Look at that cute little old man grumpy bear like face! How adorable! And not at all a bear. Koalas are indeed tree dwelling marsupials. They are stout, tailless creatures with fluffy ears and what has been described as a spoon shaped nose. What is not to love?
These cuddly looking critters are probably not as snuggly as they look. They have strong, sharp claws which help them climb and hold onto trees and are also aided by friction ridges on their paws. However their fur, which makes them so appealing, is fascinating. It gets all tangled up and protects the koala from wind and heat, working as a very effective insulator. The fur on their back is the colour of bark and the fur underneath is white like the clouds, camouflaging the koala from different angles in different ways. An all round excellent protective coat, an invitation to think about our own protective layers and how well they work and why we use them.
Koalas spend a lot of time sleeping because they eat very unnutritious food – eucalyptus leaves – which are hard to digest… And they’re picky, they will only eat from very particular types of eucalyptus… One of the benefits of this seemingly unhelpful diet is that the leaves provide the koala with all the water they need. This means they don’t have to leave the trees to go in search of fluid. Which is just as well because the trees are very important to them; they provide not only their food but are also their home, where they fight, where they mate and where they bring up their babies. The tree also helps keep them cool; their stubborn tree cuddling behaviour brings them in close contact with the bark which can be as much as 9 degrees cooler than the air temperature. If you feel strongly drawn to this card you might want to look into properties and beliefs about the eucalyptus as well.
Koalas aren’t especially social animals but they do have to get together to mate. There is an alpha male who is territorial and will live near breeding females. He dominates other koalas and marks his space by rubbing his scent glands on the trees. Male koalas will make loud bellowing noises which travel far and signal their body size (males are significantly larger than females and it seems size matters in the female koala’s eyes). This strange noise doesn’t sound like it should be coming from a koala… Females respond with bizarre bobbing hiccupping movements to show they are in heat. Having watched a documentary which showed two koalas having sex, I have to say, it didn’t look like fun for the female… Mum will give birth only once a year or less, normally to just one joey, and that’s just as well as motherhood takes its toll when you have to carry your baby everywhere. Babies are born highly undeveloped five weeks after mating and have to crawl to find their mums pouch. Here the little teeny tiny joey will suckle and grow until, after about 26 weeks, they pop their little head out into the world. At about six months old, they will start to transition from milk to leaves and baby will start to explore the world. At this stage they are still very dependent on mum, literally clinging to her, riding on her back and learning from her. Slowly, the joey will become more confident and more independent until it is a year old. At this point they start to separate and when mum is pregnant again, the mother baby bond is severed. This initial close bond and literal attachment feels like it’s asking us about our own relationships and I am reminded of the quote about the butterfly:
“Love is like a beautiful butterfly. If you hold it too tight, you’ll crush it. Hold it too loose and it will fly away.”
During their 20 or so hours asleep in the foetal position, the koala has a lot of time for dreaming whilst they very slowly digest their food. Perhaps a reminder that you have what you need but that it takes time, a lot of time sometimes, to process it. Sleep can help you access that wisdom, as can other activities which thin the veil between reality and dreaming – art, free writing, dance… There are many ways of connecting to the knowledge within you but it cannot be rushed.
In terms of dreamtime stories, we see how the koala lost it’s tail, often due to his laziness and his attitude during drought. In one, he hung by his tail to drink from a hidden source of water, the lyrebird got angry and set fire to the tree. In his rush to escape, koala left his tail behind. In another, the tree kangaroo and the koala were searching for water and koala was being lazy and getting tree kangaroo to do all the work. Koala then got into the hole that tree kangaroo had dug and drank all the water. Tree kangaroo was understandably very angry – he had done all the hard work and had none of the water – so he grabbed koala by the tail and pulled so hard that it came off. Both versions depict the koala as selfish, unconcerned about others and unwilling to share. He ended up sacrificing his tail because of his behaviour. Had he shared the water, there would have been enough for everyone and he could have kept his tail…
Interestingly, we also see the koala as having the potential to cause droughts so severe that everyone, except koala, will die. Because of this, the koala must be respected.