13 February 2024

Quokkas - Australia's lovable marsupial

Scientists believe that marsupials evolved in Nth America, sp­read to Sth America and thence to Australia, formerly con­nected continents. Most marsu­p­ials died out in the Americas, beaten by placental mammals, but they thrived in Aust­ral­ia. By the time Sth America, Australia and Antarctica separated millions of years ago, Australian mammals had evolved.

A quokka family on Rottnest Island,

Australian quokkas were first discovered by Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh in 1696. One of the first Eu­r­op­eans to reach these shores, he met the strange animal near the Swan River, and across mainland SW Aus­tr­a­l­ia in swampy shrub­lands. These quokkas were still abun­d­ant when Eur­op­eans col­­onised the reg­ion in the early 1800s, but a cen­tury later th­eir numb­ers had fallen. They were hunted and lost in large strips of min­ing, farming and bush­fires. The main enemy was the red fox, deliber­ately int­ro­d­uc­ed in the 1930s for hunting. Alas quokka num­bers on mainland fell to c2,000, most­ly liv­ing in small and isolated populat­ions in forest and coastal heath between Perth and Albany.

de Vlamingh had named the isl­and near the Swan River: Rat’s Nest. This is where most quokkas are now, on Rottnest Is­land west of Perth. Quokkas survived there via a fluke: In the late 1830s, the Aust­ralian gov­ern­ment de­­sig­n­ated the island as an Abor­iginal penal colony. The pr­ison kept both main­­­land Eu­ropeans AND red foxes isolated for so long that when quokkas did move in, the natural environ­ment was carefully prot­ected. Today Rot­t­nest has c10,000 quokkas.

The other quokka home in W.A is Bald Island, near Albany. Suc­cess on Bald Island was from quokkas finding plentiful food sources but few predators.

There are 334 surviving marsupial species today, 200+ of them nat­ive to Australia. Our quokkas are special; they are covered with short, coarse brown-grey fur over most of the body, have short round furry ears, small black, naked noses and a short, muscular tail. They are the smallest wallaby species, and like kangaroos, they hop, round­ed and hunch­ed.

Mother carrying joey in her pouch, San Diego Zoo

Unlike the vast major­ity of the world's placental mammals, mars­upial fe­m­ales give birth to tiny embryos that compl­ete de­velopment out­side their mothers' bodies in a mars­up­ium/pouch. Female quokkas give birth to a sing­­le joey a month after mating, the joey remaining in the pouch for c6 months. It continues to feed at its mother's teats for another 2 months but once weaned, the joey ventures off alone.

Quokkas are nocturnal. They fanned out in small family groups across their scrub­­by habitat searching for food. At midnight, the animals stop­ped forag­ing but con­tinue eating, chewing one leaf at a time until sun­rise. These crea­tures love to climb small trees in search of the next meal, browsing herbivores who favoured grasses, leaves, stems and bark. On Rott­nest Is, their diet is primarily succulents or wattle leav­es. They can go for long periods without food or water, as they store fat in their tails for emergencies. They spend their day sleeping in groups, rest­ing behind the protection of plants’ spikes and escaping predators.

Quokka climbs a tree to eat leaves. 
San Diego Zoo

Quokkas were recently added to the International Union for Con­ser­vation Threat­ed Species List, given their popul­ation decline due to hab­itat loss. Other serious threats were foxes, dogs and mainland cats, further damaging the creat­ures vulner­ab­le from Dingos c4,000 years ago and Eu­r­o­pean Red Foxes in 1930s. Today there are recovery signs on the main­land due to Dept of Parks & Wild­life’s feral-proofing tasks. Act­ion was taken to reduce Red Fox numbers, thus contributing to some quokka protection.

Human impact also effected quokka numbers. Clearing for agricultural dev­elopment, spread of housing and logging have contributed to reduced numbers, as well as camping, and controlled burns before the bushfire season.

A quokka weighs 2.5-5 ks and is 40-54 cs in length, one of the smallest wallab­ies. Main­land populations cluster around dense streamside veget­at­ion but also be found in shrub­land and heath areas, around swamps. Quok­kas prefer a warm climate but are adapted to changes on Rottnest Island.

Quokkas, on average, can live for 10-15 years. They are able to breed from c18 months of age. On the mainland, female Quokkas can produce c18 babies in a lifetime, with 2 joeys born each year. But on Rottnest Is, with a shorter breeding sea­son, Quokkas only give birth once a year.

Wild Quokkas live in areas defended by dominant mal­es. In other areas, territ­ories were less evident and larger, over­lapp­ing groups of 25–150 adults formed around water, sharing a c40-acre territory. The older males fight to dom­inate both fem­ales and youn­ger mal­es; a male's pos­it­ion in the hierar­chy deter­mining his access to food, shade and females

Quokkas are not afraid of humans; they have broken into Rottnest homes to steal food. The animals can be approached so closely that they regul­arly nip children’s fingertips. NB travellers should not actually touch any quokkas, or they could be fined by local authorities.

On the other side of the continent, visit Featherdale Wildlife Park in Western Sydney. And thank you to the Australian Museum in Sydney


Joe said...

When I lived in WA, the football and cricket were the same as in the Eastern States, the beaches were similar and the weather was hotter. But the quokkas were unique!

Mandy said...

It's good that conservation efforts are underway, but the tiny numbers warn us that there is so much work still to be done. It's the same in South Africa with endangered species.

We visited Healesville Sanctuary on our visit to Melbourne in 1999. It was one of the most memorable and impressive places I ever visited, informing many of my views on animals and conservation. I definitely agree with not touching wild animals, ever

Hels said...


every state has a treasured symbol they want to show off. Victorians love their koalas, Territorians love their red kangaroo, and the Tasmanian Devil is listed as endangered. But West Australians have TWO treasured symbols - the black swan and the quokka.

Hels said...


that we didn't look after our own nations' rare animals, birds, plants etc strikes me as utterly destructive.

The quokka is vulnerable because of feral animals, summer bush fires and habitat loss. But surely to goodness, scientists could have informed the state government how humans could protect the little animals eg by building secure fences around Bald Island near Albany.

jabblog said...

I have always been fascinated by marsupials and the Quokka is a very attractive animal. I'm glad they are being monitored and conserved.

Katerinas Blog said...

Nice foto and information! Beautiful and sweet animals! Thanks for the post.

Andrew said...

The are wonderful to see on Rottnest Island, a highlight for any visitor to Western Australia.

Hank Phillips said...

Quokka Vadis could be the title when the movie comes out.

My name is Erika. said...

Quokas is adorable looking. Marsupials are really interesting mammals.

Hels said...


The quokka is the cutest looking animal in the world, as the photos show. And the loving mothers carefully look after their growing babies in their pouch for at least 6 months. But I am not sure where you could see quokkas outside Australia.

Hels said...


I think Australians know much more about elephants, tigers and rhinos becoming extinct than they do about quokkas dying out. In fact I wonder if many Eastern State Australians even know what a quokka looks like.

Hels said...


Oh dear...the poor old Roman Empire gets blamed for everything.

Hels said...


I totally agree, but how many people would recognise a marsupial if it sat next to us at the dinner table? It is an order of mammal (eg kangaroos, wombats, bandicoots, possums) that does not develop a true placenta; instead it has a pouch on the female abdomen that covers the teats and carries the baby.

Marsupials are even less likely to be known around the world because they live mostly in Australia, New Guinea and South America.

Hels said...


monitored definitely, successfully conserved .. not so much. If we agree that 10,000 Quokkas live on Rottnest Island now, and a few more in 2 other sites in SW Western Australia, it is still a small and vulnerable world population. One pack of angry red foxes could clear out the quokka community in a couple of years.

River said...

When I visited Rottnest Island 10/11 years ago, many quokkas were found hanging around the picnic tables where people would drop scraps of food for them. I don't think that should be allowed as it isn't good for them, and maybe by now the practice has been discontinued. I should hunt up some photos from that visit and repost them.

Hels said...


I would love to see your photos of quokkas.. I know these small animals are not afraid of humans and I suspect the quokkas know how to endear themselves to humans eating their picnics outside.

I took my boys to Rottnest one day and we only saw the quokkas on the ground. But had my children asked me to offer those beautiful creatures food, I wonder if I would have given in.

Margaret D said...

These small creatures are so lovely, such sweet faces and it's pleasing they are still about.
Thank you for reminding me.

Hels said...


I lived in Perth in the 1970s and heard quite a lot about quokkas. But not too many people on this side of the nation have mentioned them since :( So I too had to be reminded. Thank you, grandson!

diane b said...

They are so cute. It is great that they have survived in some areas. I thought they had spots but investigated and found that it is the Quoll that has spots.

Hels said...


good on you for mentioning quolls. The spotted-tailed quoll is most likely to be seen in the northern half of Victoria, through to the northern most part of NSW and across the Qld border.

And it is not just the name that confuses the quokka. Quolls are tree-climbing, carnivorous marsupials, primarily nocturnal and sleep the day away in their dens. They too were very common, until feral predators were introduced from the outside.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hels - I'd love to visit Australia and would definitely travel to Western Aus ... and would make a point of seeing a few places, including Rottnest. Thanks for mentioning Diane with her nod to quolls ... good to know about both species. Cheers Hilary

DUTA said...

I knew nothing about Kokkas until reading this post. 'Better late than never', as they say. Nice to learn about these lovely, protected creatures.

Jo-Anne's Ramblings said...

I have seen a few but only in captivity never in the wild and they look so damn cute

Hels said...


drop me a note before you travel :) If you like hot weather, arrive in Australia during Nov-April inclusive.

I too appreciated the quoll reference. I also could not have described the difference between the two marsupials.

Hels said...


me too. I have never done a zoology lecture in my life, and depended on a grandchild for the inspiration.

Hels said...


That is exactly the dilemma, yes. If the quokkas are left in the wild, they may totally disappear from predators or bushfires. If they are shut up in captivity, they will live well for a generation, but their babies will never survive back in their natural environment.

CherryPie said...

Marsupials fascinate me.

I hadn't hear of the Quokka before.

Hels said...


The relationship between the marsupial mother and her baby almost looks human.
Nonetheless, I bet you are FAR from the only one who has never heard of the quokka.

Rajani Rehana said...

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Hels said...


with pleasure. Welcome aboard