Quokkas are a weird case of how social media tourism has actually helped a species thrive.

Basics:

  • The quokka is a marsupial about the size of a cat.
  • The average adult male weighs between 2.5 and 4.5 kg and an adult female is about 1.5 to 3.5 kg.
  • Quokkas are wallabies—they’re also known as the short-tailed scrub wallaby.
  • They’re herbivorous and mostly nocturnal.
  • Quokkas are found on islands off the coast Western Australia, such as Rottnest Island, and in some isolated pockets in Western Australia’s forests.
    • In fact, Rottnest Island is called that because Dutch explorers in the 17th century thought quokkas were giant rats and called the island a “rat’s nest”, or “rottnest”, in Dutch.
  • Quokkas live in relatively rainy swamps with at least 1000 mm of annual rainfall. Global warming and invasive predators such as cats and foxes are shrinking their population range.
    • The population of Rottnest Island is stable because there aren’t any cats or foxes there.
  • Feral pigs threaten their population by degrading their habitats.
  • In the wild they live to about 10 years of age. In captivity they can live for 14 years.
  • 12,000 of the 14,000 thousand quokkas left on the wild live in Rottnest Island.

Behaviour

    • Despite being genetically closer to land marsupials like kangaroos and wombats, quokkas are capable climbers.
    • Quokkas are not particularly social but they do live in colonies.  In the mainland the colonies have about a dozen members. In Rottnest Island colonies are much larger, sometimes reaching 150 members.
  • They are generally peaceful but sometimes males over fight females or, more commonly, over hiding spots, especially in the hot summer months.
  • They prefer to live in forests that have burned in the past 10 years, as they like to eat fresh growth. In Rottnest island they also eat a lot of succulents.

Reproduction

    • Females choose with whom to mate. If a male approaches her and she doesn’t like him, she just runs away; if she likes him she’ll groom him, which is an invitation to mate.
    • Gestation lasts about 1 month and the quokka gives birth to a baby called a “joey”.
    • The joey immediately moves to the mom’s pouch and stays there for about 6 months. At that age  they live the pouch and they start exploring on their own. The reach sexual maturity at about a year of age.
  • A weird thing about their mating is that they have something embryonic diapause. It means that right after giving birth they mate again. This new embryo doesn’t develop, it just stays dormant. If the mom’s body detects that first joey has died, the second one develops. If the first one survived, the embryo disintegrates.

Fun Facts: 

  • Quokkas have been called the “happiest animal on Earth “ due to their docile personality and their seemingly.
  • Due to this people go to Rottnest Islands just to take a “quokka selfie”, but due to their shrinking population they can’t be taken as pets.
  • They are cute but they’re not defenseless. They have sharp teeth. Every year dozens of people require medical attention for quokka bites. So, take a selfie, but just don’t try to pick one up.
    • There’s a $300 fine for even touching a quokka.
  • In Rottnest Island quokkas have become so accustomed to humans that they’ve become a nuisance to the locals. They fearlessly get into businesses looking for people to give them snacks.
    • NOTE: if you go to Rottnest Island, please don’t feed the quokkas. Even seemingly benign food such as bread can cause trouble. Human food can give them a mouth infection called lumpy jaw.

If a pregnant female gets spotted by a predator, she will eject the joey from her pouch. The joey will make loud hissing noises, which will attract the predators. The predator might choose to pick the easy prey instead of chasing the momma (or former momma).