some strange reason, the juvenile humans in this house have not only found that hilarious, but they’ve also discovered new and interesting ways to work it into conversation.  For example, when I read to Graceful from a website that referred to koalas as actually being “rather grumpy marsupials”, she indignantly exclaimed, “Of course they’re grumpy; they have tiny walnut brains and eat poop!!!”

Some other surprising information that I discovered:

  • Male koalas have “bifurcated penises”.  “Bifurcated” means “forked”.
  • Don’t worry, the females are correspondingly “forked” as well.  (When they mate, do they call it “forking”?  Inquiring minds want to know).
  • Chlamydia is rampant among koalas!  It’s not clear to me if that has anything to do with the previous two items….

Anyway, now there’s some confusion as to what the reigning “Most Adorable Animal on the Planet” is, so here’s a poll to see what YOU think, starting with your three choices:

Choice A

Choice A (photo credit: Erik K Veland)

Choice B

Choice B

Choice C

Choice C


  1. OK, I was loving Panda’s until we got to their sexual antics….and pandas are dopey…so I’ll have to vote for the magnificent Polar Bear!

    Super post Pete…can we have the secret life of ? next week?

  2. Since I live in the country that koalas call home I am partial to them, so I guess you know where my vote went.

    Pass on to Graceful and Elegant that koalas are a lot heavier than they look - I’ve had the chance to hold a couple and while they look all fluffy there’s a lot of koala under all that fur. And they make a very guttural, grunting sound; I can sometimes hear them in the eucalypt trees out back.

    Google Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary for more koala cuteness.

  3. Thanks for the TMI about koalas, Pete! I voted for the Panda though, the Toronto Zoo borrowed some for an exhibit when I was 8 or 9, and I’ve loved them ever since.

  4. I think that mating amongst Koalas would be called Forking. Hahaha.

    But the clap - that’s too much information.

  5. Who knew Pete was such an Exmrrrt on Koalas!

  6. Forking. Of course.
    Don’t get your very different topics of research mixed up! I don’t think we can handle coke sniffing Koalas.

  7. Mooselet: The girls were very jealous this morning when I told them that you have koalas in your backyard! BTW, I had found a sound clip of koala noises a week or so ago and played it for the girls, but the whole “mrrrr” thing has stuck anyway.

    Jay: Good mrrrrning!

  8. Frank held a koala once, so they get my vote.

  9. Thanks for all the fun facts, but I think koalas are creepy,not cute.

  10. Yay Pete for making me laugh twice this morning! Graceful’s comment about grumpy koalas and the Forking Koalas were priceless.

    I think I’ll vote for the Polar Bear. I think of them the same way I think about puppies. Why can’t they just stay that size?

  11. “Don’t FORK With ME!”

    I’ll be needing that on a bumper sticker.

  12. I have a friend who spent a semester in Australia. He says koala’s are cute…but mean. Of course the other two aren’t exactly friendly either, eh? But oh well. I had to vote for the panda. Been a fan since I was knee high to a grasshopper.

    But the forking…that just set me on the giggles for the day.

  13. Choice A is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen and I hadn’t seen the first photo of the firefighter - unbelievable!!!

  14. I am partial to pandas, but gosh they are all so cute. There used to be a sweet koala exhibit at the LA Zoo; I wonder if it is still there.

    Love this post.

  15. Koalas are cute, but I’m a polar bear girl. They’re so cute and sweet, except for that disemboweling you with one swipe of their giant razor-tipped paw thing.

    The bifurcation thing is just weird. Must cut down on the number of positions they can use. You know, when they’re forking.

  16. OK, I can’t choose - my name is Erin, not Sophie!

  17. I’m a sucker for Polar Bears.

  18. [...] I know how much my girls love koalas, I made a point to walk by one house that has some sort of eucalyptus tree in the front [...]