Koalas Don’t Sleep Where They Eat


An adolescent koala napping at the Chiang Mai’s Zoo in Thailand

The phrase “don’t sleep where you eat” is no longer applied by only humans.  Researchers at the Australian National University have found that a koala’s will exert significant amount of energy to switch trees between naps and feeding.

Though koalas are a commonly known species, their behaviors and feeding patterns are a mystery to scientists. Currently, all that is known about their habitat is based on where they can be found during the day, but what about at night?

Researchers in Karen Marsh’s lab secured microphones to 8 koalas on Victoria Phillip Island to examine their behaviors day and night comparatively. Radio and audio telemetry was used to continuously monitor and track koala movements for 14 days.  Through this, researchers were able to determine their feeding and social patterns.

On the recordings, the koalas were heard munching on leaves in one tree, then switching trees to sleep.  The recordings allowed the researchers to determine the type of trees the koalas inhabited as well, along with the amount of time spent in each.

It was determined that koalas generally relaxed or slept in blue gum trees during the day, feeding in Manner gum trees at night.  Both species of gum tree are types of Eucalyptus trees.  Once the type of tree was determined, researchers then studied the nutritional value of the leaves from those trees.

They reported that koalas fed in the trees with the highest nutritional value but slept in the trees with smoother bark and thicker limbs.  Marsh doesn’t think that its a coincidence that the koalas fed on the leaves with the most protein and the least amount of toxins.

Lead author, Karen Marsh, reports that this study has implications for koala conservation and protection in the future.

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Journal Source:

Karen J Marsh, Ben D Moore, Ian R Wallis, William J Foley. (2014) Continuous monitoring of feeding by koalas highlights diurnal differences in tree preferences.  CSIRO Journal Wildlife Research. 40(8) 639-646 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR13104

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