The legend of drop bears explained

Have you heard about the terrifying drop bear? On January 2020, ITV News Asia journalist Debi Edward (via ABC News) received a lesson on these ferocious Australian creatures. She even valiantly held one while wearing special, protective armor. Veterinarian Garnett Hall described the animal as "Sort of like a dingo and a normal domestic dog — they're bigger, they've got longer claws," while also comparing it to a vastly more aggressive koala. We learned that the drop bear likes to stalk you in the woods and drop on you when you least expect it, and it's really, really good at it. So good, in fact, that drop bear attacks are one of the most common causes for tourist injuries. 

It's truly terrifying stuff, especially coming from Australia, a country that's be infamous for animals that'll kill you, even without the added risk of sudden showers of bear. However, it turns out that the bloodthirsty drop bear is even more mysterious than the creature's description would have you believe. Let's take a long, hard look at the legend of Australian drop bears.

An Aussie joke with a surprising history

The first and most important thing you need to know about drop bears is that they don't actually exist. They're a joke that Australians like to make at the expense of foreigners who fully buy into the idea that everything in Australia is potentially lethal. The story has become something of a "national pastime" over the years, and as Debi Edward's case shows, the locals have gotten so good at it that they can — and absolutely will — play massively elaborate drop bear-themed pranks on poor, unsuspecting reporters. 

Strangely, though, the concept of a bloodthirsty koala-beast might not be as far-fetched as you might assume. The modern drop bear is little more than an urban legend invented during the 20th century, but National Geographic suggested in 2016 that an oddly similar animal may very well have roamed the continent in the distant past. The carnivorous, predatory Thylacoleo carnifex, or the "marsupial lion," lived in Australia during the last ice age, and was a very skilled climber that would have been able to scale steep stone surfaces and trees with equal ease. While it's understandably hard to imagine any real animal applying the kamikaze hunting strategy of the fictional drop bear, it's intriguing to know that Australia once had an animal that was at least technically capable of doing so.