How to Identify Koalas by Their Nose Patterns

Koalas can be easily identified by the natural black and white markings inside their nostrils. These markings, 'the nose pattern' appear to stay the same throughout life, so can be a useful identifying feature. No two koala nose patterns have ever been seen to be identical.


  1. Image titled Identify Koalas by Their Nose Patterns Step 1
    Take a photograph of a koala's nose. The best identification photos are taken from front-on and slightly below the koala. The focus should be on the nostrils, in good light (not too much shadow or contrast).
  2. Image titled Identify Koalas by Their Nose Patterns Step 2
    Look at the white/pale pattern inside and around the nostrils. This is the 'target area' where the nose pattern exists. See the area inside the pink outline in the image. Markings outside of the target area can vary throughout the life of the koala, so should be noted, but should not be relied upon for identification.
  3. Image titled Identify Koalas by Their Nose Patterns Step 3
    Now compare the first koala (Truganina) to this koala (Pat). Look just at the target area - can you see the differences?
  4. Image titled Identify Koalas by Their Nose Patterns Step 4
    To make it easier, here is a comparison of the two koalas nose pattern target areas. Truganina on the left has a lot more white in her nose pattern. The white extends outside the nostril area in a few places. Her lips have a lot of white too. There are black spots in the white. Pat, on right, has a simpler nose pattern. The white is almost totally confined inside the nostrils.
  5. Image titled Identify Koalas by Their Nose Patterns Step 5
    So once you've seen it, what do you do with this information? There are three ways you can record nose patterns. Use just one, or two in combination, whatever works for you.
  6. Image titled Identify Koalas by Their Nose Patterns Step 6
    File the photograph in a folder on your computer for quick reference in future. Compare each new koala photograph to the existing photographs until you achieve a match by eye. These two photographs above are of the same koala, Truganina, 5 years apart. Can you see the match? This method works if you can see the match easily, and if there's not a lot of koalas to choose from. It will help if you file carefully, and keep a record of each koala seen (see Tips below on how to do this)
  7. Image titled Identify Koalas by Their Nose Patterns Step 7
    Trace the nose pattern with tracing paper over a printed photograph. This method is perfectly valid, quick and easy especially if you're not computer savvy, or don't have a lot of time. Take a photocopy or scan of your diagram, keep it handy in a binder to check against future photographs of the same koala.
  8. Image titled Identify Koalas by Their Nose Patterns Step 8
    Use a computer graphics program. This method is useful if there are several people using the method on the same koalas, or if you are not confident of making the comparison by eye. Simple programs are fine - like Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. Powerful programs like GIMP are good too. The image above shows two nose pattern diagrams, created with GIMP, of the same koala nearly 5 years apart. Pink layer = December 2013, blue layer = February 2008


  • It helps to come up with a file name protocol that you use the same way each time. You can name the image with the koalas name or number and date eg. K1female120515 (first female sighted on 12th May 2015).
  • If you regularly see koalas in a number of locations, it might be good to separate the nose pattern photographs from different locations, and by sex by folder. ie Nose Patterns - YouYangs - females.

  • Record keeping. Keep a record of when and where a koala was seen. You can do this in the image information on the photo, or in a simple (or detailed) datasheet.
  • This method was discovered and documented by Janine Duffy, President of the Koala Clancy Foundation and founder of Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours. We have more details if you need them, contact


  • Side-on photographs, or photos from extreme angles can distort a nose pattern. If possible, wait or move to get a front-on view.
  • Deep shadows under the nostril ridge can hide the nose pattern. Photograph with several different settings on your camera when light is strong.
  • Flaring and closing of the nostrils can appear to change a nose pattern, but in a predictable way. Look closely at the nostril shape in your photograph to determine whether the nostril is flared or closed.

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