Meet Australia’s most instagram-worthy animal

They were are not as popular as their distant cousin roos, but that changed in the age of social media.

A kangaroo-like animal the size of a house cat, quokkas first became well-known outside Australia when photos of them smiling circulated the internet around 2013. Soon people including celebrities started taking selfies with them. That further catapulted them to social media fame.

Let’s get to know more about this cute Australian animal that has captured the hearts of many.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but quokkas are not actually smiling

It is just the way their mouths are shaped. The “smile” becomes even more prominent when they open their mouths to pant to keep themselves cool.

They are still best for taking selfies with though. They are quite friendly to humans and usually wouldn’t mind posing for a photo. Just remember not to touch and feed them because it is illegal to do so. And don’t go chasing them around for selfies. Just let them come to you when they want to.

Quokkas are unique to Australia

Quokkas are one of the many native Australian animals that cannot be found elsewhere in the world.

Also, they can be found only in specific areas in Southwestern Australia mainly in Rottnest Island and Bald Island. Some smaller colonies exist in the mainland.

Rottnest Island is named after the quokkas which were then mistaken for as large rats. The island’s original name given by the Dutch was Rattennest which means rat’s nest. Around 10,000 quokkas are said to be living in Rottnest Island.

Quokkas often live in shrublands near water sources, although some can also be found in wetlands and forests.

Quokkas can hop around like kangaroos

Quokkas have strong hind legs that enable them to hop around. They are distantly related to kangaroos. They belong to a group of animals called marsupials which give birth to live but immature young. So like kangaroos, female quokkas have a pouch where the young joeys stay for months to continue their physical development.

Quokkas can also climb trees if they have to

Unlike the kangaroos, quokkas can climb small trees and shrubs up to 1.5 metres. They do this mainly to get food. But they don’t stay up there for long.

Quokkas sometimes chew cud as cows do

Quokkas are herbivores and their diet mostly consist of leaves, stems, grass, bark, and sometimes fruits. On average, an adult male quokka can eat 32 to 45 grams of food each day.

Their food can be hard to digest so they swallow partially chewed food into their stomach. There the food would be broken down with the help of bacteria and then will be regurgitated back to the mouth to be chewed again, before being swallowed again.

Quokkas can go months without drinking water

Quokkas get most of their water needs from eating leaves.

Quokkas’ tail serves as fat storage

In case of lack of food in the environment, the quokkas can live off the fat stored in their tails for some time.

Quokkas are nocturnal

Like many Australian animals, quokkas are most active at night. Thus, it is best to spot quokkas very early in the morning or just before dusk.

However, in tourist areas, quokkas are reportedly getting more active during the day. Probably because they get access to food from the tourists during day time. Although it is illegal to feed them, some of them have learned to rummage through waste bins looking for leftover food.

Quokkas tuck their head between their legs when sleeping

They sleep in a sitting position with their heads resting on their feet. They prefer to sleep under shady foliage during the day.

Quokkas are harmless...well, almost

Australia has a reputation for being the home to dangerous animals. It is been a running joke that every animal in Australia is out to kill you. While not entirely true, we can’t blame you. Especially since even some of the cute Australian animals can pose real harm to humans (we are looking at you koala and platypus).

In the case of quokkas, they are generally friendly and not afraid of humans. But like any wild animals, they may bite when they feel threatened. So it is best not to pet and feed them under any circumstances. Not only because it might not end well for you, but also because feeding them human food like bread can make them sick and petting them may cause them distress.

Mommy quokka has a backup baby

After successful mating, a female quokka will give birth to a pinkish, jelly-beanish joey after 27 days.

Right after giving birth, she will mate again. The product of the second mating will undergo an embryonic diapause. This means that the fertilised ovum will remain in the blastocyst stage. It can stay dormant for five months.

Should the first joey die before reaching its full development which is around six months, the blastocyst inside the quokka’s womb will be triggered continue its development. After another 27 days or so, a new joey will be born again.

However, if the first joey survives its first six months, the other fertilised ovum will disintegrate.