While many refer to the koala as a “koala bear,” the fact is—the cute, fuzzy creature from Australia is not related to bears at all. Keep reading to find out more about koalas and the other animals that actually do hail as their next of kin.
The Koala Is a Marsupial
While koalas may look cute and cuddly, sort of like a teddy bear—they are definitely not members of the bear family.
The koala is a marsupial. Marsupials are a group of animals that share a common defining characteristic—they have pouches in which to carry their young. Their offspring are born earlier than most babies and thus need to spend extra time in the pouch. Teats are conveniently situated inside the pouch, allowing the baby to feed in a safe place.
Marsupials can be found in the Americas as well as in Australia. Aside from koalas, some other common marsupials include opossums, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and Tasmanian devils.
Koalas Are Herbivores
Koalas are herbivores, preferring a strictly plant-based diet. Their favorite meal consists of eucalyptus leaves, which are actually poisonous. A symbiotic relationship takes place between the koala and the eucalyptus; the animal eats dying leaves from the tree, making room for fresh new ones to grow. The koala has special bacteria in its stomach that break down the toxins in the leaves, which keeps the animal safe from the poison.
Koalas like the eucalyptus because its leaves are watery—so the animal doesn’t have to drink much water. They do eat other plants, though.
On the other hand, bears are omnivorous—they eat meat and plants. The Polar bear prefers a plant-based diet, but all bears eat meat.
Why Do People Think the Koala Is a Bear?
Though koalas are not bears, some people still think they are. This erroneous belief goes all the way back to when Europeans first visited Australia. They saw the koalas and thought they resembled bears, and thus dubbed them “koala bears.”
Bears and koalas tend to be solitary animals. Koalas are more likely to be found in trees, where they enjoy munching on leaves. While bears like to stick to the ground, they do sometimes climb trees in search of food or to hide from a predator.
So now you know the truth—koalas are not bears. They’re just leaf-loving marsupials in Australia that like to chill in trees.