What Animals Eat Eucalyptus?

Written by: Annemarie Dutton
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The Heaven And Earth Of Animals Eating Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus is a fast-growing evergreen tree native to Australia.  It is an ingredient in many products and reduces coughs, colds, and congestion symptoms.  It also contains creams and ointments aimed at relieving muscle and joint pain.

However, these examples are for humans. But: “What animals eat eucalyptus?”.

What Animals Eat Eucalyptus?

Eucalyptus forests comprise 79% of Australia’s native forests, covering nearly 450,000 square miles. Despite the abundance of eucalyptus trees, only a few animal species have evolved to utilize the trees as a food source, which is due to their toxicity and low nutritional value.

Among mammals, only the koala, the brushtail possum, common ringtail possum, and greater glider, all native to Australia, consume Eucalyptus foliage.  

Koala – The Slowest Yet Most Popular Eucalyptus Eater.

Let’s start with a fun fact about koalas: they are marsupials and not bears.  

The koala is a type of tree-dwelling marsupial, with a backward-facing pouch. Like wombats.  they carry their young in these pouches.

Koalas are herbivorous, primarily arboreal marsupials found exclusively in the coastal regions of eastern and southern Australia.

They dwell in trees and have five-fingered paws with opposable thumbs, which aid in gripping branches.

Koalas have a narrow range defined by their only food source: eucalyptus trees. 

Few mammals can subsist on eucalyptus leaves because of their toxic terpene and phenolic compounds. Still, the digestive tract of the koala has adapted to withstand the harsh chemical composition of the tree’s leaves.

The Eucalyptus leaves are low in nutrition and calories and require much chewing before being swallowed.

The leaves are extremely poisonous. The koala has a large caecum, which allows it to digest such poisonous food. Eucalyptus leaves are also very fibrous and low in nutrients, causing koalas to spend at least four hours per day foraging for food.  

More than 600 different species of eucalyptus trees exist within the koala’s ecosystem,  offering them a varied diet.

Koalas require 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of leaves per day. Despite the koala’s affinity for the eucalyptus trees, it will also consume non-eucalyptus trees such as wattle or tea trees within its range.

Digesting the various tree leaves is time consuming because of the koala’s slow metabolism and its food not providing much energy. Koalas are lethargic creatures. Koalas will nap during the for up to 18 hours, safely within the tree’s canopy shelter.

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The Brushtail Possum

The Brushtail Possum is the most abundant and familiar of the Australian possums. 

This nocturnal animal spends the day in either a den in a hollow branch, tree trunk, fallen log, rock cavity, or even a hollow termite mound. Brushtail Possums prefer to live by themselves and can rapidly move among trees by leaping from one branch to another. 

Brushtail Possums eat plant material, supplemented with bird eggs, baby birds, and some insects. However, they mainly eat eucalyptus leaves and some shrubs (mainly wattles), herbs, flowers, and fruit. 

They forage in the canopy, in lower levels of the forest, and on the ground. The Brushtail Possum will eat various foods in urban areas, including fruit and bread.

Brushtail Possums prefer eucalyptus leaves with high nutrient content. They can distinguish between high and low nutrient quality leaves, even when the foliage of these plants is intermingled. The Brushtail Possum’s liver cannot cope with abundant toxins in eucalypt leaves, which requires a varied diet.

Common Ringtail Possum

The Common Ringtail Possum is much smaller than the Common Brushtail Possum. It has a white-tipped tail that acts like a fifth limb. 

The common ringtail possum prefers to feed on eucalyptus leaves, and their densest populations are in areas where there are eucalyptus trees. They also eat other foods such as fruits, flowers, and leaves of other native trees.

They are also known to eat rosebuds in suburban areas. The Common Ringtail Possum is strictly nocturnal.

The Common Ringtail Possum will eat its feces to get the maximum amount of nutrients available in eucalyptus leaves. 

Greater Gliders The Small Gliding Marsupials

Greater gliders are primarily nocturnal. They spend the night foraging in the highest parts of the forest canopy. During the day, they spend most of their time denning in hollowed trees. 

Greater gliders rely on large patches of tall trees to find enough food throughout the year. 

They eat mostly eucalyptus leaves and sometimes gum flowers. This specialized diet makes greater gliders extremely difficult to keep in captivity. 

Although listed as a species of “Lower Risk” they are dependent on old-growth eucalyptus forests, which have  trees tall enough to provide protection, food, and shelter. 

But eucalyptus forests are being cleared for agriculture, and very few patches are protected.

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Can Humans Eat Eucalyptus?

Humans cannot ingest eucalyptus. They can use it for ailments, but humans should not eat eucalyptus in large amounts  because of its toxicity.

Eucalyptus contains eucalyptol, also called cineole, an organic compound that is toxic in high doses. Eucalyptus leaves are not safe for humans to eat, although eucalyptus tea contains a safe amount of eucalyptus oil.  

Ingesting large amounts of eucalyptus extract can also be risky. Potential negative side effects of eucalyptus include seizures and organ failure.

Final Thought

The Greater Glider, Common Ringtail Possum, and Brushtail Possum cannot solely feed on eucalyptus leaves.  They  rely on a varied diet including other plant matter such as flowers, berries, and seeds.  The Koala is the only marsupial that can eat only eucalyptus leaves, and their digestive system has adapted to withstand the toxicity of the eucalyptus leaves.

For more information about animal diets, please visit our website at www.whatanimalseat.com

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