Looking to learn about some adorable little mammals? You're in the right place! In this post, we'll tell you everything you want to know about quokkas; habitat, diet, why they smile, and how to take the perfect selfie.
50 Quokka Facts
With their round cheeks and happy smiles, quokkas have been dubbed some of the cutest animals on the planet. They eat flowers and they carry their babies in pouches. They're adorable.
These weird animals even taken over social media thanks to #QuokkaSelfies becoming the latest trend on Instagram!
Behind their snuffly little noses, however, there are some quokka facts that might surprise you. For example, did you know that they're vulnerable to extinction? Did you know that they're native to just one place in the world, and their habitats are rapidly diminishing?
Let's take a look at some basic quokka facts and trivia.
1. What does the quokka look like?
Quokkas are small, four-legged animals covered in fur. They're from the kangaroo family and have pouches in their abdomens for carrying their young.
Though they're much tinier than kangaroos; the quokka is around the size of a domestic housecat.
They have narrow faces, round ears, big noses, and tiny paws. Their tails are short and skinny. They're almost always a shade of brown.
One of the most distinctive features of the quokka is their smile. Known as “the world's most cheerful animal,” quokkas have a perpetually happy expression on their face.
It can range from a tiny smile to a toothy grin, but it's always there, and it's always the absolute cutest.
2. Are quokkas real?
Quokkas are very real. Some people doubt their existence because they're such cute, cuddly creatures, or they get them confused with other species because of their resemblance to different marsupials. But quokkas are a genuine species living in Australia.
3. How do you pronounce “quokka?”
It depends on where you live. North Americans usually pronounce it koo-WOH-kuh, but native Australians favor kah-WAH-kah.
4. How big is a quokka?
Quokkas are the size of domesticated cats.
Their bodies measure between 16 – 21 inches long, and their tails are usually 9 – 12 inches long.
5. How much does a quokka weigh?
Male quokkas usually weigh about 5 – 10 pounds. Females are slightly smaller at 3 – 8 pounds.
6. How did the quokka get its name?
The aboriginal tribes of Australia are responsible for the quokka's name.
They called it gwaga or kwaka, and other people adapted the name quokka from their dialect.
7. What is the quokkas Latin name?
The scientific name of the quokka is Setonix brachyurus.
“Setonix” is the name of its genus, and “brachyurus” is derived from the Greek for “short tail” (brakhús and ourá).
8. Who discovered the quokka?
The quokka was discovered several times by Europeans visiting Australia. The tricky part was recognizing them for what they were!
When a mariner named Samuel Volckertzoon found them on a sandy island in the 1600s, he described them as “wild cats” in his journals.
When an explorer named Willem de Vlamingh stumbled across them a few decades later, he mistook them for “giant rats” and named the entire island after them.
He called it Rottnest Island after the Dutch phrase for “rat's nest,” and that name still stands today. What a charming name for an Island…
9. When was the quokka discovered?
Samuel Volckertzoon thought that they were cats in 1658. Willem de Vlamingh decided that they were rats in 1696. So, it's kind of up to you what you believe.
Technically, we first became aware of their existence back in 1658 but didn't recognize them for what they were. 🤷♀️
10. Are quokkas mammals?
Yes. Quokkas are mammals!
11. Are quokkas marsupials?
Yes. The word “marsupial” comes from marsupium, which means “abdominal pouch,” and quokkas have these just like kangaroos, wombats, wallabies, possums, and koalas.
12. Are quokkas macropods?
Yes. “Macropod” is a classification given to pouched mammals that live in Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea.
13. What's the difference between a marsupial and a macropod?
Are you confused by all of these labels? Don't worry! They're just different levels of the quokka's scientific family. Here's a full breakdown:
- Class: Mammalia (mammals)
- Infraclass: Marsupialia (pouched mammals)
- Order: Diprotodontia (a specific order of pouched mammals)
- Family: Macropodidae (pouched mammals living in Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea)
- Genus: Setonix (quokkas)
14. Do quokkas swim?
Quokkas have the ability to swim, but you won't find them doing the butterfly stroke very often.
They spend most of their time in trees and shrubs, and their primary home, Rottnest Island, can go long months without rainfall.
There are times when freshwater is so scarce that the quokka can only stay hydrated through the nutrients of plants.
15. Can quokkas climb trees?
Quokkas love to climb trees! They can ascend as high as 4 – 6 feet, which is pretty good for their size.
It's like a housecat climbing to the top portion of a door.
16. Can a quokka quack?
Quokkas don't quack. This is probably a misconception that stems from their name.
But they don't have anything to do with ducks, and they don't make any duck sounds at all.
17. Are quokkas friendly or aggressive?
Quokkas are friendly and approachable creatures.
They're used to tourists, so they have little fear of human contact, and they'll hop right up to people who are marveling at them.
This is how visitors to Rottnest Island are able to pose for so many “quokka selfies.”
That said, quokkas can have a bit of a mean streak to them. They aren't afraid to bite when they're feeling threatened. And they have powerful hind legs that can be used for kicking just as easily as hopping.
They don't like to be handled, either, and the Australian government has strict rules about this, so trying to pet a quokka might result in injuries and fines.
To put it another way, quokkas might be friendly, but they're not domesticated. They're still wild animals.
18. Is it legal to interact with wild quokkas?
Yes, it is legal. Rottnest Island is only about seven miles around, and more than 10,000 quokkas call it home, so they're everywhere.
As we've mentioned, however, there are many rules about interacting with quokkas. You are not allowed to pet them or feed them.
And trying to transport them anywhere is a huge no-no. Taking a quokka out of the country is strictly prohibited.
Residents or visitors who break these rules can face everything from fines to jail time, and the Australian government can be quite tough about enforcing them.
19. Why do quokkas smile?
They're famous for their chubby-cheeked grins, but why do quokkas actually beam?
The simple answer is that we don't know. There's nothing about their mouth or jaw structure that necessitates smiling.
20. Is the quokka the happiest animal?
Quokkas are often called “the happiest animal on Earth” because of their big grins and friendly natures.
However, it's important to remember that they're still wild animals.
They can bite, and they can get aggressive when fighting over mates or when they feel threatened. Males often form social hierarchies based on size and dominance.
Females will even abandon their babies if the situation calls for it. The life of a quokka isn't easy just because it's smiling!
21. Why are quokkas not afraid of humans?
If quokkas were ever afraid of humans, that time is long gone. They've come to recognize tourists as an everyday part of life.
Some quokkas will even hang around stores, parks, campsites and youth hostels where people have been known to illegally feed them.
22. Why can't you feed a quokka?
You shouldn't feed a quokka for the same reason that you shouldn't feed any wild animal.
Their bodies aren't used to artificial ingredients, and their diets can be completely disrupted with the introduction of foods and snacks that aren't native to their environment.
You can even cause physical damage to quokkas if you insist on feeding them. Marsupials are prone to something called lumpy jaw disease that can infect their bone cartilage and lead to pain, distress, starvation, and death.
LJD can be caused by something as simple as sandwich bread sticking to their gums, so never feed a quokka!
23. Do quokkas bite?
Yes. Quokkas can and will bite when they're feeling threatened, and they've been known to nip at the fingers of people who try to feed them.
24. Are quokka bites dangerous?
Quokka bites are mild. They cause a few hospital visits each year, but it's mostly from concerned parents with children that got nipped.
There's never been a “quokka attack” or any serious incident.
25. Can you have quokkas as pets?
No. It's completely illegal to buy, sell, trade or own quokkas as a private citizen. Resist those sweet and cuddly cheeks; they're a protected species!
26. How long do quokkas live?
The average lifespan of a quokka is 10 – 15 years. They live longer in captivity than in the wild.
27. What eats a quokka? Predators and Threats
Quokkas are vulnerable to cats, dogs, foxes, dingoes, and snakes. Their natural predators are birds of prey and dingoes, but the rest have been introduced to their environment over time.
When faced with a predator, the quokka's first instinct is to run away. They can hop at high speeds for their size, and they can dive into burrows and scurry up branches to try and lose their pursuers.
Moms have even been known to sacrifice their children as a distraction to escape, more on that below.
If they're cornered, quokkas will fight tooth and nail for survival. They can bite with their teeth and scratch with their claws, and their powerful hind legs are good for kicking.
It's only their small size that dooms them. Compared to a dingo or even a dog, quokkas are no match for larger animals.
28. Are quokkas endangered?
Quokkas are listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN and the Australian Department of Environment and Energy.
They aren't quite endangered, but their population trends are decreasing.
29. How many quokkas are left in the world?
The IUCN estimates that there are between 7,500 – 15,000 mature adults in the wild. The vast majority is on Rottnest Island.
There's also a protected population on Bald Island, and there are a few scattered colonies on mainland Australia as well.
30. What threatens the quokka?
The biggest threat to quokkas is deforestation. Humans are tearing down trees to build cities; weather changes are having ripple effects on vegetation, erosion, and rainfall.
In 2015, a wildfire in Western Australia decimated 90% of the local quokka population. Their numbers went from 500 to 39.
Another big threat to quokkas is humans. People just can't resist trying to feed, pet, cuddle and capture them, and the smallest of sandwiches can have long-term consequences for their health.
There have also been cases of animal cruelty towards quokkas. Since they're such a prevalent part of life on Rottnest Island, people take liberties with them.
One man was jailed when he threw a quokka off a boat to prove that it could swim.
Another man made headlines for pouring vodka down a quokka's throat, and another got in trouble after he filmed a friend chasing and kicking a frightened quokka.
Can you believe that people can be so horrible to nature?!
31. Do quokkas live in groups? Are they sociable?
Yes and no. Quokkas live in colonies, but they don't really socialize with one another. For example, they don't groom or play together.
They live solitary lives that just so happen to intersect for food and safety reasons.
32. What do quokkas eat?
Quokkas are herbivores that eat grasses, leaves, shrubs, and plants. One study has suggested that their favorite food is Guichenotia ledifolia, a type of white-purple flower.
33. Do quokkas mate for life?
There's no evidence to suggest that quokkas mate for life, but they've been known to return to the same mates for several breeding cycles in a row, so they aren't opposed to monogamy.
It seems to be a matter of convenience more than anything. Remember: They're solitary creatures that mostly live together for survival rather than any desire for companionship.
34. What sound does a quokka make?
Quokkas don't make a lot of noise. They don't have calls or songs to communicate with others of their kind, and they don't growl when they're threatened.
They might make involuntary sounds of fear or panic when they're distressed, but that's about it.
35. Are quokkas nocturnal?
Quokkas are nocturnal in the sense that their natural instinct is to sleep during the day and forage at night.
However, you'll find plenty of quokkas that are active in the daylight hours. They know that they have better chances of being illegally fed by tourists if they hang around crowded places at high noon.
36. Do quokkas carry disease?
Studies have shown that quokkas can carry salmonella in their feces, but it's never infected anyone in Australia.
Quokkas aren't considered a dangerous species to live with, so you're safe to move to Rottnest Island if you want!
37. Do quokkas have rabies?
No. Australia is actually considered a “rabies-free” country since there have only been two rabies deaths there, and both cases were contracted overseas.
Good for Australia; there are plenty of other things trying to kill you that you shouldn't have to worry about rabies!
38. Where does the quokka live?
The quokka is native to Australia. Its biggest population is on Rottnest Island, but there are small groups on Bald Island and mainland Australia as well.
These are the only places in the world where you can find wild quokkas.
39. What is the habitat of the quokka?
Quokkas live in trees, shrubs, swamps and other areas with dense vegetation. They don't like the exposure of wide and open spaces.
They prefer environments where they can hide from predators or take shelter from the elements when necessary.
40. How many babies do quokkas have?
Quokkas have one baby at a time. Since they're a mammalian species, it's a live birth, and the baby will require milk after it's born.
41. What do you call a baby quokka?
Like kangaroos, baby quokkas are called “joeys.”
42. What are baby quokkas like?
They're adorable! Baby quokkas are miniature versions of their parents, and they ride around in their mother's pouch until they're old enough to fend for themselves.
It isn't uncommon to see babies poking their tiny, fuzzy heads out of their pouches as their mom hops from location to location.
As for their life cycle, a quokka female will give birth to a single baby after gestating it for about a month. Then she'll nurse it and carry it around in her pouch for an additional six months.
At six months, the joey will be encouraged to leave the safety of the pouch. It will start to wean itself off mom's milk as it learns how to forage for food.
At 10 – 12 months, the joey will be considered independent, and it won't rely on mom at all anymore. It might stay close as part of a colony, but it will be a mature and solitary adult.
43. Do male quokkas play any part in child-rearing?
Male quokkas will defend their pregnant mate, but they don't have anything to do with mom or baby after it's born.
44. How often do quokkas reproduce?
Quokkas are known for their rapid reproduction rates. They mature quickly and can give birth twice per year, so in a 10-year lifespan, they might produce anywhere from 15 – 17 babies.
They're unbound by mating seasons, though it's most common for quokkas to breed between the months of January – March.
45. Do quokkas have any mating rituals?
Quokkas don't have any real courtship habits, but it's the female that decides if she wants to mate.
A male will approach her and make his interest known, and if she returns it, she'll start grooming him as a sign of acceptance. If she rejects him, he'll have to go and find another female.
46. Can quokkas stop themselves from getting pregnant?
Quokkas are capable of something called embryonic diapause or “delayed impregnation.”
Simply put, a female can mate with a male but delay the development of her egg until conditions become favorable for raising a baby.
It's a sort of natural reproduction strategy that will keep her from expending energy and resources to raise joeys that won't survive.
For example, there are some female quokkas that mate again right after giving birth, but they'll hold off on having the second baby until they see if their first joey survives.
If it does, the embryo will disintegrate, and the unneeded second baby will never exist. It the first joey dies, however, the embryo will naturally implant and develop to create a replacement.
47. Do quokkas really throw their babies?
Despite their sweet and friendly nature, quokkas have a survival instinct that's pretty nasty: If a mother is being pursued by a predator, she'll sacrifice her baby to save herself.
She won't actually throw it, but she'll eject it from her pouch by relaxing her pouch muscles, causing the baby to drop out. The baby will flail on the ground and make noise that attracts the predator.
You can probably guess what happens next. It's a pretty nasty instinct for such a cute creature, but that's nature for you. If mom didn't do it, she'd probably be caught and killed with the baby still in her pouch.
To put it another way, moms can survive an attack and reproduce again, but babies can't.
48. Where can I see a quokka?
If you want to see a quokka in the wild, book a trip to Rottnest Island. Quokkas are such an everyday part of life that they're considered a nuisance by local shopkeepers!
They run inside businesses looking to scavenge, and they distract customers, cause messes, dig into garbage and poop everywhere. They're adorable little troublemakers.
Outside of their native habitat, you can find quokkas in all kinds of Australian zoos, including the Perth Zoo, Adelaide Zoo, Sydney Zoo, and Melbourne Zoo.
49. What is Quokka JS?
50. How to take an amazing quokka selfie
Quokka selfies have become one of the trendiest things on social media. Before you snap a #QuokkaSmile, however, you might want to read these tips.
- Don't touch the quokka. Australian law doesn't allow you to pet them, pose them, hug them, cuddle them or hold them in your arms for a picture. They're completely untouchable. If you want a good photo, you'll have to be patient and let the quokka come to you.
- Don't feed them. How do you get a quokka to come into frame? Some people tempt them with treats, but this is both illegal and immoral. We've already talked about the consequences of feeding wild quokkas. Don't kill them for the sake of a selfie!
- Be careful with your flash. Quokkas are easily startled; it's their instinct as prey animals. If you have a bright flash on your camera, you might only get that one shot before the quokka bolts.
- Get down on their level. Don't stand over the quokka. Crouch down for an eye-level selfie instead. The quokka will be much more at ease with your presence if you aren't looming over it, and your shot will be more visually interesting to boot.
- Don't force it. You might have to try your luck with several different quokkas before you find one that will sit still for a photo. You might need to fill an entire memory card before you get that perfect, front-facing smile. This is one of those times when you need to remember that the quokka is a wild animal, and wild animals don't always cooperate with photographers. Patience is key.
Turn That Frown Upside Down
They're small. They're cute. They'll net you a thousand Instagram followers with a single photo. There's a lot to love about quokkas, but we hope that these quokka facts taught you some other, more important things as well.
What did you learn? Still have questions? Let me know in the comments!
Drew Haines is an animal enthusiast and travel writer. She loves to share her passion through her writing. She graduated high school at sixteen and started her own business, Everywhere Wild Media. And she runs Everywhere Wild and JustBirding. She also guest blogs on Storyteller.Travel
She lived in Ecuador for 6 years and explored the Galapagos Islands. Currently based in N.S., Canada.