The Pre-Menstrual Drop Bear: 5 Amazing Facts about Koala Sex

The Pre-Menstrual Drop Bear: 5 Amazing Facts about Koala Sex

The angelic face and innocent eyes of a koala hide a mischievous sprite, with one of the most interesting sex lives in the animal kingdom, worthy of a national Wild Koala Day, May 3, in their honour.

Fact #1. Female koalas have 3 vaginas

I’m sorry, what? The little devils….”

The animal world has many shocking secrets, and not all bodies are made the same. Under all that fluff and chubby cuteness, there’s a lot of woman!

  • How: She still has a single opening to the exterior, but just inside the vagina branches into three.
  • Why: Its part of her marsupial heritage. The plumbing runs through the middle of the baby factory, preventing the three branches from fusing into one.*1.

femaleKOALAReproductiveAnatomytext(OMG Imagine inventing a sex toy for koala girls.)

Fact #2. Male koalas have a forked penis

Watching a male koala become aroused is like a scene from an alien horror movie. Not only does his penis have two heads, it is pink, very large and prominently-veined.

The greater shock is that most marsupials have forked penises. Possums, wombats, sugar gliders, bilbies. But most have slender, elegant appendages. Koalas are unusual is that they are well-endowed in both girth and length.

CUDDLES160715p01bjpeniswm

  • How: the two heads don’t stick out far and can be retracted.
  • Why: No-one really knows. Maybe it helps sperm enter two of the three branches of the vagina?

You want to see a close-up of that, don’t you?

CUDDLES160715p01bjpeniswmcrop

Fact #3. Koala sex is voice-activated

Its not a guy’s looks, wealth or power that turns on a lady koala, its his voice. The deepest bass and baritone notes are a koala lady’s aphrodisiac.*2

Barry White, Louis Armstrong, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave would have done well as koalas.

Male koalas broadcast their availability in breeding season – October to March. Their voice travels far, and clucky females make their travel plans to the deepest voice in the land. Listen:

  • How: low sounds are usually produced by large bodies, so a deep voice is an indicator of a large, strong male that will father strong offspring. In fact, koalas produce a deeper sound than their body should be able to, due to special organs in their throat. *2
  • Why: Low notes travel further, so these males have a wider audience.

Fact #4. Koalas ovulate only after they have sex

Koalas don’t waste anything, not even eggs!  They are ‘induced ovulators’: an egg is released after sex and fertilised by stored sperm. *3

Induced ovulation is not uncommon in the animal world. Cats, rabbits and camels do it too.

Koala girls don’t have a period or monthly oestrus cycle.  They do it all in a rush, once a year, when sex is had and pregnancy is likely.

Imagine all that tension bottled up into one insane week per year.

The first Drop Bear (*4) was just a pre-menstrual female koala in a bad mood.

  • How: Hormones released in response to sex cause the ovary to release an egg, which is fertilised by stored sperm.
  • Why: It is suggested that it is good for animals with large home ranges who might have trouble finding each other at the right time. The female may also be able to choose not to ovulate, if the male didn’t treat her right. See next point.

Fact #5. The girls are in charge

The best way to explain this is through an analogy:

All year a lady koala will sit in her house as a happy single mother in her trackies, eating, watching TV and playing with her kid. But then October comes around, the weather improves, and the males start to sing to her. It awakens something. For another month she stays in her trackies watching TV, but she starts to think about doing her hair and going to the gym. By December she is fit and fine and ready for the town.

She packs her bags and goes on a little sex holiday. She can walk many kilometres. She goes straight to the house of the male she wants, sets herself up in the spare room and waits. She has no fear of being rejected – koalas are born gorgeous, and they know it.

The male eventually figures out she is there (he has a lot of spare rooms) and goes to her. He stands propped against the door (tree). Now he’s got her, he’s not letting her go.

Later that night he goes in the door (up the tree), singing. If she likes him, she won’t fight him – much. If she doesn’t like him she becomes vicious, slashing at his face with razor sharp claws.

I’ve watched several females fight off larger males. Lady koalas are not to be messed with.

Watch this rare footage of koalas mating in the wild:

When she’s finished with him, she goes home to her TV and her trackies, and soon to be baby.

Koalas are just so damn interesting! Can you ever look at them the same way again?

This is why Wild Koala Day is so important. The how and why of all this behaviour is best seen in wild koala populations, which are declining at shocking rates all over Australia. To keep them, we are going to have to act on protecting forest. Now.

So on May 3, Wild Koala Day:

PLANT a tree

PROTECT a forest

PHONE a politician

References:

*1. Johnson, S & Holt, W.  “The Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus): A Case Study in the Development of Reproductive Technology in a Marsupial” in Reproductive Sciences in Animal Conservation, (2014) Chapter 9 p. 175

*2. Charlton B (2011) quoted in Nature.com

*3. Ellis, W & Bercovitch, F. 2011 “Body size and sexual selection in the koala” in Behavioural Ecology & Sociobiology Vol 65 (2011) p. 1230

*4. Drop Bear: a fictitious predatory koala that drops onto unsuspecting tourists from above. see Wikipedia

Built for the birds – Welcome Swallows and the Mungo Woolshed.

Built for the birds – Welcome Swallows and the Mungo Woolshed.

Mungo in late November is hot. By 11.30am walking outside is unattractive, no matter how captivating the big mob of Emus look in the heat shimmer. The historic rough-sawn bulk of the Mungo Woolshed promises relief, so I duck inside.

Emus at Mungo National Park

Just above my head, a Welcome Swallow dismisses me with a glance. Elegant and haughty, swallows are creatures of the air, not of the land. Humans, it seems, are nothing more to them than builders of convenient eaves for swallow nest sites.

welcomeswallow271116p01wmlowrestext

I scan the large room. No wonder the swallow seemed calm. The woolshed is full of swallows. I see thirty on the ceiling braces of one alcove. Each rafter holds a swallow, and every few minutes a soft blue blur reveals another swallow entering.

welcomeswallow271116p06wmlowres

Welcome Swallows are high speed aerial acrobats. They fly endlessly without tiring, sometimes completing figures-of-eight around your legs as you walk across a park. Mostly when you see them flying they are hunting – the small insects they prey on are invisible to our eyes, but the swallow’s acrobatic manoevres are the hunter in pursuit.

But the middle of the day in The Outback is hot. Even the insects seek shade (have you ever walked into an Outback dunny* on a hot day to find it full of flies? They get hot too!) Perhaps the swallows find it hard to hunt in very high temperatures and take a siesta in the woolshed.

The Mungo Woolshed may have been built for humans to make money from wool, but it has another purpose now. Its the Mungo Swallow-shed.

Visit the wildlife and heritage of Mungo National Park with us on our 3 day Mungo Outback Journey

 

*dunny: an outhouse toilet.

5 Amazing Facts about Koala Joeys

1. Baby koalas are called Joeys. All marsupial babies are called joeys – kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, tasmanian devils, possums & bilbys. The meaning/origin is unknown – it’s possibly just a diminutive used at that time for any small animal. Joey as a baby marsupial was first recorded in use in 1839.

The use of the word joey may have started with the word being applied for a British fourpenny coin. Politician Joseph Hume promoted the use of the fourpenny, thus the coin developed the slang name joey after him.

mearnathan070914p02crop2wmlowres

2. The first time you see a koala joey it is already 6 months old. Koala joeys are born as tiny naked creatures that don’t look anything like a koala. They move straight into the pouch, and remain unseen until they emerge at around 6 months old.

Actual emergence takes time. The joey first pokes his head out of the pouch at 5.5 months, and fully emerges at 6 to 7 months. By 8 to 9 months the joey becomes too large to get into the pouch, and spends all his time on his mother’s belly or back.

3. Koalas invented pro-biotics. Koala joeys eat ‘pap’ – a special substance produced by their mother that looks like poo and acts like a probiotic. It contains gut flora that the joey needs to process eucalyptus leaves. The mother koala produces it from her caecum (a special chamber in her large intestine) and delivers it from her cloaca, so though it looks a bit like poo, its not.

Pap is absolutely essential to a koala’s health. Wildlife Carers with orphaned koala joeys will frequently ask the wildlife care community for a postal delivery of pap from a koala mother – any koala mother will do, the closer the better but any is better than none. Imagine receiving that package of squishy green slurry in the mail!

wurdi141016srp0wmlowres

4. Koala joeys are born out of their mother’s central vagina. Female koalas have three vaginas.

Why? Its complicated, and deserves a complete blog on the subject. Suffice to say that the two lateral (side) vaginae are for the passage of sperm to the uteri, and the median (central) vagina is for birth.

5. Koala joeys are born high in a tree. There is no danger of them falling to the ground – they are so tiny they get trapped in their mother’s fur. At birth a koala joey weighs only 1 gram – as much as a single sultana/raisin – and is only 2cm long.

babarrangjoey141016srp0wmlowres

It’s Koala Joey Season in the state of Victoria right now. All over the state wild koalas can be seen with joeys – hotspots are The You Yangs near Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road and Raymond Island, East Gippsland.

Echidna Walkabout runs the following tours to see koalas in the wild – with a high chance of seeing koala joeys each year from September to November:

Wildlife Journey 4 days

Great Ocean Road 3 days

Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD 1 day

For more information contact:

Janine Duffy

janine@echidnawalkabout.com.au

T: +61 (0)3 9646 8249

Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours & Koala Clancy Foundation

http://www.echidnawalkabout.com.au http://koalaclancyfoundation.org.au

Once seen, never forgotten. Koala of the Month: Cruiz

Its easy to assume that wild koalas have small, reliable home ranges. After all, you don’t see them moving about much do you?CRUIZ260913mrWMlowrestext

If we’ve learnt one thing over 17 years of wild koala research, its that koalas move! A lot!

We first met Cruiz in November 2008 in the Turntable region of the You Yangs. He looked big, strong and healthy. We assumed he was mature – at least 4 or 5 years old. It was exciting to have a new male on the block.

MALEh131108p03mbcropWMlowrestext2

But then he disappeared. Sadly, we filed his photos and nose pattern diagram under the “Koalas once seen, never to be seen again” file.

You should never give up on a koala, though. Out of the blue in December 2011 he re-appeared in the turntable area. He’s back, we thought. “Don’t be hasty” he thought.

We didn’t see Cruiz once in 2012. Not once. Back into The File he went.

CRUIZ260913p05srcropWMlowrestext
Cruiz in 2013

So when he showed up three times in 2013 and three times in 2014, we had learnt our lesson. We didn’t get excited. Maybe he’s a nomad. Maybe he’s in protracted negotiations with dominant male Anzac, and other residents Vincent, Zack, Kenny and Rocky.

But 2015 was a good year for Cruiz. Already we have seen him 12 times. He’s been all over the place – turntable, branding yard 2 km to the east, Branch Rd. If we simply join the dots of all his locations this year, his home range would be around 117 hectares!

CRUIZ281015p04srWMlowrestext

Interestingly, too, he isn’t migrating steadily from one area to another – he is regularly traversing that entire area. One day he’ll be in Branding Yard, a week later he’ll be back in Turntable.

He’s not young either – we estimate he is at least 12 years old. That’s a really good age for a wild male these days.

Every single wild koala is different. Cruiz is a special fellow.

If you come on our Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD one day tour, or our 3 day Great Ocean Road tour, you might meet him!

Where does the King-Parrot get his name?

 

kingParrot221112p07wmcroplowres

Bird names are a bit like the English language – a lumpy soup of broken rules, throwbacks, dialects and slang. Some birds are named for their appearance: Tawny Frogmouth, White-throated Needletail; for their behaviour: Plains Wanderer, Bee-eater; for their similarity to other birds: Quail-thrush, Cuckooshrike, Fairywren; some for their calls: Laughing Kookaburra, Clinking Currawong and some for the region and habitat they live in: Atherton Scrubwren, Australian Reed-warbler.

Others are named for a combination of features, and some for reasons so twisted and mangled that they are nearly untraceable: Pitta, Cockatoo and the hilarious Drongo.

KINGparrots090114p01mmwmlowrestext

So when you look at a large, elegant, vermillion and emerald-green parrot, the name King-Parrot seems sensible. The plumage of the adult male is reminiscent of expensive velvet cloaks with shimmering satin linings. A flash of turquoise on the wing sparkles like a diamond bracelet.

kingParrot221112p05wmlowres

Obviously King-Parrots are named for their appearance?   Well, no.

Watch this elegant parrot for a while and you will see that they are special. They inhabit the cool, wet forests of eastern Australia. They are sensitive to heat and dryness. High in the mighty eucalyptus forests of East Gippsland you will hear their ringing call, but they are elusive and sometimes difficult to see. The ground level of us mere mortals is a long way beneath them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
male (lower) & female King-Parrots

If you own a bird feeder, as Sue & Glenn Herbert of Snowy River Homestead in Orbost do, you will meet many glorious Rainbow Lorikeets, Galahs, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Crimson Rosellas, who crowd and squabble over seed treats.

kingParrotsRainbowsGalah060711p05wm
Rainbow Lorikeets (top), Galahs (pink & grey) and 4 King-Parrots (ground) at a feeder

Rarely, though, will you see a King-Parrot. They will wait until the others have gorged and then calmly appear. They will not squabble. They will not debase themselves. Somehow they know that you have saved a little seed for the most regal of visitors.

kingParrot060711p07wmlowres

Okay, then King-Parrots must named for their behaviour?  No, afraid not.

There is another way to name a bird. A name can honour a person. American naturalist Thomas Horsfield has a bronze-cuckoo and a bushlark named after him, artist John Lewin has a rail and a honeyeater, ornithologist John Gould has a finch and a petrel, and royalty are well represented by (Queen) Victoria’s Riflebird and Princess (Alexandra’s) Parrot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Politicians and heads of state also get their share of bird-names-in-honour. Barack Obama, Indira Gandhi and Nelson Mandela all have birds named for them.  But this is not just a recent phenomenon.

Philip Gidley King, Governor of New South Wales from 1800-1806 is the King-Parrot’s name source.

KINGparrots090114p03mmEnhwmlowres
adult male (left) and female Australian King-Parrots

According to “Australian Bird Names: A Complete Guide” by Jeannie Gray & Ian Fraser, the name King’s Parrot was proposed by George Caley to honour Governor King. Whether King ever saw or appreciated his namesake is not known. The poor fellow died in 1808, only 2 years after resigning his post as governor and returning to England.

Watch out next week, its #AustralianFurSeal week!

What do jabirus do for fun?

What do children do if they don’t have toys? They make them!  Baby animals are just the same as human children in some respects. They play with what they have.

jabiruBabies020911p01wmlowrestext

Three Jabiru chicks were walking with their parent across a Top End, Northern Territory floodplain on a hot September day. We were lucky enough to be driving past, and did a quick U turn to watch.

Their cautious parent took them into the bushes upon seeing us, but after a few minutes the kids lost interest in hiding and started looking for some fun. A small tree on the open floodplain was calling them: “Come and pull me apart, why don’t you?” The temptation was too much.

jabiru310811p02wm
Adult male Jabiru flying

Out they marched, one chick the ringleader. She ambled up to the small tree and grabbed hold of a dangly bit of branch and pulled. Her brother and sister looked on, uncertainly. The ringleader pulled and twisted until finally, the branch broke free. What fun! Brother and sister decided to try some for themselves.

All three chicks gave the tree hell for several minutes. It was so funny to watch.  They pulled, they prodded, they grabbed high and low.  Of course, when siblings play it often ends up in a squabble. “You stole my branch, bro! Give it back, or I’ll peck you!  Ooooh, you’re asking for it…Give it back NOW”

Watch the video here:  Baby animals play youtube video

 

jabiru150814p04wmlowres
Adult male Jabiru (Black-necked Stork)

But there’s a serious side to play. Baby animals play in ways that teach them how to use their bodies for serious adult life. Jabirus use their beaks for catching, killing and eating fish and carrion. So of course they must learn to use their beaks as babies. That sounds easy, doesn’t it? But think of how long it takes human infants to learn to use their hands to eat, or write! Motor skills take time to develop.

jabiru010713p05headcropWMlowres
Adult male Jabiru – note the large, strong beak

Watch this kind of animal play on our Wild Top End trip – every August!