A drop bear (sometimes dropbear) is a hoax in contemporary Australian folklore featuring a predatory, carnivorous version of the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). This imaginary animal is commonly spoken about in tall tales designed to scare tourists. While koalas are typically docile herbivores (and notably, not bears), drop bears are described as unusually large and vicious marsupials that inhabit treetops and attack unsuspecting people (or other prey) that walk beneath them by dropping onto their heads from above.
Stories and tall tales
Stories about drop bears are generally used as an in-joke intended to frighten and confuse outsiders while amusing locals, similar to the jackalope and other North American fearsome critters. Tourists are the main targets of such stories. These tales are often accompanied by advice that the hearer adopt various tactics purported to deter drop bear attacks – including placing forks in the hair, having Vegemite or toothpaste spread behind the ears or in the armpits, urinating on oneself, and only speaking English in an Australian accent.[full citation needed]
A 2016 episode of Nature's Weirdest Events theorized that the "drop bear" may have started as a long-persisting Australian native memory of encounters with Thylacoleo carnifex, the marsupial lion, including showing an old native rock painting that seems to show a Thylacoleo standing on a tree branch.
The website of the Australian Museum contains an entry for the drop bear written in a serious tone similar to entries for other, real, species. The entry classifies the Drop Bear as Thylarctos plummetus (the genus, Thylarctos, is a combination of thylacine and phascolarctos) and describes them as "a large, arboreal, predatory marsupial related to the koala", the size of a leopard, having coarse orange fur with dark mottling, with powerful forearms for climbing and attacking prey, and a bite made using broad powerful premolars rather than canines. Specifically it states that they weigh 120 kilograms (260 lb) and have a length of 130 centimetres (51 in). The tongue-in-cheek entry was created for "silly season". The Australian Museum also established a small display in the museum itself, exhibiting artefacts which it stated "may, or may not, relate to actual Drop Bears".
Australian Geographic ran an article on its website on 1 April 2013 (April Fools' Day) purporting that researchers had found that drop bears were more likely to attack tourists than people with Australian accents. The article was based on a 2012 paper published in Australian Geographer, and despite referencing the Australian Museum entry on drop bears in several places, images included with the Australian Geographic article were sourced from Australian Geographer and did not match the Australian Museum's species description.
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- "Animal species: Drop bear". Official site. Australian Museum. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
- "Social Musings: Stories from July". Australian Museum. 17 August 2012.
- Australian Museum - In the News Dec 2010 Describes the entry on Drop Bears as being inspired by "the 'silly season'".
- Middleton, Amy (1 April 2013). "Drop bears target tourists, study says". Official site. Australian Geographic. Retrieved 17 November 2016.