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.
(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.
- 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?
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. The best way to see and hear this is on Echidna Walkabout’s Sunset Koalas & Kangaroos tour.
- 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.
Find out more about Wild Koala Day.
So on May 3, Wild Koala Day:
PLANT a tree
PROTECT a forest
PHONE a politician
Or support an industry that is fighting for their survival – come on a tour that features wild koalas!
*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