The quokka (Setonix brachyurus) is a tiny macropod roughly the size of a cat. Quokkas are hairy, four-legged marsupials with pouches for carrying their young. Their paws, ears, noses, and faces are quite little. Quokkas have a unique smile and are therefore dubbed “the world’s cheeriest mammal.” They’re quite intriguing, with an unusual appearance. Whether toothy or frowning, they are simply adorable. Want to know more? Let’s dive into 10 incredible Quokka facts!
1. They Have An Island Named After Them. Sort Of…
The first European to set foot on Rottnest Island was a Dutch sailor named Samuel Volckertzoon, who believed quokkas to be a type of wild cat. The following year, Willem Hesselsz de Vlamingh, a Dutch sea captain, visited the island and mistook quokkas for enormous rats. He gave the island its name after the creatures because there were so many of them. The English translation of Rottnest is “rat’s nest” because “Rotte” is the old Dutch word for “rat.”
2. They Were Once Called Something Else
The local Nyungar (also known as Noongar) people speak an Aboriginal language that gave rise to the name “quokka.” Currently, this tribe still lives, primarily in Noongar Country but also throughout the continent. “Gwaga” was the Nyungar word for the creatures. The term “quokka,” which is still used to refer to them today, was what the early European settlers heard because they were not conversant with the Nyungar language. Despite often having two syllables (KWOH-kuh), some people pronounce it with three (Ku-WO-kuh).
3. They Are Often Called “The Happiest Animal On Earth”
Their broad smiles and kind approach make them appear appealing and lovely. Moreover, they’re friendly. However, remember they’re still wild animals. They bite when fighting over mates or feeling threatened. Males also often build authoritative social structures.
4. They Eat Their Food Twice
Quokkas eat grass and leaves to survive, but they don’t chew their food; instead, they just shred it up, put it in their mouths, and swallow. This is a poor method of food digestion and a poor method of nutrient extraction. Quokkas, therefore, have a novel solution; they will vomit their food and consume it once more. Since the cud they regurgitate has undergone far more processing, their digestive systems can more effectively absorb the essential nutrients from it.
5. They Are Great Climbers
Quokkas adore climbing trees, much like a housecat doing so to reach the top of a post. For their size, they can climb up to 4–6 feet, which is good for their tiny size. Imagine seeing one of these little furry creatures up close and personal in a tree!
6. They Are Related To Kangaroos
Quokkas are marsupials that, like kangaroos, hop, carry their young in pouches, and exhibit social behavior. Despite being appreciated for their sweetness and their propensity to trick people into giving them food, they are lethal if provoked. They are nocturnal species, but because they can extract liquid from food, they may be active throughout the day and survive for extended periods of time without water. Quokkas are not presently in danger of extinction, although they are in danger due to their lack of fear and their restricted habitat.
7. Quokkas Need Very Little Water
Despite their affinity for water and the places near it, these critters rarely drink. This is because they can get most of the water they need from the plants they eat, particularly the guichenotia (a genus of flowering plants). If they have enough food, quokkas can go without a water source for up to a month!
8. Quokka Mothers Will Often Sacrifice Their Own Young
One of our most unnerving quokka facts is that they are not very parental. In the animal kingdom, most mothers will fight and even die to ensure their young’s survival, but not quokkas. If a mother quokka feels threatened, she will rip her baby from her pouch and throw it to the ground. Predators are attracted to the loudness of their squeals and will eat the young, giving the mothers some wiggle room to escape. To quokkas, having another baby is always an option.
9. They Are Definitely Not Afraid Of People
One more of our quokka facts explains that they have zero fear of humans. They are vulnerable, since they have so few natural enemies and have lived in isolation for so long. Therefore, they rarely flee from larger animals. This is particularly true on the islands where it is permitted to approach them up close. Another reason they are sought after is that most people think they’re adorable and non-threatening.
10. Quokkas Can Be Dangerous
Even while these animals might be cute, funny, and lively, they are still wild animals. They scream loudly when cornered, threatened, or assaulted. They will attack with their pointed claws and fangs if that doesn’t succeed. One of their favorite ways to attack is to dig their teeth into the victim’s flesh and then dangle there as they scratch and claw at them. About a dozen patients are reportedly treated at the Rottnest Island Infirmary for quokka bites and scratches each year.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Grakhantsev Nikolai/Shutterstock.com
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.