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.
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!
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.
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:
These beautiful little marsupials live in the You Yangs and can occasionally be seen by day, if you are lucky or know where to look! Their main roost is a drey – a circular nest made of sticks – that they construct themselves. But though dreys are easy to find, they are tightly woven, so it is difficult to see possums inside them. We do often find some possums, like these ones, sheltering in bushy shrubs.
Did you know that Common Ringtail Possums live in family groups? Mum, Dad, new joeys and last year’s immature young all snuggle together in the same drey by day and emerge to feed at night.
So when we see a little darling alone, like this one, it makes us wonder where the rest of the family is hiding! Or possibly, its a young animal, newly independent, that hasn’t found his/her own home yet.
Common Ringtail Possum gestation is 20 – 26 days. Ringtails usually have two babies at a time, anytime from May to December. After leaving the pouch at 4 months, ringtail joeys ride on their parents backs for a few months. Both ringtail parents take turns caring for and carrying their babies.
Ringtail Possum joeys are weaned at about 6 months, but will stay with their parents until maturity at about 13 months.
As ringtails build their own nest, they can live in young eucalyptus forest with few natural hollows. Young forest suits them – they prefer the young foliage of eucalyptus trees, and mostly eat mature leaves when young leaves are not available.
In one study near Melbourne, Victoria, ringtails were found to prefer to eat (in order): Swamp Gum (E. ovata), Spotted Gum (E. maculatus), River Red Gum (E. camaldulensis), Forest Red Gum (E. tereticornis). Ringtails do eat the leaves of several shrubs, including Leptospermum (tea-tree) and Acacia (wattle) especially if their preferred young eucalyptus is not available (1).
Ringtails have a very special, clever adaptation to their nutrient-poor diet: they reingest the contents of their caecum to get more nutrition from their food. Basically, they produce 2 different types of poo: hard ‘normal’ faeces at night which is not eaten, & soft caecum faeces in the day, which they eat. Its a bit like koala pap. Eating the soft ‘cecotrope’is similar to cattle chewing their cud – the only difference is that the food passes almost all the way through the digestive system, extracting a maximum of nutrients, before being expelled. Other animals do it too, particularly rabbits and hares.
Common Ringtails really are quite beautiful little animals. They have a soft, bird-like twittering song that often goes unnoticed unless you are listening for it. If you love them and have them in your backyard, you can help them by planting eucalyptus trees, by keeping your cat & dog inside at night, and by allowing branches of trees to interconnect so that the possums don’t have to run along the powerline.
Pahl, L “Diet preference, diet composition and population density of the ringtail possum in several plant communities in southern Victoria” pages 253-60 in POSSUMS and GLIDERS ed by A P Smith and I D Hume, Australian Mammal Society, Sydney 1984
Victoria has 103 native extant (living) mammal species. They represent 28 families in 8 orders. Victoria comprises only 3% of Australia’s total area, but is home to nearly 30% of her mammals. Most of the major types of Australian mammals are present in this state: 2 of the 2 monotreme families; 11 of the 17 living marsupial families; 6 of the 8 bat families; 1 of the 1 family of native rodents and 8 of the 10 families of marine mammals.
Conservation Status in Victoria is noted beside each species thus: CR: Critically Endangered EN: Endangered VU: Vulnerable NT: Near Threatened DD: Data Deficient
1. St Kilda Penguins and Rakali. Inner suburban St Kilda has a wonderful population of wildife! The breakwater near St Kilda pier is home to a colony of Little Penguins, which can be seen from public viewing areas after dark most nights. I believe the first chick of the season has already been sighted. For more go to: http://stkildapenguins.com.au As a real bonus, while you’re there you might see the Rakali – a sort-of Aussie otter. These gorgeous water mammals live in a few places around the city but are rarely seen because they mostly come out after dark. I’ve seen one in East Gippsland during the day once, and it was so exciting! Don’t let the old name “Water Rat” fool you – they are nothing like a rat really, they are big, glossy and very exciting to watch. I believe that the study group welcomes volunteers to come out and help survey them. This would be a great school holiday project for older kids. Go to: http://www.rakali.com/
2. Tower Hill, one of my favourite places. Tower Hill is an example of how people can recreate a beautiful natural landscape. A marvellous painter, Eugene von Guerard, did a painting of Tower Hill in the 1850’s before it was cleared for farming. His work was so detailed that it was used in the 1960’s to revegetate the park. You wouldn’t believe it now. Forest full of koalas and birds now grows where there were bald hills only 50 years ago. See: http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/tower-hill-w.r for details. Make sure you pop in to Worn Gundidj Natural History Centre – they have lots of information and beautiful local artworks to see and buy. I particularly love their local textile range. The designs are magnificent, and not found anywhere else. http://www.worngundidj.org.au/
overlooking Tower Hill with the coast in the background
3. Echidna Walkabout’s Great Ocean Road 3 day tour. At this time of year you can see the coastline as it really is: wild, free and untamed. It’s easy to imagine ships wrecking on the reefs and rocks 200 years ago. Wildlife loves it at this time of year. Stand at the Twelve Apostles on dusk and look out for Little Penguins coming ashore way down on the beach below. We’ve even seen wild Brolga once on a trip at this time of year. http://www.echidnawalkabout.com.au/en/tours/gor
4. Deen Maar Indigenous Protected Area and Eumeralla Backpackers. I visited this wonderful place last year for the first time and can’t wait to get back. There is so much wildlife on this, the first of Victoria’s Indigenous Protected Areas, that it confirms my belief that Australia’s indigenous people are still the best land managers in Australia. Congratulations go to the Gunditjmara People who are managing the site. The best way to explore this area is to stay at Eumeralla Backpackers, and arrange a visit from there. The managers there are lovely, and really helpful. http://www.moyne.vic.gov.au/page/Page.asp?Page_Id=480&h=1
5. Possums! Most of Melbourne’s city parks have a population of Common Brushtail Possums. They come out at night, or just on dusk, and scamper around the grass like little wallabies. They are adorable, and I think, a must-see for any visitor to Melbourne. What’s great too, is that seeing them is free! All you need to do is walk down to the closest park to your hotel and walk around a bit. If it’s really dark it would help to take a torch/flashlight. Don’t touch them – they are wild animals with sharp teeth and might accidentally bite you. Council asks that you don’t feed them, and there’s no need to – they will bounce around you quite happily if you stay still. Interestingly, though they are called Common Brushtails they are no longer very common in natural bushland. You are much more likely to see them here than most natural areas.