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The Tale of the Hungry Koala

October 4, 2019

 How does a koala eat eucalyptus leaves? Eucalyptus is toxic to most animals, but they’re a koala’s only food. In this episode, we look past the cuddliness to discover how koalas manage to chow down on the Australian tree species. Biologist Michaela Blyton shares the story of how she convinced some extremely picky koalas to try new foods in the midst of a conservation crisis. Spoiler alert: It involves starting a koala hotel, and inventing a pill with an unusual ingredient.

 

 Courtesy Mathias Appel on Flickr

 

KOALA POOP TRANSPLANTS AT CAPE OTWAY

 

Our episode takes place in Cape Otway, along Australia's Southern Coast. It was the site of the first ever koala poop transplant! 

 

Here are a few articles about Michaela and her colleagues' work.

 

Fecal transplants might make koalas less picky eaters - Science News

 

Fecal transplants to help save koalas - Science Daily (press release)

 

Poo transplants can alter koala's microbiome so they can eat different types of leaves - ABC Science

 

Want to know more about the background of Michaela's study? What happened at Cape Otway, and what were other conservation strategies? (These articles may not be suitable for all readers, as they contain graphic descriptions of koala tragedy.)

 

Victoria's Otway Koalas: 'If We Don't Intervene, They Will Die A Painful Death' - The Guardian (includes video)

 

This article, written by scientists, describes the complexity of the situation:

 

Victorian Koalas Are Eating Themselves Out of House and Home - The Conversation

 

KOALAS EAT POOP. IT'S TRUE.

 

Koala shocker! Those adorable baby koalas get their microbiome kickstarted by an activity called "pap feeding." Basically, they nuzzle at their mom's butts until she excretes a big, sloppy poop. (That's a technical term! No just kidding.) It's not poop, it's pap! This is like a transition between milk and those tough, toxic leaves. 

 

See it to believe it. 

 

From the BBC:

 

An even shorter explanation of pap feeding! For "Microbe Minute." 

 

 

Want to know more about the koala microbiome? YES YOU DO! Here's Michaela's lab page, where you can learn more about their research. 

 

To learn more about the science of poop, listen to our episode, "The Science of Poop."

 

Want to hear more from our interview with Michaela? She dives deep into the "bag of guts" to compare the human and koala digestive systems, and explains how she came up with the idea for a koala poop transplant. 

 

To listen, pledge just $1/month on Patreon

 

 

 

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