Koalas: A Different Kind of Bear

Koalas: A Different Kind of Bear

Just about every child can identify a koala bear if presented with a photograph of one. Their unique appearance and lifestyle has made them incredibly popular worldwide. Koalas are huge tourist draws in their native Australia. It is estimated that sales of koala toys and tourism specifically for koalas brings in over one billion Australian dollars a year.  Over seventy-five percent of Asian and European tourists who make the trip to Australia rated the koala as the animal they wanted to see most in a 1997 poll. The sleepy creature is featured on candy, cartoons and is even used in radio and television advertisements.  So what is the draw to a koala? A large part of it is likely the prevailing cute factor. There is no arguing that koalas are adorable creatures. However, despite their popularity, koalas are not well understood in the context of origins. This article will talk about koala life, reproduction, and their place in the origins debate.

Koalas, despite being popularly termed bears, are not related to bears at all. They are Marsupials, much like Kangaroos and wombats.  Koalas are the only known members of their genus, and there is only one species, though several subspecies exist. They are herbivores, limited to eating just one kind of leaf. Koalas dine exclusively on the eucalyptus tree leaves. Eucalyptus leaves are not very nutritious so koalas must consume large quantities of them in order to function. Due to this, koalas can spend as much as twenty hours a day sleeping.  Since some eucalyptus leaves are poisonous, koalas use their extremely sensitive nose to determine if their potential meal is safe to eat. They are solitary creatures, staking out tiny territories, sometimes as small as a dozen eucalyptus trees in a grove.  Because they are slow and awkward on the ground, koalas spend the vast majority of their time in trees, even sleeping.  They wedge themselves into a fork in the tree and curl up for their twenty hour nap. Since tree forks are not terribly comfortable for sitting, koalas have a special cartilaginous pad at the base of their spine which cushions them and makes sitting in a tree more comfortable. In order to get rid of excess heat in the Australian summer, the koala will often move to the lowest branches of the tree and hug the trunk. This passes heat from the koala to the tree and the koala does not need to expend precious energy on panting, as a dog does.  Koalas have a maximum size of around three feet in length but have one of the smallest brains relative to body size among mammals. However, since the animals sleeps most of the day, this lack of brainpower is not a hindrance. When cornered, koalas will take swings at their attackers with their sharp claws. Interestingly, koalas are one of a very few animals to have fingerprints. Most koalas will live somewhere between 13-18 years in the wild. The primary cause of death is starvation as their teeth wear out and they are unable to chew eucalyptus leaves any longer.

Koala reproduction is season, largely occurring in Australian spring to fall, which, because they are in the southern hemisphere, takes place between October and May.  Females tend to squabble loudly with males attempting to mate with them, so much so that other males are sometimes attracted and the mating process must be interrupted while the male goes off to battle the challengers. Male compete for dominance, rarely doing more than inflicting minor cuts, but still doing their best to intimidate their rivals.  They also mark their territory using a specialized gland in their chest called a scent gland.  Once they have defeated any challengers,  the mating process will complete. Females give birth a few days above a month later to tiny babies called joeys, just like their more famous fellow Australians kangaroos.  The joeys then ease their way into their mothers pouch where they will spend six months without leaving.  The pouch is backward facing, meaning it faces the rear of the koala rather than the head. This makes it easy for the joey to reach upon being born.  It will be a year before a newborn joey is big enough to leave its mother and live on its own.

Now that we have established a background for koalas, let us examine their place in origins. Any marsupial is of interest in the origins debate as they have such unique features and appearances. The koala is of particular interest because of its unique diet, appearance, and several other unique features.  Many eucalyptus leaves are poisonous, yet koalas know which ones are safe, and which are not.  This begs the question how? On one level, their sense of smell can explain why they know the difference, but it does not explain how they know which of the two different leaves are safe to eat.  Had koalas evolved slowly using natural processes, the first one would have poisoned itself by ingesting the wrong kind of eucalyptus. Further, koalas have a specially designed digestive system that is able to deal with the eucalyptus leaves, which are not easy to digest. Evolution would never have arranged that in the first koala, as evolution is blind to future needs, but without this digestive system, the first koala would have starved. Koalas have a special pad at the base of their spine, as discussed above. This special pad makes it possible for koalas to sit in trees all day. Evolution would not have foreseen the need for such a pad, but an intelligent designer God would have.  Koalas demand a designer, not a blind, random natural process.

 

Harry

 

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