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on February 08, 2007, 12:31:00 PM
Courtesy of Wikipedia:

A drop bear (or dropbear) is a fictitious Australian marsupial supposedly related to the koala.

Drop bears are commonly said to be unusually large, vicious, carnivorous koalas that inhabit treetops and attack their prey by dropping onto their heads from above. They are an example of local lore intended to frighten and confuse outsiders, and amuse locals, similar to the jackalope, hoop snake or haggis hunting.

Some suggest that the drop bear myth is designed to discourage children from straying needlessly below eucalyptus trees, protecting them from the very real danger of getting hit by a falling branch. Arbitrary detachment of old branches is common with certain species of the eucalyptus, which are known as 'widow-makers' for this very reason.

The drop bear myth appears to have first appeared during the latter half of the 20th century, and may have its origins with the Phascolarctos stirtoni, the carnivorous Phascolarctos involus or perhaps the Thylacoleo carnifex, which belong to a group of extinct animals known as Australian megafauna. The prehistoric creatures were approximately twice the size of modern koalas. The thylacoleo is thought to have been an arboreal predator that may well have ambushed prey by dropping on it from overhead branches.

Stories of drop bears are often told to unsuspecting foreign visitors to illustrate Australian deadpan humour. It is suggested that doing ridiculous things like having forks in the hair or Vegemite or toothpaste spread behind the ears will deter the creatures. Such precautions are lent credibility by the fact that Australian Magpies can be deterred from attacking by wearing sunglasses on the back of the head.

Also, there is a lovely educational film that you can peruse here: http://www.bundabergrum.com.au/html/comm/clips_hq/drop_bear.mpg

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