Quokka Happiest Animal On Earth

Happy quokka jumping

Photo: A smiling quokka

Quokkas are cat-sized Australian marsupials with coarse grey-brown fur, short rounded ears, and the cutest smile of any animal. Because of their ever-present smiles, they are often referred to as the happiest animals in the world.

The word 'quokka' is pronounced in several different ways. Some pronounce it kwo-ka (rhymes with "mocha"). But most people say kwah-ka (rhymes with "wokka").

The quokka is also known as the short-tailed scrub wallaby. Its scientific name is Setonix brachyurus.


Quokka Smile Is The Quokka Smiling?

No, the quokka is not intentionally smiling at you. It's just the way its mouth is shaped. This happy smiley-shaped mouth helps the quokka pant and cool off.

Quokkas are curious animals and will tend to come close to you and look at you (and your camera). And there you have it—a smiley quokka for a perfect photo.


Quokka Selfie Can You Take A Selfie With A Quokka?

Photo: Quokka selfie

Yes, you can take a selfie with a quokka as long as you follow the rules. It is illegal to touch, feed, endanger or interfere with a quokka. You could be fined between $150 and $50,000 for not following these rules. Feeding quokkas human foods or even giving them water can upset their digestive systems and lead to serious problems for these animals.

Remember, quokkas are quite friendly but are still wild animals and may bite and scratch. (The Rottnest Island infirmary reported 60 quokka bites last year). These rules are to protect these vulnerable animals and prevent their extinction.

So yes, you can still take a selfie with a quokka as long as you don't touch or otherwise disturb them.


Quokka Description Appearance of Quokka

Photo: Quokka in its natural habitat

The quokka is about 40-54 centimetres in length and weighs between 2.5 and 5 kilos. It is a macropod and belongs to the same family of animals as the kangaroo and wallaby.

The quokka has coarse, thick greyish brown fur with lighter brown on its underside. It has a slightly hunched stocky body and a relatively short, muscular rat-like tail. The quokka has a roundish face and head with short teddy-bear ears, black nose and eyes.

The quokka has short small forelimbs with hands with five-clawed fingers for grasping and pulling down branches, fighting and grooming. Its hind legs, which are relatively short compared with other macropods, are used for hopping. While very efficient at speed, the quokka's hind legs are ineffective at low speeds and hardly used. Instead, it uses pentapedaling locomotion at slow speeds. The male quokka is larger than the female. The female quokka raises its offspring in a pouch located on its abdomen. Male quokka does not have a pouch.


Quokka Habitat Where Do Quokkas Live?

Photo: Quokka Habitat Map

Quokkas only live in Australia on Rottnest Island and Bald Island off the coast of Western Australia (see map). A small number of quokkas also found on the Australian mainland in south-western Western Australia in vegetation around swamps and near watercourses.

Quokkas prefer moist conditions with dense scrubland.


Quokka Diet What Do Quokkas Eat?

Photo: Quokka eating a leaf

Quokkas eat leaves and soft shoots of woody plants such as shrubs and trees. However, the quokkas on Rottnest Island have adapted to a different diet associated with the food available on the island. Here a large part of their diet consists of succulents and grasses.

Quokkas are browsing herbivores. They don’t actually chew their food immediately after they bite it. Instead, they simply chop off a piece of vegetation, stuff it into their mouths, and swallow. They later regurgitate their food and chew it thoroughly before swallowing it again. (Similar to cattle chewing the cud).

When food sources are not readily available at ground level, they may even climb up a tree to reach their meals. They also eat water-retaining succulents to supplement their diet. Quokkas get most of the water they require from their food and can survive for months without drinking at all. It is only in very dry conditions that they need to drink water.

Like most macropods, quokkas store fat in their tails as insurance in hard times when food may become scarce.


Quokka Behaviour & Social Structure More Details About the Quokka

Photo: Quokka resting

Quokkas live in family groups varying in size from 20 to 150 individuals. Dominated by a male, these groups aren't territorial and have overlapping home ranges. While peaceful animals, fights sometimes occur between males, usually for choice rest locations under a shady tree. Quokkas spend most of the day napping in the shade.

Quokkas are categorised as nocturnal animals. That is, they are active mainly at night. However, strictly speaking, they are actually crepuscular. They are most active around dawn and dusk, and this activity can continue into the night. During these times, quokkas venture out of their daytime shelters, usually in dense vegetation. They travel along well-worn paths and tunnels they have forged through grass and shrubs in search of food.

However, on Rottnest Island, it is not uncommon to see quokkas moving about during the daytime. This is an adoption by them to be fed by humans.


Quokka Reproduction Quokka Baby (Joey)

Photo: A female quokka with its joey

A female quokka becomes sexually active at about 18 months and gives birth to a single baby at a time. The gestation period for a baby quokka is approximately 30 days inside its mother's body and another 6 months in its mother's pouch outside her body. This is because quokka are marsupials. Marsupial babies have two stages of development. The first stage is inside the mother, like placental mammals such as humans. The second stage is outside the mother’s body in a special external pouch called a marsupium.

Stage 1 – A quokka joey is born approximately 21-30 days after gestation. It is tiny when born, measuring about 1cm in length and weighing less than 0.4 grams. When it emerges from its mother’s birth canal, it is blind, hairless, with stumpy forelimbs and hardly any trace of its hind legs and tail. Using its tiny forelimbs in a swimming (breaststroke) motion, the young joey crawls laboriously up its mother's fur to her pouch. This journey takes about three minutes. The joey's journey is made entirely by itself. The mother does not assist it in any way.

Stage 2 – Once inside its mother's pouch, the joey quickly attaches itself firmly to one of four nipples in her pouch. There the young joey will stay hidden for up to six months. Then it will start to tentatively pop its head out of its mother's pouch and observe the world around it. About two weeks later, it will have gained enough confidence to venture out of the pouch and hop close to its mother. However, if frightened, it will immediately jump, head first, back into the safety of the pouch. When it is about 8 months old, the joey no longer uses its mother's pouch. However, it may still suckle from its mother for another 6 months.

A quokka has a lifespan of about 10 years.

Learn More About Macropod Reproduction?


Do Quokkas Throw Babies at Predators? Do Quokkas Toss Their Babies Away?

No, quokkas do not physically throw their babies at predators. Their arms are too short and not strong enough to do that. However, when a female quokka is in a life-threatening situation, she may eject her offspring from her pouch. This draws the approaching predator to the young, allowing the female to escape.

From a biological perspective, this approach is sound. By sacrificing her young, the mother saves herself, rather than both mother and offspring falling prey to the predator.


Quokka Attack! Attack of the Quokka

Photo: Don't feed the quokka

Because they seem so friendly and cuddly many humans attempt to get very close to them. While relatively docile and harmless, quokkas will respond if threatened, provoked or attacked. Their first line of defence is to hop away. Or they may let out a loud shriek. If this fails, they will resort to their last line of defence. Which is to sink their teeth into a fleshy part of their attacker and dangle from their victim as they ferociously scratch and claw away.


Human Cruelty to Quokkas Humans Harming Quokkas

Photo: A man setting fire to a quokka

Not all humans are nice to quokkas. Occasionally you hear of incomprehensible cruelty by humans towards these harmless animals. In April 2015, two French tourists ignited an aerosol spray producing a 30cm flame that singed the fur on the head and body of a quokka. They were each fined $4,000 and jailed when they claimed they couldn't pay the fine. The quokka survived the ordeal without serious injury and was spotted on the island with burnt fur on one side of its body. In February 2017, a man was videoed kicking a quokka numerous times. He was fined $4,000. A New Zealand man caught a quokka and threw it into the sea. Luckily the distressed animal swam ashore safely. The man claimed in court that he merely "placed” the quokka in the water and didn't actually throw it in. The judge fined him $2,000 for his act of cruelty.

The maximum penalty for animal cruelty is a $50,000 fine and five years in jail.


Quokka Predators & Threats What Threatens the Survival of the Quokka?

Photo: Red fox with prey

The natural predators of quokkas are birds of prey, goannas and snakes. However, since the arrival of humans in Australia, introduced animals such as dingoes, foxes, dogs, cats, and feral pigs have also been killing quokkas.

Quokkas on the remote offshore islands of Rottnest Island and Bald Island are strictly protected. It has no native predators on these islands. The primary threat to quokkas on these islands is misplaced human kindness and occasional cruelty. Feeding quokkas "human food" can affect their digestion and make them dependent on human largess.

Less than 1,000 quokkas live on the Australian mainland on the southernmost tip of Western Australia. These areas, too, are protected. There are no native predators of adult quokkas here. Young quokkas, however, fall victim to goannas and wedge-tailed eagles. In addition, several introduced predators such as dingoes, foxes, feral pigs, cats and dogs are known to attack quokkas.

Why Quokkas Survive on Rottnest & Bald Islands

The Rottnest and Bald islands were separated from the mainland of Australia by the oceans about 6,000 to 8,000 years ago due to a rise in sea level. This was before the arrival of introduced animals such as the dingo, fox, feral pigs, cats and dogs to Australia. Fortunately, these predators could not swim to these islands. Hence the quokka was protected.

Cats were once introduced by European settlers to these islands, but they have since been eradicated.


How the Quokka Almost Became Extinct Who Caused Quokka Near Extinction?

Fossil evidence indicates that quokkas once occupied an area of over 41,000 sq. kilometres of south-western Western Australia and were widespread when the first European settlers arrived in the region in 1829. But within just a century, the population of quokkas had plummeted drastically. As recently as the 1930s, quokkas were still abundant on mainland Australia and were even declared vermin (Government Gazette of WA 1933) and actively hunted and poisoned on a large scale. This eradication strategy and the introduction of the red fox in the 1930s brought about the catastrophic decline in the number of quokkas on the mainland.


Quokka Conservation Status The Quokka is a Vulnerable Species

Quokkas are classified as a vulnerable species, and they will face extinction unless protected. The quokka population is approximately 10,000-12,000 quokkas on Rottnest Island and less than 1,000 in the south-western parts of Western Australia.

It is illegal to own or keep a quokka as a pet.


How the Quokka Got Its Name

Local Aboriginals referred to these little animals by several names, including ‘quak –a’ and ‘kwoka’. So Europeans started calling this animal a ‘quokka’.

The quokka's scientific species name is Setonix barchyurus. The genus name ‘Setonix’ is derived from the Latin ‘seta’ meaning bristle and the Greek ‘onyx’ meaning claw. The species name ‘barchyurus’ is derived from the Greek ‘brachys’ for short and ‘oura’ for tail. It is also sometimes referred to as a short-tailed pademelon or short-tailed wallaby.


How Rottnest Island Got Its Name

Rottnest Island is a 19 sq. kilometre island off the coast of Western Australia, near the present-day city of Freemantle. In 1658, Samuel Volckertzoon, the captain of the Dutch sailing ship Waeckende noted in his journal that he saw a wild cat, resembling a civet-cat but with browner hair. He was the first European to record the sighting of a quokka. In 1696 , Willem de Vlamingh, another Dutch sailor, explored the same island and described the island as overrun with ‘rats the size of cats’. He named the island "Rotte nest", meaning rat’s nest. This name eventually evolved to the island’s present name of Rottnest Island.


25 Quokka Facts

  1. Quokkas are small hopping marsupials.
  2. Quokkas are best known for their cute smiley faces.
  3. Actually,they are not smiling at you. It's just the way their mouths are shaped.
  4. Quokkas weigh between 2.5- 5 kilos and are 40-54 centimetres in length. They are roughly the size of a large cat.
  5. There are only about 13,000 quokkas in the wild.
  6. They are found mainly on Rottnest Island, off the coast of Western Australia.
  7. And are mostly extinct elsewhere.
  8. Quokkas prefer moist conditions with dense scrubland.
  9. They feed on leaves and the soft shoots of woody plants.
  10. Because of the food sources available on Rottnest Islands, they have adapted to eating succulents and grasses.
  11. Quokkas eat by biting off a piece of vegetation, stuffing it into their mouths and swallowing it.
  12. They regurgitate it later, chew it thoroughly and swallow it once more.
  13. They need very little water to survive.
  14. Quokkas can climb small trees. Most other macropods can't.
  15. A baby quokka is called a joey.
  16. It is smaller than a grain of rice when born.
  17. It crawls up into its mother's pouch and grows there for six months or so.
  18. A quokka mother may sometimes discard the baby in her pouch when fleeing a predator.
  19. Quokkas live for about 10 years.
  20. The name quokka originated from the native Aboriginal name gwaga or kwaka.
  21. Quokkas face the threat of extinction.
  22. It is illegal to touch or feed a quokka.
  23. Quokkas are quite harmless.
  24. But have razor-sharp teeth and sharp claws.
  25. They can bite and scratch if frightened.