Quokka Happiest Animal in the World

Photo: A smiling quokka

The quokka is a cat-sized marsupial about 40-54 centimetres in length and weighs between 2.5 to 5 kilos. It is a macropod and belongs to the same family of animals as the kangaroo and wallaby. Quokka is pronounced "kwaa·kuh" (the Australian and American English pronunciations are similar).

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


Quokka Smile Can I take a Quokka Selfie?

Quokka-selfie

Photo: Quokka selfie

The quokka is famous for its cute smile. But actually, that's just the way its mouth is shaped. This happy smiley 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.

But remember, while quokkas are quite friendly, they are still wild animals and may bite and scratch if provoked. (The Rottnest Island infirmary reported 60 quokka bites last year). It is also illegal to touch, feed or interfere with a quokka. These rules are to protect these vulnerable animals and prevent their extinction. You could be liable for fines of between $150 and $50,000 for not following the rules. Feeding quokkas human foods or even giving them water can upset their digestive systems and lead to serious problems for these animals.

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


Quokka Description Appearance of Quokka

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 is a macropod and is one of the smallest wallabies. It 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.

25 Quokka Facts

  1. Quokkas are small hopping marsupials.
  2. They weigh between 2.5- 5 kilos and are 40-54 centimetres in length. They are roughly the size of a large cat.
  3. Quokkas are best known for their cute smiley faces.
  4. Actually, it's just the ways mouths are shaped.
  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.
  1. Because of the food sources available on Rottnest Islands, they have adapted to eating succulents and grasses.
  2. Quokkas eat by biting off a piece of vegetation, stuffing it into their mouths and swallowing it.
  3. They regurgitate it later, chew it thoroughly and swallow it once more.
  4. They need very little water to survive.
  5. Quokkas can climb small trees. Most other macropods can't.
  6. A baby quokka is called a joey.
  7. It is smaller than a grain of rice when born.
  8. It crawls up into its mother's pouch and grows there for six months or so.
  9. A quokka mother may sometimes discard the baby in her pouch when fleeing a predator.
  10. Quokkas live for about 10 years.
  11. The name quokka originated from the native Aboriginal name gwaga or kwaka.
  12. Quokkas face the threat of extinction.
  13. It is illegal to touch or feed a quokka.
  14. Quokkas are quite harmless.
  15. But have razor-sharp teeth and sharp claws.
  16. They can bite and scratch if frightened.

Quokka Habitat Where Do Quokkas Live?

Photo: Quokka Habitat Map

Quokkas prefer moist conditions with dense scrubland. Approximately 10,000–12,000 quokkas live on the Rottnest Island and Bald Island off the coast of Western Australia. About 1,000 quokkas also live on the Australian mainland in south-western Western Australia in vegetation around swamps and near watercourses.


Quokka Diet What Do a 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 once more. (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

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 do sometimes occur between males, usually for choice rest locations under a shady tree. Quokkas spend most of the day napping in the shade.

Photo: Quokka resting

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 and 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 & Life Cycle Quokka Baby (Joey)

Photo: A female quokka with its joey

A quokka becomes sexually active at about 18 months. Female quokkas give birth to a single baby at a time. Female quokkas on the mainland can produce roughly two offspring each year. Quokkas on Rottnest Island, however, have a shorter breeding season and have only one offspring a year, born between February and April.

The baby quokka, known as a joey, is extremely small when it is born – it is no larger than 1cm and weighs less than 0.4 grams. This is because quokkas belong to a group of animals known as marsupials. Marsupial babies have two stages of development. One inside the mother like placental mammals such as humans and the other outside the mother’s body in a special external pouch called a marsupium.

Stage 1 – A quokka joey is born approximately 21 days after gestation. When it emerges from its mother’s birth canal, it is blind, hairless, with stumpy forelimb 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 from view 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 about close to its mother. However, if frightened, it will immediately jump, head first, back into the safety of the pouch. By the time it is about 8 months old, the joey no longer uses its mother's pouch. It may still suckle from its mother for another 6 months or so.

It lives for about 10 years.

Learn More About Macropod Reproduction?


Do Quokkas Toss Their Babies Away? Yes and No

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 jettison 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, then 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 that he 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?

Quokka

Quokkas on the remote offshore islands of Rottnest Island and Bald Island is 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 also 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. Several introduced predators such as dingoes, foxes, feral pigs, cats and dogs are known to attack quokkas.

Why Quokkas Survive on Rottnest & Bald Islands

These 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?

Photo: Red fox with prey

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 together with 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 vulnerable species, and unless protected they will face extinction. There are 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 this little animals by a number of names including as ‘quak –a’ and ‘kwoka’ and the European started calling it a ‘quokka’. Its 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.

The word 'quokka' is pronounced in a number of different ways. Some pronounce it kwo-ka (rhymes with “mocha”). The majority say kwah-ka (rhymes with “wokka").


How Rottnest Island Got Its Name

Rottnest Island is a 19 sq. kilometre island of the coast of Western Australia, near the present day city of Freemantle. In 1658, Samuel Volckertzoon, the captain of the Dutch sailing ship Waeckende Boey, whose crew landed on this island off the coast of Western Australia, 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 that 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.