Episode 187 – Quokka: Pragmatist Parents

“…and today we’re talking about what the internet has dubbed the world’s happiest animal.”

You know that old joke where there are two guys hiking in the woods who see a bear and one of them says “How are we gonna outrun it” and the other says “I just need to outrun you”? Well, the adorable and permanently joyful Australian marsupial known as the quokka has taken that age-old adage to heart. It just goes to show that, like clowns, perpetually smiling doesn’t mean there isn’t a psychopath lurking just underneath. But that’s just how the quokka survives here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.


  • Quokkas are adorable fuzzy brown marsupials. 
  • Picture a rabbit, give it a mousy face and ear. 
  • Throw on a fat caboose and a short rat tail. 
  • They are actually wallabies, which look like small kangaroos. But quokkas are a little rounder and cuter.
  • They have small mouths that are curled into a permanent smile, so they always sport an adorable grin.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a new Measure Up intro!

  1. Racoon
  2. Wallaby
  3. Squirrel
  4. Rabbit


  • 40 to 54 cm (16 to 21 in) long
  • How many quokkas go into the length of the Eyre Highway, Australia’s longest stretch of straight highway.
  • Hint: Australians know Eyre as the country’s most boring road as it goes across the Nullarbor plain. Nullarbor is exactly what it sounds like: no trees. It’s just flat semi-arid desert on all sides. It’s only a part of National Highway 1, which goes all the way around the coast of Australia for 14,500 km (9,000 mi).
  • 3,107,657 quokkas. 1,660-kilometre (1,030 mi)


  • 2.5 to 5.0 kg (5.5 to 11 lb)
  • How many quokkas go into the heaviest legal roadtrain in Australia?
  • Hint: A roadtrain in Australia is any truck that hauls two or more trailers. In the history of road trains, the vast majority of record breakers were in Australia. In 2006 an Australian Mack truck hauled 113 trailers 100 yards.
  • 40,000 quokkas. 200 tonnes (220 U.S. tons)

Fast Facts

  • They live on remote islands off the coast of Australia, one of which is called Rottnest Island. 
  • The name for the island came from the fact that Dutch explorers thought the quokkas were some sort of rat and called the island “rat nest.”
  • They like wet and swampy areas with tons of rainfall.
  • Quokkas enjoyed the remoteness of Australia for a long time but not the introduction of foxes, pigs, and cats have made them slightly less happy. 
  • However, there are no cats in Rottnest and the quokkas there are as happy as a Mousekewitz sailing to the land of opportunity. 
  • They are gregarious and live in groups, but that friendliness also extends to their two legged friends. 
  • Quokkas have very little fear of people and they will regularly come up close and interact with people. This may be because of how little exposure island quokkas had with people or any large predators historically. 
    • Quokka selfies became popular in the 2010s because of their gregariousness with people and the fact that they naturally look like they’re smiling.
    • However, if you visit Rottnest, it’s important to know that it’s illegal to feed them or handle them. They can and will bite sometimes if they’re bothered or startled. Harming them or being cruel to them can earn you up to a $50,000 fine or five years in prison. 

Major Fact: Nature’s Ejection Seat

So living anywhere near Australia is dangerous since nature there is like a Navy Seal that always knows 18 ways to kill you.

This is especially true if you are a small mammal – you know, the thing that is on almost every predator’s list of favorite foods.

And despite what the 60s may have tried to shove down everyone’s throats, you can’t smile your enemies into submission. Dingoes, hawks, snakes, as well as cats and dogs couldn’t care less about how photogenic you are.

Unfortunately, quokkas aren’t known for their blinding speed and agility – especially when they’re carrying a joey. They also don’t spend a lot of time in groups and they live in the relatively poor protection of a spiky plant, so avoiding predators isn’t as straightforward as it is for other mammals.

So when they’re facing down a threat they can’t outrun, guess what most quokkas will do. 

They’ll get eaten.

But females with joeys in their pouch have a horrifying strategy to live another day that is literally a last-ditch effort – ditch the baby. They will clench their pouch and pop the joey out and onto the ground, where it will make pathetic little noises for the predator to hear.

This is obviously an instant death sentence for the baby – but the astute pragmatist will instantly recognize that this makes sense.

If the female quokka didn’t decide to prince of egypt its baby, the predator will almost certainly kill and eat them both. 

So in these situations, the joey is doomed no matter how you slice it. But the mother can still survive to have more babies and propagate the quokka species.

So it’s fortunate that, when completely outclassed by an opponent, the quokka doesn’t take Captain America’s “We’ll lose together” idealism to heart and definitely will trade lives for the greater mission –  otherwise there probably wouldn’t be any quokkas left.

An unthinkable thing to do for the irrational and emotional human and a no-brainer for instinct-driven animalistic pragmatism

Reminds me of the Samaritans in 2 Kings when those two women decided to eat their kids during a famine. From a practical side, it makes a bit of sense to trade the quick, certain death of one in order to avoid the less-certain slow, painful death of the whole family. But the whole idea makes me want to tear my clothes and ask for Elisha’s head on a spike.

Ending: So don’t be a communist, don’t drink vodka from random strangers, and remember that you’re never fully dressed without a smile like the quokka here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.