Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Bob from Los Angeles, CA. Bob Wonders, “What is a quokka?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Bob!

Today’s Wonder of the Day is about a small, fuzzy animal. Many people might call it cute and friendly. Are any animals coming to mind? Many kids may think of pets they have at home, like dogs and cats.

Others might point to wild animals they see near home, such as rabbits or squirrels. We’re not talking about any of those animals, though. Today, we’re learning about a little critter that can only be found in Southwestern Australia—the quokka!

Quokkas are small marsupials. They’re about the size of a teddy bear or cat. and are related to the kangaroo and wallaby. Like other marsupials, quokka mothers carry their young in a small pouch on their abdomen. Mothers do so for the first six months of their babies’ lives. 

In Australia, quokkas’ face several natural predators. These include feral pigs, European red foxes, and feral cats. Due to these predators and habitat loss, the quokka population has fallen in recent years. Today, they are a vulnerable species.

Fortunately, quokkas still thrive on Rottnest Island. This island is part of Australia and sits just off the coast of Perth. In fact, the island takes its name, which means “rats’ nest,” from the quokka. It was named by Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh. He thought quokkas looked like large rats because of their long tails.

Experts say as many as 10,000 quokkas now live on Rottnest Island, which has been cleared of natural predators. Thanks to their gentle nature, quokkas have even become a popular tourist attraction. Their unique mouths make them look like they’re always smiling!

Quokkas are sometimes called the “world’s happiest animal.” They’ll gladly pose for photographs with tourists. In fact, a visitor in 2012 took a selfie with a quokka that appeared to be smiling. The photo went viral on social media. Afterward, tourists flocked to Rottnest Island where the “quokka selfie” quickly became all the rage.

The surge in tourism was both helpful and harmful. Wider knowledge of the quokka has helped raise funds for their benefit. This helps support the animals’ survival.

However, close contact with humans has also had a downside. The nocturnal animals normally feed on grasses and shrubs. Now, though, they have learned to forage for food during the day when tourists are around. Unfortunately, the foods humans leave behind tend to be bad for quokkas.

Officials have passed new laws making it illegal to touch and feed quokkas. Still, tourists in search of the perfect “quokka selfie” often break these laws.

The selfie may not be the quokka’s greatest threat, though. That’s climate change. Australia faces rising temperatures and limited rainfall. Experts fear this will result in the loss of the wetlands and vegetation quokkas need to survive.

Would you like to visit Rottnest Island? Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see a quokka in person! Always remember it’s best to keep your distance from wild animals. It’s a safe practice to protect both quokkas and humans!


Wonder What's Next?

Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day stars the polecat and some other curious creatures!