Find out why koalas lick trees

Although these marsupials were thought to hardly need to drink water, a study reveals that they take advantage of smooth logs during rain to hydrate themselves.

Koalas are one of the most charismatic animals in the animal kingdom, but as a species they still have many questions. How do they access the water in the treetops? Do they only absorb moisture from the eucalyptus leaves they eat or do they go down to dry land to drink from the wells? Until now, no one really knew, but a study published in the journal “Ethology” seems to have found the clue: Koalas get their water by licking the soft trunks of trees.

Run by the University of Sydney, this is the first time this behavior has been addressed. “For a long time we thought that koalas did not need to drink much because they obtained the leaves on which they feed,” explains Valentina Mella, author of the research. “But now we have observed them licking the water from the trunks of the trees. This significantly alters our understanding of how koalas obtain water in the wild and this is very exciting.

These marsupials use the trees for their main needs: food, shelter, and rest. Now this study shows that they also need it to hydrate.

licking a soft bark from a tree – Echidna Walkabout and Koala Clancy Foundation
Find out why koalas lick trees
Although these marsupials were thought to hardly need to drink water, a study reveals that they take advantage of smooth logs during rain to hydrate themselves.
ABC Science
Madrid Updated: 05/06/2020 20: 49h
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Koalas are one of the most charismatic animals in the animal kingdom, but as a species they still have many questions. How do they access the water in the treetops? Do they only absorb moisture from the eucalyptus leaves they eat or do they go down to dry land to drink from the wells? Until now, no one really knew, but a study published in the journal “Ethology” seems to have found the clue: Koalas get their water by licking the soft trunks of trees.

Run by the University of Sydney, this is the first time this behavior has been addressed. “For a long time we thought that koalas did not need to drink much because they obtained the leaves on which they feed,” explains Valentina Mella, author of the research. “But now we have observed them licking the water from the trunks of the trees. This significantly alters our understanding of how koalas obtain water in the wild and this is very exciting.

These marsupials use the trees for their main needs: food, shelter, and rest. Now this study shows that they also need it to hydrate.

Each day, wild koalas eat around 510 grams of eucalyptus leaves and the water from the foliage they feed on is believed to contribute about three-quarters of their water consumption in both summer and winter. Among their adaptations to the Australian climate, koalas also possess extraordinary urinary concentrating abilities and have restricted respiratory and skin water loss compared to mammals of similar size.

In captivity, koalas have been observed to drink water, but this behavior has often been considered unusual and is attributed to illness or severe heat stress. However, occasional reports suggest that koalas in the wild drink from wells in summer when temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius. Koalas have also been observed to approach humans for free water (in bottles, gardens, and swimming pools during drought or after the fires that ravaged Australia a few months ago). But this is considered an unusual occurrence.
Watching the koalas licking

For this study, Mella compiled observations of koalas drinking in the wild made by independent citizen scientists and environmentalists between 2006 and 2019 at You Yangs Regional Park in Victoria and Liverpool Plains in New South Wales. 44 observations of koalas licking running water from a tree trunk were recorded during or immediately after the rain at You Yangs Regional Park.

The other two observations of koala feeding behavior were recorded between the towns of Gunnedah and Mullaley, on the Liverpool Plains. One was an adult woman who drank heavily and uninterruptedly for 15 minutes. The other was a grown man who drank steadily for 34 minutes.

“As koalas are nocturnal animals and observation of their behavior rarely occurs during heavy rains, it is likely that their drinking behavior has gone unnoticed and therefore underestimated in the past,” says the researcher.Find out why koalas lick trees

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