Pap feeding: Get the scoop on this super poop
Find out exactly why koala joeys eat their mums' poo as we get to the bottom of this less than appetising process.
It’s that magical time of the year when the koala joeys at Lone Pine are becoming increasingly adventurous. Many have now outgrown the pouch and can be seen out and about exploring their surroundings, hitching a ride on mum’s back, or enjoying a snuggly nap in her lap.
It’s also the time of year when you may catch a glimpse of the joeys undertaking a very important, but to be quite honest, less than visually appealing process known as ‘pap feeding'.
What is pap feeding?
Pap feeding is the process by which a koala joey establishes vital gut bacteria into his or her digestive tract. This unique bacterium is what allows koalas to digest eucalyptus leaf, which is very tough and fibrous. Koala joeys aren’t born with this bacterium. Instead, it must be passed down from mum to bub. Sounds simple enough, right?
So, how do they do it?
After spending around 6 months drinking milk in the pouch, the joey will start spending short periods out of the pouch to nuzzle its little nose around mum’s cloaca. This movement stimulates the production of a soft, sticky faecal matter known as ‘pap’ which the joey then eats. This process takes place numerous times over the course of a few weeks until the joey has established enough bacteria.
'Ingesting faecal matter, or coprophagia, is a common practice in the animal kingdom.'
Once the pap feeding process begins the koala can begin to introduce gum leaves into its diet, but it will continue to drink some milk until it is fully weaned at around 12 months old.
Now, before you go judging koalas for this dietary diversion, you should know that ingesting faecal matter, or coprophagia, is a common practice in the animal kingdom. Many animals such as rabbits, rodents, dogs, elephants, and hippos have all been observed eating poop. This process can help animals access nutrients they couldn’t digest the first time around, or helps to establish gut bacteria as with the koala.
So, don’t be alarmed if you see some of Lone Pine’s little ones with a face full of sticky poo next time you visit. This is a completely natural and important process for koalas (and gives a whole new meaning to the term “brown-nosing.”)