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10 Things You Didn’t Know About Koalas

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Sure, they're cute, and they certainly look cuddly. But here are a few other, more surprising things you might not have known about koalas.

1. Koalas hug trees to keep cool. Scientists used thermal cameras to watch some koalas hanging out in trees and saw that when the weather was warm, the animals moved to lower parts of the trees and pressed themselves close to the trunks, wedging their bottoms right into the coolest spots.

2. In captivity, koalas exhibit more lesbian behavior than straight. Sexual encounters have been known to involve up to five females. They last twice as long as heterosexual encounters.

3. Fifty to 90 percent of female koalas have chlamydia. The symptoms in koalas are chest infections, conjunctivitis, and "wet-bottom," which looks like what you’d imagine. It can be fatal unless treated with antibiotics and can leave the koalas sterile. Here's the catch: Predators aren’t that important to koala population control, but chlamydia might be. In the late '90s, chlamydia-free koalas were introduced into Mount Eccles National Park in Victoria, which had a huge Manna Gum tree population. Without chlamydia to control the population, koala numbers doubled every few years, and thousands of hectares of forest were at threat until hormonal contraception was introduced. In other areas where chlamydia-free koalas were introduced, the koalas killed the trees and then died of starvation [PDF]. When koalas are stressed, chlamydia—which is normally harmless—limits the population growth. Now, rather than overpopulation, a combination of habitat loss and a retrovirus is making chlamydia a problem even as the population dwindles.

4. Koalas fingerprints are virtually indistinguishable from human ones, so much so that they can be mistaken for one another in criminal investigations. The animals' hands are covered in warts.

5.  Although koalas eat around half a kilogram of eucalyptus leaves a day, they’re very picky, tending to choose around 30 of the 600 varieties of eucalyptus trees out there. Koalas prefer large trees, but avoid those with low protein content and nauseating toxins. The problem is that two trees of the same species right next to each other can have wildly different toxin levels, forcing the koala to rely on their smell. Eucalyptus leaves are very low in calcium, forcing the koalas to go to the ground and eat dirt. They are reported to smell like big cough drops because of all that eucalyptus.

6. Because of their diet koalas have an unusually large caecum—part of the digestive system—to help them digest their diet of eucalyptus leaves. On the other hand, they have tiny brains because brains use a lot of energy and their diets don’t give them much to work with. They can only stay awake for four hours a day.

7. Koala joeys feed on their mother’s "pap," which is a kind of soup the koalas make internally and excrete—so yes, baby koalas eat their mother’s droppings. They're full of microorganisms and get their tiny digestive tracts ready for a lifetime of leaves for lunch.

8. The anima's scientific name, Phascolarctos cinereus, loosely means "ash-grey pocket-bear," but koalas are not bears: They’re marsupials. Their closest living relative is the wombat.

9. Some people might tell you that "koala" means "don’t drink"; don’t believe them. When koalas get really thirsty they do what any intelligent animal would do and drink from streams or swimming pools. According Etymology Online, koala comes from the Dharuk name for animal, which has been given in different ways including koola, kulla, and kula.

10. Mick is an incredibly rare white koala with white fur and dark eyes and nose. Albino koalas are white with pink eyes and noses.

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Courtesy of The National Aviary
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Animals
Watch This Live Stream to See Two Rare Penguin Chicks Hatch From Their Eggs
Courtesy of The National Aviary
Courtesy of The National Aviary

Bringing an African penguin chick into the world is an involved process, with both penguin parents taking turns incubating the egg. Now, over a month since they were laid, two penguin eggs at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are ready to hatch. As Gizmodo reports, the baby birds will make their grand debut live for the world to see on the zoo's website.

The live stream follows couple Sidney and Bette in their nest, waiting for their young to emerge. The first egg was laid November 7 and is expected to hatch between December 14 and 18. The second, laid November 11, should hatch between December 18 and 22.

"We are thrilled to give the public this inside view of the arrival of these rare chicks," National Aviary executive director Cheryl Tracy said in a statement. "This is an important opportunity to raise awareness of a critically endangered species that is in rapid decline in the wild, and to learn about the work that the National Aviary is doing to care for and propagate African penguins."

African penguins are endangered, with less than 25,000 pairs left in the wild today. The National Aviary, the only independent indoor nonprofit aviary in the U.S., works to conserve threatened populations and raise awareness of them with bird breeding programs and educational campaigns.

After Sidney and Bette's new chicks are born, they will care for them in the nest for their first three weeks of life. The two penguins are parenting pros at this point: The monogamous couple has already hatched and raised three sets of chicks together.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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