clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Verge Review of Animals: The koala

Koalas aren’t cute, they’re gross

Handout/Getty Images

This column is part of a series where Verge staffers post highly subjective reviews of animals. Up until now, we’ve written about animals without telling you whether they suck or rule. We are now rectifying this oversight.

The koala is so popular that the marsupial has become a facet of Australia’s economy. According to a 1997 report, koala tourism injects $1.1 billion dollars into the country’s economy every year, and employs 9,000 Australians. With their big round ears, goofy noses, and button eyes, who can resist these teddy bears come to life? Certainly not Pope John Paul II, Jared Leto, Mariah Carey, Kim Kardashian, President Obama, President Vladimir Putin, Taylor Swift, or Katy Perry — each of whom has been photographed cradling a koala at one time or another. But all these adorable photo ops and economic indicators mask an inconvenient truth: koalas are disgusting misanthropes.

The animal spends up to 20 hours a day in sedentary reposeFirst, the basics: a herbivorous marsupial, the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) is found across large tracts of eastern Australia, where they inhabit eucalyptus woodlands. Because the koala subsists off the nutrient- and calorie-poor leaves of the eucalyptus tree, the animal spends up to 20 hours a day in sedentary repose. Once numbering in the millions, Australia’s koala population dropped drastically with the arrival of Europeans, who hunted the slow-moving marsupial for its thick, luxurious pelt. Thanks to recovery efforts in recent decades, those numbers have bounced back, though the animal continues to be threatened by habitat loss.

So far, so cute. But let’s take a look at some facts koalas don’t want you to know.

As The Verge reported earlier this summer, koalas are teeming with chlamydia. You read that correctly — though they’re only awake an average of four hours per day, carnal koalas make time for romance. But not protection. In some areas of Australia, chlamydia infection rates are as high as 90 percent — with males, females, and even baby joeys affected. For the marsupials, the disease can lead to conjunctivitis, urinary infections, incontinence, and even blindness.

Did you know that koalas feed their offspring poop? Chlamydia — big deal, we’ve all been there, right? Fine, but did you know that koalas feed their offspring poop? At roughly 5 months, a joey will begin eating a form of its mother’s excretion called "pap." Pap provides the joey with the microorganisms it needs to eventually digest eucalyptus leaves on its own. But let me be very clear: pap is poop. Disgusting, runny, mushy poop — I did a quick google image search recently and it ruined my evening.

Finally, while you may have the urge to hug a koala, a koala has absolutely no interest in hugging you. Unlike their marsupial kin the kangaroos, which travel in "mobs," koalas are solitary animals that communicate or interact with each other rarely. When they do call out or leave scent marks, it is likely in an attempt to scare off other koalas and avoid contact. When males do interact, they often fight. Have you ever heard angry koalas? They’re terrifying.

Let me be clear: the koala is a remarkable animal. The males have bifurcated penises (!), the females have two vaginas and two separate uteri (!!), and the animal does what it must in order to survive in a dry, desolate environment. Like all animals, the koala contains multitudes. Sure, in the koala’s case one of those multitudes may be adorable — but the rest of the multitudes are foul. Remember how I said the koala subsists on eucalyptus leaves? In order to digest the plant material, koalas will occasionally regurgitate into their own mouths to chew their food a second time. I rest my case.

The first Western illustration of a koala was published in 1810 in a book by George Perry titled Arcana. The koala in Perry’s book looks only vaguely related to the koala we know today: its face is somehow elephant-like; its arms are disproportionate to its body; and it has big, lidless eyes.

koalo

George Perry's illustration (Wikimedia Commons)

Perry thought the animal, which he dubbed the New Holland Sloth, was an abomination: "the eye is placed like that of the Sloth, very close to the mouth and nose, which gives it a clumsy awkward appearance, and void of elegance in the combination."

The Royal Dictionary-Cyclopaedia for Universal Reference, published in 1862, described the koala as "the intermediate link between opossum and kangaroo" — this isn’t true, by the way. "In the daytime," the entry continues, "the koala feeds upon the slender shoots of the gum tree but in the night it descends in of various roots. It seems to creep rather walk; when incensed or hungry it utters a long shrill yell, and assumes a fierce and menacing look. It is easily domesticated."

Perry and the Encyclopedia are wrong on a lot of points, but they’re right on one: koalas aren’t cute, they’re gross.

The Koala

Verge Score: 4.0

4.0

Verge Score

Good Stuff

  • Pouches

  • Expert nappers

  • Employ 9,000 Australians

Bad Stuff

  • Riddled with STDs

  • Feed their children poop

  • Terrible party guests