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Quokka Fact File

Setonix brachyurus

Weight

2.5-5kg

(5.5-11lb)

Length

40-90cm

(16-35in)

Lifespan

Wild 10 years

Captive 14 years

Diet

Herbivore

Grasses, fruits, berries

Conservation Status

IUCN

Vulnerable

Meet the World’s Happiest Animal

On an island off the coast of Western Australia lives the quokka, often known as the world’s happiest animal due to the way they seem to smile in photos. As such their home on Rottnest Island has become popular with tourists looking to snap a selfie.

As a marsupial quokkas raise their joey in a pouch and are carried with their mother for the first few months of life. They have gained an unfortunate reputation as bad mothers which will throw their baby at predators if threatened. This is not quite correct. Mothers instead may just drop their infants when fleeing inadvertently.

Unfortunately introduced predators such as the red fox and cats and habitat destruction has led to a decline in the population of quokkas.

Read on to learn more about the weird quirks of the quokka.

Appearance

The quokka has a coarse brown coat that becomes lighter on the underside. On the face and neck are some reddish tinges. These animals appear like a small, stocky kangaroo with rounded ears. In comparison to other wallaby’s their hind legs are short. Their small nose is black in color.

This adaptation helps them to hop quickly through tall brush and grass. Their rounded nose is tipped with a black nose.

At the end of the body is a short, round, hairless tail which measures between 25 and 30cm (9.8-11.8in) long.

Quokkas measure 40-90cm (16-35in) long with an average weight of 2.5-5kg (5.5-11lb). Males are typically larger than females.

Adaptations

The quokka has a light brown coat which helps them to blend in with the grass that makes up most of their habitat.

Their short, round tail and strong back legs help them to hop quickly through their environment. The tail also acts as a store of fat which they can draw on during periods of food scarcity.

Quokkas are active at night which helps them to avoid many of their natural predators which are active during the day.

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Diet

The quokka is an herbivore. Native grasses, leaves, stems, fruits, berries and the bark off of trees. A main component of their diet is the grasses through which they carve tracks. They also like young shoots which grow following fires.

When feeding they begin by swallowing the food and not chewing it. At a later time they regurgitate the food as cud and then chew it. They have a ruminant like digestive system which is similar to that of a sheep.


Quokkas need low amounts of water to function and at times will go for months without a drink.

Learn more about the quokka in this video from Great Big Story on YouTube

Range

Quokkas have a very limited distribution in Australia. Most of the population exists on Bald and Rottnest islands. There is also a mainland colony in the Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve.

Habitat

Scrub, open woodlands, wetlands, thick forests, semi-arid heath and swamps provided the most common homes of the quokka. They pick a habitat situated near a water source.

Their is a habitat preference towards areas which have burned in the last 10 years. They will still persist in areas of suitable habitat that have not burned recently if their is a low presence of predators here.

Quokka

Reproduction

Breeding in quokka populations occurs from January through to March. In zoos they can breed year round.

Females select their mate. She will show rejection to males by running away from them. When she is accepting she will begin to groom the male. Following a successful mating the male may stay with her and prevent her from breeding. Despite this males and females may mate with multiple partners each season.

Dominant male quokkas are able to stop the subordinate males from breeding.

It takes 27 days for a single joey to be born. Once it is born it crawls along the mother’s fur up to the pouch and attaches to a teat. Young spend the first 6 months of their life in the pouch. Once this time is up they begin to emerge. They still require milk for at least another six months.

Once the joey is born the female will mate once again. This new embryo enters a state of diapause. If the current joey passes this embryo will begin development while if it is successful it will not develop further.

Mating can take place at any time of the year in quokka populations. Due to predation and other factors they generally only have one each year so they can focus on protecting that one.

At 1 year of age the young quokka becomes sexually mature.

Behavior

Quokkas are highly social. Up to 150 individuals may have overlapping home ranges. Only occasional tiffs are seen between males who may compete for the most shaded spot on a hot day.

The quokka is a nocturnal species. They spend their day sheltering under trees. At night they go out into the grass hunting. This is done by moving through the tunnels which they create by moving through similar walkways each night. These walkways also assist them to quickly evade predators.

Their days are spent hidden in a cool, shady spot. They typically use the same shelter each day but may change its location each year.

A unique ability of the quokka is that they can climb trees so they can reach their food sources.

Predators and Threats

Natural predators of the quokka include dingoes and birds of prey.

Introduced species such as cats, dogs and foxes have led to large decreases in the quokka population. Introduced feral pigs contribute to habitat destruction affecting the survival of the quokka.

In areas where population control has been undertaken on the red fox their numbers have increased. Islands provide protection from the majority of these populations creating larger populations.

Humans contribute to the demise of the quokka through habitat destruction (mainly logging), climate change and an increase in fire frequency.

Their small range is a major threat to their survival as one significant event could lead to the extinction of the species.

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Quick facts

On Rottnest Island the quokkas are so friendly they will regularly approach guests. It is illegal for guests to touch the quokkas though. Occasionally people feed the quokkas human food and this causes them to become malnourished or dehydrated.

Some researchers studying muscular dystrophy have used quokkas in experiments as they too can succumb to this disease.

Quokkas are the only members of their genus, steonix.

When European explorers first discovered the quokka they believed it was a large rat with brown fur. Rottnest island was even named for this.

Quokkas have become famous worldwide for the quokka selfie. Populations of quokkas around the tourist areas of Rottnest island have become familiar with humans and will allow them to get up close for photos. This has inspired the instagram trend.

Unlike other wallabies the quokka is equipped with color vision. It is believed this helps with spotting predators.

Photo Credits

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References

Burbidge, A.A. & Woinarski, J. 2020. Setonix brachyurus (amended version of 2019 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T20165A166611530. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-1.RLTS.T20165A166611530.en. Downloaded on 22 May 2020.

Burrell, S., 2020. Quokka. [online] The Australian Museum. Available at: <https://australianmuseum.net.au/learn/animals/mammals/quokka/> [Accessed 22 May 2020].

Burnie, D. and Wilson, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: Dorling Kindersley.

Slater, P. and Parish, S., 2016. First Field Guide To Australian Mammals. 1st ed. New South Wales: Pascal Press.

Gartmann, B. 2017. “Setonix brachyurus” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed May 11, 2021 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Setonix_brachyurus/

Animals.sandiegozoo.org. 2021. Quokka | San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants. [online] Available at: <https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/quokka> [Accessed 11 May 2021].

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