With smiling faces and rounded bodies, quokkas are one of the cutest animals in the world. They are so famous that many people from all over the world, including well-known people and celebrities, have to come and take a selfie with them. What’s so special about them? Let’s dive into some fun facts about the quokka.
1. Quokkas are kangaroos’relatives
Although look like rats, quokkas are not rodents, they are marsupials. Quokkas are members of the Macropodidae family, which includes kangaroos and wallabies. These animals are also known as short-tailed wallabies.
They have many features in common with the kangaroo cousins, such as jumping and bounding around, moving forward with their hands, and holding their babies in a pouch.
However, the quokka is not as territorial as the kangaroos. The territoriality of a quokka is determined by where they live. While the quokka on the Australian mainland is highly territorial, the quokka on Rottnest Island lives together in intersecting groups and share refuge throughout the day.
These creatures live mostly on the ground, but they can climb trees if necessary, up to 2 meters. They mainly climb small trees and shrubs to find food and to relax. They can even swim, although it is not their favorite option.
2. They live in a small area of Australia
Like kangaroos and wombats, quokkas are native to Australia. However, you can only find them in a few areas of the country. The majority are found on the mainland in the Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve. The remainder lives on Rottnest Island and Bald Island.
If you want to see a quokka, just visit Rottnest Island. The quokkas are such a common sight that local shops consider them a bother! Or you can see them in zoos across Australia, like Melbourne Zoo, Adelaide Zoo, Perth Zoo, and Sydney Zoo.
Today, Rottnest Island is home to more than 7,000 quokkas. Small populations can also be found in the southwest woodlands on the mainland. Although the quokka is not listed as an endangered speices, it is still at risk as cities grow and agriculture expands.
Quokkas live in shrubland, wetlands, and forest. Quokkas on islands utilize a diversity of habitats with adequate shelter, whereas the mainland ones employ vegetation cover in wetlands surrounded by dry sclerophyll forest.
As nocturnal animals, quokkas are more active at night. They spend most of the day sleeping and eating in a thicket or other shady, cool, and safe place. They always choose the same location to rest.
At night, they go out to forage for food; at midnight, they come back to the same refuge. Though they normally get along, mature males can even compete fiercely for resting spots, especially in hot summer times.
3. They’re not as tiny as you think
The quokka appears to be extremely little in pictures, but it is bigger than you imagine. It has a size of a small cat, especially when it stretches.
Their bodies are round and firm, measuring 40-54 cm (16-21 inches) in length, while their tails are normally 23 – 30 cm (9 – 12 inches) long. Female quokkas are about 1.3 – 3.8 kg (3 – 8 pounds), while the male is often heavier with 2.2 – 1.5 kg (5 – 10 pounds).
They have short, rough brown-grey fur, thin and short tails, small paws, rounded ears, narrow faces, and a black snout.
The quokka’s smile is one of its most distinguishing characteristics. Known as “the world’s most cheerful mammal,” quokkas have a constantly happy grin on their face.
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4. They don’t need much water
To survive, this animal doesn’t need much water. Despite the fact that these creatures love to live close to water, they barely drink. Instead of drinking water, quokkas take the majority of the water from the plants they consume, especially the guichenotia (a flowering bush). When water supplies are limited, the quokka may do without water for up to a month, provided that their food sources stay consistent.
5. Quokkas eat their food twice
Quokkas are herbivores, their diet includes a wide range of grass, stems, leaves, and bark. Their favorite meal is guichenotia ledifolia, a tiny shrub-like species.
One interesting fact about quokkas is that they do not chew their food. Instead, they tear it out, put it into their mouths, and swallow. However, it’s not done yet! These cute animals will vomit their food and eat it again. In this way, the cud is more digested, their digestive systems can absorb more important nutrients from the second time.
Moreover, the quokka can survive well during times of drought or limited food supply. This is because they are able to store fat in their thick tails. When needed, these fats can be depleted to keep the quokka alive until it can find another source of food is found.
6. They have few offspring
The number that quokkas mate depends on where they live. On the mainland, quokkas breed often, however, females seldom bear more than one offspring per year. Two is the maximum number. Whereas, the quokka on Rottnest island only mate once a year, from January to March when the weather is colder. They normally have one baby, known as a joey.
The female will go through the gestation period in one month. After that, a new baby is born and it will find its way into its mother’s pouches for safety, warmth, and milk. It will stay there for about 6 months.
Even after leaving the pouch, the joey continues to feed on its mother’s milk for around 2 months. The male quokka reaches sexual maturity at the age of 12 months, while the female is earlier when in month 8. They can have their own babies at the age of 1.5 years old. In the wild, the average lifespan of the quokkas is 10 to 15 years.
7. Mothers can sacrifice their young
The natural predators of quokkas are dingoes and birds of prey. Dogs, cats, snakes, and foxes have been brought into their home and become their threats.
When confronted with a predator, the quokka’s primary response is to flee. They can hop at fast speeds, plunge into burrows, and scramble up branches to escape predators. They will do everything in their power to survive if they are cornered. They can bite and scratch with their fangs and claws; they can kick with their muscular rear legs.
Most animals would struggle and even die for their offspring, but quokka mothers are not like that. When attacked, quokka moms can sacrifice their joey, but not in the crual way like described.
An online meme criticizes quokkas for throwing their babies toward predators in order to escape. However, this is not true!
The quokka mothers have been observed relaxing their pouch muscles and dropping their young. As a result, the joey swings around on the ground, creating strange hissing noises and drawing the predator’s attention, while the mother flees to live.
It’s a ruthless tactic, but it works. This is the most effective survival strategy for marsupials in the wild.
8. They are not terrified of humans
Unlike other wild animals, the quokka is completely fearless of humans. They don’t have many predators and they have been alone for so long, that’s the reason why they run away when facing large animals. You can this clearly on Rottness island where you can get close to them.
Because many tourists come to their place, quokkas have evolved to human contact and will engage with people to get food. They go so near that visitors can take selfies with them. They are drawn to cities in search of food, making them susceptible to traffic and predators.
The quokka even enter restaurants, stores, and private areas so naturally. They bother owners so much that they have to shoo them away.
9. You are prohibited to touch a quokka
In spite of their friendly, funny, and cute look, quokkas are still wild animals; which means they can be dangerous for you. They release a loud screech when surrounded, threatened, or assaulted. If that fails, they will attack the enemy with their razor-sharp fangs and claws.
If necessary, they will use their favorite attack which is to hook their fangs into flesh and then hang from that bite while scratching and clawing at their victim. Each year, the Rottnest Island Infirmary has to treat roughly a dozen people who are bitten and scratched by the quokka.
In addition, they can give you salmonella through their poop.
Besides the fact that you can be attacked by these creatures, there is another reason why quokkas can’t be touched. The IUCN has designated them as a vulnerable species. If you touch them or keep them as pets, or feed them; you’ll have to pay a $150 fine and face other penalties like prosecution.
So, you can get close to them (on Rottnest island) or take photos with them, but don’t touch them or feed them.
10. They are incredibly cunning
Quokkas are mischievous. They know how to get food from us. These animals have learned to know what can please us, what can make us love them, and what excited us; so that they can gain food. This explains why the quokka has colonized near homes, hostels, and even tourist attractions.
11. Quokkas are the world’s happiest animals
Quokkas are sociable animals. They are fearless, funny, lively, and very friendly to humans. Due to the all-the-time smile on their face, they are known as the happiest animals in the world.
However, these creatures do not actually smile. Their smiles are formed by the structure of their mouths. Its facial muscles and projecting front teeth create the grin on their faces. This helps them to breathe and cool off on the 12-month sunny island. Now you know why the quokka is called the happiest animal on earth.
12. Rottnest was named mistakenly
In 1658, Dutch sailor Samuel Volckertzoon first discovered quokka island. He mistook the animal for a sort of wild cat. In the subsequent years, Willem Hesselsz de Vlamingh, a Dutch captain, arrived on the island. Like the predecessor, he mistook quokkas for another animal species. He thought they are rats.
Because there are a huge number of quokkas here, he decided to name the island after them. “Rotte” in old Dutch word is “rat”, hence Rottnest means “rat’s nest” in English.
The Whadjuk Noongar people, the island’s original inhabitants, refer to it as Wadjemup.
13. They are called by a different name
The name “quokka” is derived from the Aboriginal language of the local Nyungar (or Noongar) people. This tribe today lives primarily in Noongar Country, but also elsewhere on the continent.
The Nyungars called quokkas “gwaga”. But the previous European can’t hear the Nyungar language, so they thought it was “quokka”, which become the official name today. Although it is commonly spoken as two syllables (KWOH-kuh), some people pronounce it as three (ku-WO-kuh).
#QuokkaSelfies have become very popular in social media trends in recent years. Travelers, celebrities, singers, artists, actors, and many people from different countries have taken legendary selfies with these cute creatures. Shawn Mendes, Roger Federer, Chris Hemsworth, Margot Robbie, Demi Lovato, Hugh Jackman, Lincoln Lewis, and others were also seen taking the trendy quokka picture.
15. They are vulnerable species
Quokkas are listed as a threatened species and are also protected by the World Wildlife Foundation. This is because their population is declining due to habitat degradation from human expansion.
The quokka didn’t have many threats in the past. They used to be hunted for food and fur by the Aboriginal people, but they had few natural predators, particularly on the islands. However, when early European immigrants came to the Australian continent, they brought along cats, dogs, and foxes. These animals became enemies to quokkas and other native species. Rabbits and rats which were brought over also compete for food.
Human visitors have also created significant harm, making these species vulnerable. Bushfires, predators, and habitat loss have restricted the size of places where quokka populations can live. The remaining populations live in tiny clusters in wetlands and woodlands. Quokkas are also susceptible to muscular dystrophy, a disease that causes muscle degeneration and weakness.
According to a 2010 study, if global temperatures climb four degrees above pre-industrial levels— unless fossil fuel emissions are drastically reduced—quokkas will likely become extinct by 2070.