This animal near an island in Australia is probably the cutest animal on Earth.

What if you’re asked, what is the cutest animal on Earth? Any guesses? Australia is a continent not only isolated in it’s own corner of the world, but also, it’s home to some of the world’s endemic wildlife, talking of both flora and fauna — like the kangaroo and the koala. But have you ever heard of the quokka? This Aussie creature is well noted for cuteness, smiles, friendly personality, and pretty much resembling a mini-kangaroo. Sounds cute already? Learn more about Australia’s most adorable animal.

The Cutest Creatures On Earth

The quokka, botanically known as Setonix brachyurus — the only member of the genus Setonix — is a nocturnal marsupial that’s stocky build, well-developed hind legs, rounded ears, and a short, broad head — roughly the size of a domestic cat. They are the smallest members of the macropod family (“big foot” family) which also includes kangaroos and wallabies. Their natural habitat are mainly in swamps and scrublands, hiding in bushes for shelters, and emerging at night to find food; and the only terrestrial mammal on Rottnest island — a small island south west off the coast of western Australia.

Image: Shutterstock / iStock / Getty Images Plus

The quokka was the main reason the island had it’s name. Back in the 17th century, when the Dutch explorers landed on Australia’s west coast, captain Willem de Vlamingh mistook the quokkas as giant rats, and labelled the island Ratten nest, the Dutch word for “rat nest,” hence the island’s name, Rottenest. For the name quokka, its probably gwaga, derived from a local dialect Nyungar word. As for pronunciation, dictionaries offer two options. North Americans usually pronounce it ‘kwo-ka,’ but you could choose to say ‘kwah-ka.’ Its solely up to you. Quokkas don’t care.

Quokkas are only cute for smiling, but they’re terrible creatures in their own rite. They are known to have a promiscuous mating system — you can’t blame them, they’re cute. They take a few months of gestation, and give birth to a single offspring called a joey. Cute check! The average female quokka can give birth twice a year, and approximately 17 joeys in a lifespan. Quokkas also have a pouch in which they nurse their young, like kangaroos. Double cute check!

Image: Cambojones2020 on Instagram

We’re Not All That Cute

Joeys are suckled by their moms — a normal evolutionary trait of all mammals. And here’s the catch: when a mom quokka is pursued by a predator, the fleeing mom may eject the joey from her pouch onto the ground; and as it makes noises, it attracts the predator while mama quokka escapes to live and reproduce another day. Now that’s one heck of a badass mom. #BadMomsQuokkas. It’s a stone-cold strategy, but it works. However, that’s not all their terrible deeds. They’re also known to bite people, especially kids. How rude! Their feet are tipped with very sharp claws, and just like most wild creatures, if you mess up with it, it’ll f*** you up pretty nasty.

Image: Het Is De Merchx / iStock / Getty Images Plus

This is the true story told by Australian journalist Kenneth Cook when he befriended a quokka and thought its “small, mean mouth,” couldn’t do any damage. Spoiler alert: it sure did. “It was a malicious-looking beast,” as he wrote in his 1987 book ‘Wombat Revenge.’  He wasn’t afraid at first, so he offered the cute-looking little creature a piece of apple, but it spat it out. Then offered a crumb of gorgonzola cheese, and it tossed it right into its mouth, and it “fell down in a dead faint,” Cook says. He was convinced that he’d just poisoned the little fella so decided to save its life.

Cook kept the quokka in his backpack and left some room for air. After a bumpy ride on his bicycle in search for help, the quokka suddenly revived, and blearily made it out of the backpack with claws first. Cook says he felt a sharp shrieking in his ear as the quokka got hold of his neck. It bit his earlobe so hard that, as he was riding, the quokka hung there, dead weight, like a large, furry ear ring. Cook eventually lost control of the steering and finally went off a cliff into the ocean. He surfaced just to look around and found the quokka standing at shore, staring at him with what he says as “the weirdest smile I’ve ever seen.”

Cook’s story seems incredible, and he’s not the only victim to have survived a quokka-attack. Forget about those teddy bear fairies your mom told you, quokkas aren’t just going to play with you and not fend for themselves if the need arise. According to the Rottnest Island Infirmary, they treat dozens of patients each year for quokka bites —  most of which are children.

What Are You Smiling At?

Image: Suzana Paravac / The West Australian

That’s a great question to ask a quokka if you happen to meet one in Australia. So what on Earth in the wilderness of amazing Aussieland makes them happy all the time? They’re fierce, fearless, and adorable, but no one knows if they’re really happy or not, and neither do we have any clue. However, according to one cognitive experiment by evolutionary biologist Clive Wynne, he disproves the long-held assumption that quokkas are “really, really dumb” — an assumption, he says, is even found through scientific literature.

Those smiley little marsupials don’t “have any magical cognitive abilities,” he says, “but they’re not stupid, [either]. They have the skills they need — honed by evolution over millions of years — to thrive in their natural environment.”

So, what’s all that smile at? Consider this as the ”Bitchy Resting Face” — a condition suffered by several Hollywood A-listers; and consider the great white shark, too, its face is permanently stretched into a dopey grin. So to end this argument of the quokka’s Mona Lisa smile, Wynne says it’s just “an accident of evolution,” and since he’s an expert, we’ll take his word. But come on, seeing a tenacious furry little creature with a pretty awesome looking smile is simply happiness by natural selection. Kinda!

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Mon, Apr 01, 2019.

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