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A climbing wombat?

April 7, 2019

We couldn’t resist posting this fine picture of a Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) that was sent to us by Ian from the Yellow Creek Dairy Creek Landcare Group. The koala sauntered past Ian as he was fencing on his property near Yea.

Koalas are a relatively rare occurrence in our district. There have been only 9 recorded since 2000 on the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas data base within a 15 km radius of Ian’s property – an area that includes Flowerdale and Strath Creek. A few of the sightings have been animals translocated from French Island to Mt. Disappointment Forest in 2004.

It is interesting to ponder the ancestry of koalas. They are quite agile (though vulnerable) on the ground and are not at first sight obviously adapted for arboreal existence: dumpy, no prehensile tail (or any tail to speak of!), no gliding membranes and relatively small forward-facing eyes not particularly suited to night-time manoeuvring among branches. To compensate for these deficiencies they do of course have powerful hands and feet with long sharp claws.

So what are the roots of this unique creature? Apparently the fossil records provide very little information about the origins of koalas and their relationship to other marsupials. Comparisons with the characteristics of living marsupials offer the best clues, and it turns out that koalas share many features with wombats, such as a rudimentary tail, a backward-opening pouch with only two teats, granulated rather than ridged pads on the hands and feet, cheek pouches, a unique gastric gland – and they even have similar hook-shaped sperm quite different from those of other marsupials.

All these mutual characteristics led biologists to deduce that the koala shared a common ancestor with the wombat. Furthermore, that ancestor was almost certainly terrestrial (ground-dwelling) – more wombat than koala!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Elaine White permalink
    April 7, 2019 4:07 pm

    Can’t believe there have only been 9 reported sightings of koalas in our Dairy Cree/Strath Creek area. We regularly see them at Junction Hill and certainly hear the males in mating season. Also coming home late one night about a month ago along Dairy Creek Road, passed a koala sitting on the edge of the road about 50 metres from Lillian Drysdale’s
    gateway

    • macwake permalink*
      April 8, 2019 7:12 am

      Hi Elaine – it’s great that koalas are thriving around Junction Hill area. It just shows that scientific databases don’t always reflect the true prevalence of wildlife out there – they are only as good as the amount of data entered. Incidental sightings by locals don’t always get reported.
      David

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