Animal Species:Drop Bear

The Drop Bear, Thylarctos plummetus, is a large, arboreal, predatory marsupial related to the Koala.

Drop Bear distribution map

 © Australian Museum

Did you know? Museum Members get FREE Drop Bear immunisation.

Standard Common Name

Drop Bear

Identification

Around the size of a leopard or very large dog with coarse orange fur with some darker mottled patterning (as seen in most Koalas). It is a heavily built animal with powerful forearms for climbing and holding on to prey. It lacks canines, using broad powerful premolars as biting tools instead.

Size range

120kg, 130cm long, 90 cm at the shoulder.

Distribution

Drop Bears can be found in the densely forested regions of the Great Dividing Range in South-eastern Australia. However there are also some reports of them from South-east South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges and Kangaroo Island.

Habitat

Closed canopy forest as well as open woodland on the margins of dense forest. Never encountered near roads or human habitation.

Habitat type

Vegetation Habitat: closed forest, tall closed forest, tall open forest, tall open shrubland

What does this mean?

Feeding and Diet

Examination of kill sites and scats suggest mainly medium to large species of mammal make a substantial proportion of the animal's diet. Often, prey such as macropods are larger than the Drop Bear itself.

Drop Bears hunt by ambushing ground dwelling animals from above, waiting up to as much as four hours to make a surprise kill. Once prey is within view, the Drop Bear will drop as much as eight metres to pounce on top of the unsuspecting victim. The initial impact often stuns the prey, allowing it to be bitten on the neck and quickly subdued.

If the prey is small enough Drop Bears will haul it back up the tree to feed without harassment from other predators.

Feeding Habit

carnivorous

What does this mean?

Mating and reproduction

Breeding occurs during summer and usually one baby, or joey, is produced each year. After six months in the pouch, the joey is gradually weaned from milk.

Era / Period

Quaternary Period

What does this mean?

Danger to humans and first aid

Bush walkers have been known to be 'dropped on' by drop bears, resulting in injury including mainly lacerations and occasionally bites. Most attacks are considered accidental and there are no reports of incidents being fatal.

There are some suggested folk remedies that are said to act as a repellent to Drop Bears, these include having forks in the hair or Vegemite or toothpaste spread behind the ears. There is no evidence to suggest that any such repellents work. 

Classification

Species:
plummetus
Genus:
Thylarctos

What does this mean?

Further Reading

Janssen, V. 2012. Indirect tracking of drop bears using GNSS technology. Australian Geographer, 43 (4). pp. 445-452.


Chris Hosking , Interpretive Officer
Last Updated:

Tags drop, bear, killer, koala, vegemite, marsupial, mystery, cryptozoology,

37 comments

rayja - 9.01 AM, 27 January 2012
Am I the only one who thinks this isn't funny. Really, our international visitors actually think it is really lame as well. Now Ear Wax spiders is something we should bring to their attention.
pogee06 - 5.12 PM, 09 December 2011
Tim the Yowie Man's comment is disturbing since he completely ignored these animals in his otherwise comprehensive tome "Hidden, Mysterious Australia" which is currently being serialised delightfully on Radio 1RPH on Saturday afternoons. Time for a new edition, Tim!
Tim the Yowie Man - 12.12 PM, 07 December 2011
As a cryptozoologist who searches for these sort of creatures for a profession, the tone of some of these comments concerns me somewhat...
CarnageDropBear - 3.11 PM, 09 November 2011
@pogee06. Further to your comments regarding Drop-Bears in teh Canberra region. It has come to my attention that they are now employing a strategic tactic as dressing up as the junkies in Civic, namely to lure unexpected international students. After all... who will miss these poor souls? Additioanlly, you will notice scattered beer/rum/vodka cans and bottles littered everywhere- Drop-Bears... getting horribly intoxicated and partaking in horrible mating rituals. I advise you all to arm yourself with a taser and attack ANYONE and anything that you suspect to be a Drop-Bear.
Biotechy2k - 10.10 AM, 20 October 2011
I am one of the few who not only encountered one of these beastly animals but had one plummet down and hit me on the base of the skull and neck and survived was standing under our huge mango tree when whammo I was struck It drove me to my knees luckily I have been told I'm very hard headed so I think I stunned the little bugger he was bigger than one of those huge brush tails I wondered why our regular brush tail hadn't been around for a while and sadly I found his skeletal remains at the base of the tree, I tried to wrangle the Drop Bear but he was too fast and too strong for me but I am living proof they do exist and I still bear (sorry no pun intended) the scars to prove it dangerous buggers I'll tell you that Give me a King Brown anyday Cheers Lou
Dale D - 12.10 AM, 14 October 2011
Sorry if this repeats. I don't think you got my graphic. Here is another one. Cheers Best Wishes, Dale D. http://frontiersofzoology.blogspot.com/

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Dale D - 12.10 AM, 14 October 2011
Hello Folks You need to correct your range map. The Western part of the range is in the desert where there are no trees to drop from. People MIGHT Think you were Spoofing them! Best Wishes, Dale D. http://frontiersofzoology.blogspot.com/

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Gingertoffee - 6.07 PM, 08 July 2011
I have been warning my girls about these for years! Tania said she saw one on her Outward Bound camp in Kangaroo Valley about 10 years ago. Polly didn't see any on her Duke of Ed hikes, although thought she saw the outline of one through the tent door but i am sure they were there. Look out Lu - they rife around the Broken Bay Camp.
Lance - 7.06 PM, 27 June 2011
Recently, on a trip into the most desolate part off australia, Uluru, I had an encounter with a drop bear, Depite applying quite a lot of vegemite (inferior to marmite, yet all I could get before the expidition) Ironically, the attack occurred while walking under the only noticeable tree in the area and obviously the attack was that more severe because the drop bear was a touch bored having waited almost 4 hours(the maximum, before it gives up and finds another tree) I heard the whistling of the bear as it fell through the air to land with a loud splat(too much vegemite?) on my shoulders. The attack lasted about five minutes, as the bear and I rolled around in a fury of furrey dusty, sticky marmite substitue struggle to the death. Eventually I managed to scare the bear off with my Patent pending anti drop bear whistle, which can only be heard by drop bears and widdgidy grubs(!) The beast scurried off up into the tree and I swear gave me a 'you were well luck cobber!) stare. This is the second dangerous animal attack I have suffered, The first being the Transilvanian sloth! The slowest of the animal kingdoms assasins.
pogee06 - 1.05 PM, 16 May 2011
There are continuing reports of Drop Bears in and around the Canberra area having developed a new tactic of riding falling eucalyptus branches to the ground in order to stun and overcome unsuspecting passers-by. Past practice in the bush capital was for the then-National Capital Authority to plant eucalypts as street trees. These are now mature or over-mature and, like all eucalypts in stressed environments, they tend to shed branches unexpectedly and apparently without warning. Drop Bears have cleverly exploited this tendency and have adopted co-operative behaviour whereby the weight of two or more will cause unstable branches to drop, and the bears have developed a “surfing” technique enabling them to ride the falling branches to the ground. This gives them the double benefit of surprise and disguise. Unsuspecting walkers who thought they only had to leap to avoid branches have been horrified to find they have to contend with a marauding pack of Drop Bears emerging from the greenery as well. Significant injuries are reported to have been the result from these Bear attacks. The ACT Government has a continuing pruning program for eucalypts to try to mitigate the problem. There is a suggestion that, as in the case of the US Navy training dolphins for warfare, a secret SAS unit based in caves built into the new underpass outside Russell Hill Defence HQ is attempting to train Drop Bears wearing explosive belts for anti-personnel operations. The exploding Drop Bears may be tested on cyclists using the underpass (cars are too fast for the Bears to be effective). This is, of course, denied by the military and government; but they would wouldn't they?
Markofthemountains - 7.05 PM, 03 May 2011
I am terrified of these drop bears. I was in the Army for 15 year and often had Drop Bear attacks when exercising in Shoalwater Bay in Central Queensland and occasionally (but not as often) in the Border Ranges south of Canungra. The only thing we were more scared of was 'Hoop Snakes' that would bask in the sun on high ground and when seeing unsuspecting prey (like soldiers) would grab their tail in their mouth to form a hoop and roll down the hill to attack us. I don't know their scientific details, taxonomy etc. but hope that someone in the museum could classify these dangerous creature.
elsewhere - 7.03 AM, 02 March 2011
I am anticipating visiting Australia but this relatively unknown extra threat as well as crocodiles, poisonous snakes and spiders, sharks, stingrays, box jellyfish,and rampant, alcohol saturated species of homo sapiens makes me anxious. Is there any part of Australia that can be considered safe?
DrPat - 4.01 PM, 10 January 2011
As I recently explained to some American University students, we have had a population explosion of drop bears in Nth Qld due to the abundance of feral pigs. I can confirm that with a liberal application of vegemite, we avoided any drop bear attacks, though we did have some good views.
Thorpe - 8.01 PM, 09 January 2011
Re sparrowbee's suggestion, there is certainly historical anecdotal evidence that iconic Australian songs have been an element in deterring drop bear attacks. But as has been noted in this correspondence, you must always be conscious of their adaptability to circumstances. If you're going to try anything from Cold Chisel, for instance, start with the first verse, and pause, say, halfway through the third line. If the drop bear goes on to complete the line, you're going to need your vegemite. (Chico rolls, on the other hand, seem to have been effective deterrents to just about anything that drops, or bites, or breathes ...)
sparrowbee - 12.01 PM, 09 January 2011
@eshirley Do not, I repeat do not attempt to placate Thylarctos plummetus with Marmite as a substitute. It can detect the difference from distances as far as Indonesia. If no Vegemite can be acquired, they can still be deterred by a tripartite attack involving the consumption of no less than 4 Chiko Rolls, liberal application of fluoro-coloured zinc sticks, and memorising the words to Khe Sahn
Moopah - 8.12 AM, 19 December 2010
Its good to see some official confirmation of this mysterious and highly predatory indigenous species Please join our Awareness Group http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=29789107788 Tony Brown Maydena, Tasmania
azilsohail - 3.12 PM, 13 December 2010
I CANT STRESS how much that these bears are real!!! They are called Drop Bears for a reason people! They are so called because they drop out of Gum trees and eat the brains of anyone walking underneath them. You can scare them off by spraying yourself with human urine before you go out walking.
Jac - 8.12 AM, 13 December 2010
Can you please confirm whether there is truth in the story told to me by my grandfather about drop bears savagely mauling Santa's reindeers in the late 1940s?
Thorpe - 5.12 PM, 11 December 2010
I want to thank the two correspondents who contacted me regarding their families’ experiences with Drop Bears, though in respect of Mary T.’s great aunt and her reputed hairy companion or “pet” I admit some confusion as to who did the dropping. Of great historical interest however is my second correspondent who reports on stories told to him by his grandfather of his own grandfather, who lived on Kangaroo Island in the early nineteenth century. At that time the island was a base for whalers, sealers, escaped convicts and even pirates. According to my correspondent, Drop Bears were as plentiful as Kangaroos, but far less pleasant eating, so while Kangaroo populations deteriorated from hunting, Drop Bears were only killed in self-defence; they were affected however by the local timber industry, and the felling of forest tree for building and for ships’ repairs. In some areas they disappeared as their habitat declined, but my correspondent’s ancestor described a quite remarkable adaptation by Bears in at least one region of the island – they learned to launch attacks from the ground. Apparently they would hide in undergrowth beside animal tracks or even human pathways, and leap out at passing prey, fastening on to their lower extremities. In fact one particular strain (according to my correspondent’s ancestor) took to disguising themselves as largish tufts of dried grass, or piles of windblown leaves and twigs, even dried logs, and lying on the pathways. Just as animals or humans ventured to step over them, they would leap upwards, gripping their prey with their teeth. Interestingly (he says), and we must be mindful that women were very much a minority on the island in those lawless days, the only reports of attacks on humans were on men, and the injuries were something fierce. Locals came to rename this strain of the animal Jump Bears, but my correspondent reports that his grandfather’s grandfather called them Squirrels. This (he says) was partly due to a sort of nostalgia for European woodlands and woodland animals for which there were no counterparts on the island and therefore no cause for confusion in the name, but mainly because they took nuts.
Alchemist22 - 11.12 AM, 11 December 2010
Atrelor (10/12/2010) revealed the habit of T, plummetus to engage in group sporting activities. Observers have noted a related social phenomenon. After completing the sporting activity the male drop bears move off in a body to a location where they know from experience that a fermented juice or liquor is generated by specialised plants. Here each bear imbibes freely. Clearly, the liquor is toxic, addictive and causes behaviour change. The drop bears become more aggressive, make loud grunting noises and start fighting. Some regurgitate the liquor, others lose control of the urinary bladder sphincter muscle. All of them eventually fall asleep with loud snoring. The females take offence at being ignored despite overtly displaying their secondary (and even, on occasions, their primary) sexual characteristics. The consequent low coupling rate is clearly the reason for T. plummetus being placed on the endangered species list. Anthropologists now believe that this type of behaviour is not peculiar to the male drop bear and may even have been acquired by him by observation of other inhabitants of the continent.
eshirley - 12.12 AM, 11 December 2010
As a Brit due to visit Australia next year, things seem like they'll be dangerous enough with all the disgruntled Australian cricket fans that will be around, so I'd like to ensure I'm protected. Not wanting to risk the status of my chin protecting me, I'd like to build some protection in the run-up to my visit, but not being able to get hold of Vegemite, does anyone know if Marmite will also protect me if I eat enough of it in advance? Thanks! :)
atreloar - 8.12 AM, 10 December 2010
Fascinating article, but missing out on the mating behaviour of T. plummetus, and the critical role of the Hoop Snake. As observed rarely (but not yet recorded), male drop bears gather in a lek and twirl hoop snakes (like hula hoops) to impress the females. The bear able to twirl the most hoops wins. It appears that the ability to catch, avoid being bitten, and twirl the hoop snakes is an accurate (and hard to fake) marker for desirable genes.
Dinky_Di - 7.12 PM, 09 December 2010
Another deterrent for Drop Bear attacks is waving your arms around you (over your head, out in front, and around your back - all at once if you can manage); but this can be tiring, so I generally just use toothpaste ...I've found the extra minty ones work better than the milder varieties.
Thorpe - 7.12 PM, 09 December 2010
I'm interested to know if anyone has ever tried to keep or raise these animals as pets. There has been very little research on this, but there are records of land settlers in the early nineteenth century having drop bears in confinement, though it is uncertain whether they were for display, or kept and fed in some sort of domestic arrangement. A caged bear is recorded, and one or two on some kind of leash in a tree. They may have been trained to catch prey for human consumption. This was pre-vegemite, of course, and pre-toothpaste for most, so there would seem to have been the very real danger of losing offspring or smaller visitors. At any rate records are few and limited to a few years.
freon101 - 1.12 PM, 09 December 2010
It is often asked why Australians generally don't require the use of a smear of Vegemite to ward of attacks by Drop Bears. Hopefully this will help to answer that. Studies have shown that it is the by-products of the interaction between chemicals found in Vegemite and those found in human sweat that actually repel these animals. Most Australians or those immigrants who have lived here for some time tend to eat Vegemite consistently, usually at least once and often twice a day, so they exude these chemicals through their skin permanently and are thus protected. Visitors on the other hand don't have that "natural" protection and are therefore advised to apply a liberal amount to the skin, the best area being just behind and towards the top of the ear as this area is prone to sweating and is closer to the top of the head and hence any T. plummetus that maybe lurking in the flora canopy. While this is by no means a certain protection and constant vigilance is advised it is far better than no protection at all.
Drop Bear Theatre - 3.12 PM, 08 December 2010
It's apparent that the phenomenon of Drop Bears is finally being given the important scholarly research it deserves. Thanks to the Australian Museum team! Here's a photo of one of our Drop Bears in the wild. Some sightings have also been recorded by young Australians here http://www.youtube.com/user/dropbeartheatre

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Sir U.C. Twitt - 12.12 PM, 08 December 2010
If you go back far enough in the literature, you'll see that the original vernacular term used was "drop pair" because there are actually two different predatory species involved. The ground-dwelling _Pseudohomo billabongi_ is a small creature distantly related to the kangaroo. Its habit of standing on its hind legs caused it to be mistaken for a small humanoid, hence the genus name. Also known as the marsupial jackal, it typically hangs around billabongs waiting for unsuspecting animals. It will suddenly jump into view, giving a shout that sounds like "Watch under." This causes the prey animal to freeze in confusion for just long enough to give _T. plummetus_ a still target for its drop attack. After the drop bear has done its work, the two animals then share the meal. The whole sequence is horrific to watch, particularly because _P. billabongi_ has a long snout-like proboscis with no teeth. It devours its prey by clamping its jaws either side of protruding cylindrical objects, such as fingers and even whole limbs, and sucking away the flesh with tremendous force. This is so disgusting to watch that all people who have witnessed a drop-pair attack have been unable to avoid vomiting. Associated with the call that starts off the whole sequence of events, this is the true origin of the Australian term "Chunder" for acts of regurgitation. It is also rare that these attacks would include Englishmen, because only people with a well formed chin are attacked by this pair of predators. The lack of a chin gives the marsupial jackal no means of getting a firm hold on the head in order to consume the brain, which is a particular delicacy of this unusual creature. Apparently recent claims of attacks on Englishmen can be reliably traced back to attacks by disgruntled rugby fans in 2003, when Australia lost the World cup to England in extra time.
mia - 10.12 AM, 08 December 2010
Some people believe that drop bears have exceptional linguistic abilities and are able to detect a non-Australian accent in order to target unwary travellers. This may be the reason that there are very few reported drop bear attacks on locals. Other researchers suggest that natural selection means the Australian population is able to avoid drop bear attacks by staying out of drop bear habitats. I'm surprised that a museum of this stature doesn't have an entry for the bunyip?
Ally D - 7.12 AM, 08 December 2010
As a student of early Australian literature I found several references to drop bears. They were called 'drop bears' by the British settlers but the Dutch referred to them as 'droppy bears' and the Irish 'the acurs-ed bearies'. Curiously the references fade after 1930, around the time when the Australian government began actively campaigning for more migrants and tourists. I wonder if there are any papers in the national archives that show the government's official stance on public statements about drop bears. The period of interest would be 1923-29, under the Prime Minister the Viscount Stanley Melbourne Bruce. He is well documented as having black-barred several references to Australia as a 'convict land' and I would not be surprised if he is historically responsible for this too.
HoracioO - 1.12 AM, 08 December 2010
The concern we have here is it's ability to grip to the undercarriages of vehicles. The low breeding rate in their natural habitat keeps their numbers down. However, as a feral creature in the Western Sierra Mountains their numbers are reaching devastating number. In some ares, searches for lost hikers are now called off after 48 hrs as there is no chance of recovery due to the numbers of drop bears.
AussieAbroad - 1.12 AM, 08 December 2010
Two years ago hiking in Namadgi National Park I lost a blue healer (Mr Puggles) to a drop bear. It was the most horrific thing I ever saw. Mr Puggles barely made a sound once the Bear had him. That Eucalypt smell, those cold dead eyes-you tell me Blinky Bill is harmless reading material…
ZoeBrain - 1.12 AM, 08 December 2010
It's interesting that no Koalas have been reported as having been attacked by T. plummetus. Is it possible that the Koala's exclusive diet of eucalyptus leaves may taint the meat, making them ineligible as prey? If so, the diet and digestive system may be an evolutionary adaptation. The lack of evidence for these "folk remedies" may be due to the ethical problems in conducting double-blind experiments using human subjects. If two sets of tourists (for example) are selected, one set told to anoint their necks with vegemite, the other not - and the remedy is effective - then we have endangered the control group. Perhaps a study could be conducted on all tourists journeying into the bush. Get them to all put vegemite on their necks, and if none get attacked over a 5-year period, we would have evidence suggesting the possibility of effectiveness - while still being able to pass ethical review.
crash - 6.12 PM, 07 December 2010
We had one drop from about 8 metres up just near us last week at Cumberland River. We were watching it and then when I was underneath it, it just dropped down on us. Luckily I was able to get out of the way and it ran off. Wish that I had camera with me as it was a bit lighter in colour than the one in the picture here.
Nick Swifte - 4.12 PM, 07 December 2010
These bears do kill. We lost an Englishman in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens last Summer. Massive bite wounds to the head and neck resulted in almost instant death. No great loss given the Cricket.
missnae - 3.12 PM, 07 December 2010
ZOMG.
erikajoy - 3.12 PM, 07 December 2010
My friend from Ireland sustained a nasty attack last year. I'm so glad you are doing some research on them so we can all work together to stop further attacks.

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