Baby koalas have a unique way of kickstarting their digestive systems and acquiring essential gut bacteria. After nursing for about six months, they transition from milk to solid foods, and this process involves a surprising behavior known as pap feeding. During that process, baby koalas nuzzle at their mother’s rear end until she excretes a substance called “pap”. Although it may resemble poop. It serves as a crucial source of nutrients and bacteria necessary for the baby koalas’ development. So Koala feed on pap not poop.
Research on pap composition reveals significant differences from feces. While the koala excrements are fairly hard individual pellets which contain dead bacteria, pap contains live bacteria. Although the exact mechanisms are not yet fully understood, the pap aids in the joey’s digestion of eucalyptus leaves. So, once the joey starts consuming pap, it quickly develops a preference for leaves.
The leaves of eucalyptus, a staple food for koalas, contain tannins that are indigestible. However, the gut of a grown koala is filled with bacteria that have the ability to unlock the nutrients from these leaves. The baby koalas do not possess these microbes at birth but acquire them from their mother through pap feeding. The pap acts as a specialized form of baby food, rich in the bacteria that the joeys will rely on after being weaned.
This peculiar behavior of pap feeding allows baby koalas to transition from milk to a diet consisting of tough and toxic eucalyptus leaves. The unique mix of gut bacteria obtained through pap feeding enables them to break down and utilize the nutrients from these challenging food sources. Observing this process firsthand helps to understand the fascinating ways in which koalas adapt to their dietary needs and acquire essential gut bacteria for their health and development.
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