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.

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  • 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?

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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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

The Anthem of The Bush: the Laughing Kookaburra call

The call of the Laughing Kookaburra is one of the true songs of Australia. It sums up so much about our country: raucous, full of joy, spontaneous and fun. It is multi-layered and gregarious – only a family singing together can do it properly. Its not sweet or melodic, but it brings a mischievous smile to your face every time you hear it.  Watch: https://youtu.be/t8mCEXWSO44

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Kookaburras are only found in the Australasian region, so you won’t hear that marvellous call anywhere but downunder.

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Australia and New Guinea are their strongholds: Australia has the famous Laughing Kookaburra, and shares the pretty Blue-winged Kookaburra with New Guinea. New Guinea has an additional three: the stunning Spangled and Rufous-bellied Kookaburras and the special, little Shovel-billed Kookaburra (which is different to the other four – its in a genus all by itself). The tiny Aru Islands of Indonesia, just between New Guinea and Australia, also have Spangled Kookaburras.

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It is the Laughing Kookaburra of eastern and southern Australia that gives the group its fame. To look at he is nothing special – a brown and white kingfisher with a splash of blue in his wing. But seeing a kookaburra is not that important, its hearing them that counts. Their crazy wonderful call bursts out from a majestic gum-tree like the forest itself can’t surpress its happiness any longer and has to shout it to the world. Listen: https://soundcloud.com/nature-sounds/laughing-kookaburra-dacelo-novaeguineae  It is a call of sunshine, and nature and life. The Anthem of The Bush.

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Mimicing the song is not easy, partly because the call is not made by one bird – it is made by a whole family. One bird sings “koo koo koo”, her mate sings “Ka ka ka” overlapping, like singing a round. The children chime in and the song becomes complex, layered, thrilling. In fact singing together keeps the family bond alive.

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The song is so complex that it is one of the few birdcalls the greatest songster of the world, the Superb Lyrebird, cannot mimic perfectly. Listen: https://soundcloud.com/janine-duffy/lyrebirddoingkookaburra

If you live here, take a trip to the bush sometime soon (you can even join us on our Koala Conservation Day for Locals) and let the Kookaburra make you feel alive. If you live overseas, plan a trip to Australia and include a day outside of the city (the Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD day trip from Melbourne is a great way to hear kookaburras). You’ll never forget hearing this song!

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Watch out next week: its #WombatWeek!

Zack – wild koala of the month for October 2015

October #KoalaOfTheMonth is Zack!  Zack is very pugnacious and always a bit ahead of the game!!

wild koala Zack

Zack is a young fellow with a lot of guts. He is pushing into dominant male Anzac’s home range – which no-one else has dared to do for years.  We are all so impressed with his courage, but worried for him as well!

wild koala Zack

Zack was first seen in October 2013.  We see a lot of young males moving around in spring each year. Most appear briefly, then disappear again, but Zack stuck around.  We’ve been seeing him on an off now for two years. We hope he can find a little home of his own near us!

wild koala Zack

Zack has a distinct, and obvious, unique nose pattern. Can you see the bright white patches in his nostrils and how they are similar both sides, but not quite the same?
Once you know a koala by their nose you’ll rarely mistake their identity, even if other features change.

wild koala Zack

When we first met Zack he looked like a 3 or 4 year old – chubby small face, big eyes, dark grey fur.

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Zack when we first met him, a 3 year old

Two years later, he is now a mature male and looks every bit of it – big, broad head, lighter dove grey fur, big shoulders.

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Zack in 2015, a mature 5 year old

If you are planning a trip to Melbourne, Australia, book the Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD or 3 day Great Ocean Road tour for a chance to see Zack in person!

Watch out next Monday for November #koalaOfTheMonth Pat – mother of #KoalaClancy.

Bungaleenee: December 2014 #koalaOfTheMonth

This is #KoalaOfTheMonth: Bungaleenee. Whilst koalas are excellent at playing Hide and Seek, Bungaleenee is not playing that game here. He is sitting on the ground hugging the tree in an attempt to cool down. The tree trunk can keep his body temperature down by up to 7 degrees.

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Some people comment that Bungaleenee’s name sounds Italian (although not usually a comment made by Italians). In fact Bungaleenee is the name of an Aboriginal Man from the Gippsland area.

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Bungaleenee lives south of males #KoalaClancy and Gurren, and shares his home range with females Babarrang, Bermborok and Mear.

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It’s a well known fact that girl koalas are cuter than boy koalas (sorry guys). However if ever there was a big male who was a little better looking than others it would have to be Koala of the Month Bungaleenee!

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Next time you’re visiting Melbourne, Australia, come our on our Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD tour and you might meet Bungaleenee!

About wild koala Bermborok – July 2015 Koala of the Month

July Koala of the Month is Bermborok!!  Bermborok is the Watharurong* word for sister, and is probably the origin of the name ‘Beremboke’ – the town in the Brisbane Ranges where Roger’s mum and dad lived, and our good friend Marilyn Blankley runs a wildlife shelter.

Koala Researcher Melinda King, a member of the Wathaurong Aboriginal Community, suggested the name for her.  We like to promote the use of the original languages of Australia, and this is a great way of remembering them.

Bermborok is a beautiful little lady living just near Koala Clancy. This month we’ll tell you a bit about her.

our lovely little brunette, Bermborok
our lovely little brunette, Bermborok

We first met July koala of the month Bermborok in December 2012. At first it was hard to get a decent photograph – this one was the best we could manage. Why? Like a lot of unhabituated wild koalas, she was nervous. She would hide in the leaves at the very top of the tree.

Bermborok in the early days, nervously peeking at us
Bermborok in the early days, nervously peeking at us

If koalas have had no experience of humans they see us as a danger. So we are patient – we stay quiet, move little and stay well back from the tree.  See our Koala Rules to learn how to do it.   It works!  In the next photo we’ll show you how relaxed Bermborok has become.

Bermborok, now curious
Bermborok, now curious

Now, 2.5 years after first meeting Bermborok, she is relaxed enough to look at us with curiosity. She no longer bolts for the top of the tree each time she hears us coming, she no longer feels she has to hide her lovely face in the leaves.

This is our reward for being gentle and patient with her.  We feel better knowing she isn’t terrified.  It also makes her easier to find!  Nervous koalas can avoid people by hiding themselves in thick foliage when they hear you coming.  So there’s another reason to be quiet, and stay well back from wild koalas – next time you visit you might be rewarded!

July koala of the month Bermborok has a chubby little face – can you see it? This suggests to us that she is quite young, perhaps just 4 or 5 years old.

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Koalas age like we do – they start off with round “puppy fat” faces and over time become more angular.  Its not a totally reliable method of aging a wild koala, but its the best we can do non-intrusively!

Learn more about our Wild Koala Research Project: http://www.echidnawalkabout.com.au/wildliferesearch

*Wathaurong is the language of the Aboriginal People of Geelong, Little River and the You Yangs.