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Koala Valentines

It’s that time of year again: love is in the air, and it’s also koala breeding season! So at the same time that you’re running around getting flowers, chocolate, and gifts for your Valentine, male koalas are trying to woo the female koalas, too!

It’s also a particularly hectic time of year for me, since it is when I collect more mate-choice data from the San Diego Zoo’s colony of koalas. I say more because I’ve collected a lot of data on these animals already! As we tackle each research question about a koala’s choice in mates, there is always a new question that comes from our answers. Sometimes I feel like research is a little like being on the TV show “Lost”; each new answer brings three more interesting questions.

Koalas are initially matched up by their genetics, but it seems they don’t always like to be paired up that way.  Some or all of you may know what a male bellow sounds like (see Koalas of St. Bees Use Cell Phones) but may not know that females also vocalize if they are not happy about a certain male approaching them. This sound isn’t very feminine (not that a bellow is melodious!). Females appear to have some  say in whether they will mate with the male.

Listen to a female koala discouraging a male’s advances:

To expand on my previous work, I am still continuing to record both male and female bellows and also collect scent from male koalas in order to examine potential individual differences (or similarities).  This includes recording bellowing activity throughout the night using an auto-recorder (you may see the nondescript green box pictured at left mounted out in the Zoo’s koala exhibits) and collecting scent samples for chemical analysis. I am also still actively working with Dr. Bill Ellis and the population of Queensland koalas he is studying on St. Bees Island.

In addition, we are about to embark upon some exciting new fieldwork with Victorian koalas. Did you know there was more than one kind of koala? I don’t want to spill all the beans yet, but if you catch up with me at this year’s San Diego Zoo Discovery Days: Koalapalooza, I can answer all of your questions in person. And, of course, you will be able to listen, track, and smell koalas at Koalapalooza, too!

Jennifer Tobey is a  research coordinator at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Koala Field Project: Meet Jackaroo.