Wildlife in Australia
Australia's Unique Wildlife
Australia's wildlife is indeed unique even as relates to a very diverse planet but of this antipodean state it may also be said, it is extremely prolific.
Only a small part of the truly vast array of unique wildlife will be noted here as likely to be easily seen and appreciated on an average visit from overseas. Australia has an estimated 1 million native species of its flora( the bulk of that figure) and fauna and 80% of these are strictly unique to this land.
An island-continent long isolated following the break-up of the southern super continent of Gondwanaland, Australia became a separate entity 45 million years ago. This isolation is exceeded only by New Zealand and Antarctica, however the intervening eons have served to evolve an extraordinary range of amazing creatures that it's neighbors do not share.
Australia has over 387 mammal species, 300 lizard species, 828 bird species, 140 snake species plus two crocodile species one of which, the Salt Water Crocodile - over 20',( 6 metres) in length - is the worlds largest reptile.
Generally the most well known and popular animals of Australia are the koala, kangaroo, dingo, echidna, platypus and wombat.
The koala's habitat is along the eastern and southern areas of the continent in the states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. A marsupial like many of Australia's mammals, they carry their young in pouches under the mother, this a particularly cute and cuddly bear-like animal hence its misnamed moniker 'koala bear'. No relationship to a bear, it is tree dweller whom fills the ecological niche akin to a sloth. They are arboreal and feed during the night on a diet of eucalyptus leaves. They are about the size of a rotund terrier and have a soft fur with longish tufts from the ears.
The kangaroo is Australia's iconic mammal and the 'Roos' as they are called, can be quite large as in the largest the Red kangaroo – adult males 6' ( 1.82m) - found in arid hot central Australia. The two other main species, the Eastern Grey and Western kangaroo are slightly smaller. Roos are typically found in 'mobs' of a dozen up to 50 or more but usually have one dominant male whom leads them.
The echidna as with the platypus are termed monotremes and are truly unique. Incredibly although they are mammals they lay eggs as though they were birds.
A unique porcupine/hedgehog looking creature, it is a marsupial carrying its young in a pouch.
The long billed echidna has 2,000 electroreceptors on its snout to detect prey and with a long snout like all anteaters it has a long sticky tongue which it uses to feed on ants and termites.
The platypus has to be natures most bizarre of all combinations. Although a mammal, it has a ducks bill- with 40,000 electroreceptors on it with which to detect its prey,- a furry body with a beaver-like tail and lays eggs. It is also the only mammal that is venomous, the male having a spur on its hind legs that can inflict great pain to humans.
The size of a small cat, it is semi-aquatic and ranges the entire eastern coast of Australia. It feeds on crustaceans, tadpoles,frogs, fishes, earthworms and mollusks.
The Dingo is an ancient wild dog indigenous to Australia. Medium sized it is a handsome, usually ginger fawn colored canine possessed of high intelligence. Although long domesticated by the Australian Aborigines, they feed in the wild on lizards, grasshoppers, and almost any prey able to be taken all the way up to wallaby and kangaroo. They usually forage and hunt at dawn and dusk and have
often erroneously been blamed for sheep predation when the more common larger, more aggressive cross breeds of dingo/domestic dogs are the culprits. The males can be up to 24 kg in weight and their range is throughout all Australia except Tasmania.
The Wombat is a very charming looking creature. A marsupial, it is chubby, short legged, powerfully built and 'guinea-pig' like in appearance distinguished by an enormous head.
About 1 metre (39 ins) long in the males, they have cute little ears and eyes. Their habitat is all of south eastern Australia and their diet is mainly sedges, grasses, bark, herbs and roots. Carrying its young in a rear facing pouch under the mothers belly, this is advantageous in digging the elaborate and extensive burrow systems it favors along stream and river banks. Like the koala, it has an extremely slow metabolism and thus generally move slowly.
Wildlife in Australia
Australia’s isolated position in the world means that the country has a large number of unique, native animals. Some can be found in the wild, while others can be seen in backyards.
The Australian Magpie is a little larger than its European cousin. The magpie (or maggie, as it is affectionately known) are generally friendly creatures and are often fed by suburban households. During mating season, however, the male becomes aggressive and will try to attack anyone unfortunate enough to get close to the nest. If you find yourself being swooped by one of these creatures, move out of the area as quickly as possible.
The ancient crocodile is the world’s largest reptile and easily the most fearsome. Crocodile were hunted to near extinction for their skin and are now an endangered species. They can be found on the northern coast of Australia and as far inland as 100 metres. This fiercely territorial animal will drown and then consume its victim. To avoid such a fate, be very careful about where you go swimming in these areas.
The dingo is a carnivorous scavenger that can be found in all states of Australia except Tasmania. They are highly intelligent animals who are believed to be able to communicate with each other. Dingo attacks can and do occur (such as the infamous case of Azaria Chamberlain.) Don’t ever feed dingoes and when camping, always secure your food in a lockable container.
The echidna is similar to the European hedgehog and has a long beak, like the South American anteater. A placid creature, it ironically gets its name from the ancient Greek ‘Monster of all Monsters’, Echidna. The echidna is a powerful climber as is one of only two egg laying mammals.
A common backyard resident is the frilled neck lizard. This lizard gets its name from the leathery frill it engages when threatened. It is a fast runner and has chameleon like qualities that enable it to hide from predators and capture food. The frilled neck lizard is completely harmless to humans, and actually helps households by eating spiders and flies.
Australian oceans are teeming with jellyfish. Most are harmless, but the varieties found in tropical north Queensland (the blue bottle, irukandji and box jellyfish) can give painful and sometimes fatal stings. Vinegar is the best first aid remedy for jellyfish stings and can be found on most northern Queensland beaches. Fun fact – the jellyfish is not actually a fish and marine biologists are trying to popularise the term sea jellies.
The kangaroo, the most famous Aussie icon, is a resilient animal who has survived thousands of years in the harsh Australian outback. Kangaroos are generally peaceful but will deliver a powerful kick when they feel threatened. Kangaroo’s can be found in abundance in rural areas or heavily wooded areas.
The koala – often falsely called the koala bear – is a placid and inactive nocturnal marsupial that spends up to seventeen hours a day sitting motionless and sleeping. Although cute and cuddly, their sharp claws and teeth can cause serious injury to humans. Koala’s can usually be found wherever there are eucalyptus trees – this can be a problem for koalas living in suburban areas, as they are often killed by drivers.
Like the koala, the possum is another small and cute marsupial with sharp claws. They are protected by endangerment laws and can be found in most areas of Australia, including more urban areas. The loud hissing and mating wail of the male possum can be annoying for households close by. They have a strong sense of smell, so tying sprigs of something pungent, such as cloves of garlic, around the outside of your house should act as a repellent.
The bizarre platypus has the body of an otter and the bill and webbed feet of a duck. Just as bizarrely, it is a semi-aquatic mammal and the only other egg laying mammal. The male platypus has a hollow spur on the inside of its hind legs that releases venom strong enough to kill a small dog. This venom, while not fatal to humans, can cause excruciating pain and for this reason is a look but don’t touch animal.
Wombats are roughly the size of a pig and very solidly built. They have thick skulls and tend to head butt as a defensive mechanism. Humans who anger a wombat should seek higher ground until the animal has calmed down. They are gentle creatures by nature, though, and do not attack unless severely provoked.
Aussies love a good joke and often, the joke is at the expense of tourists.
Locals may try to tell you about the fearsome drop bear, a koala like animal that drops from trees to attack humans, or the equally frightening hoop snake, which takes its tail in its mouth to create a hoop and rolls to catch its prey. These animals do not exist, except in the minds of cheeky Australians.
More about Animals in Australia ...
Wild Animals in Australia
by Anthony C.
Australia is perhaps best known for its unique wildlife; 89% of the animal species found in Australia are endemic to the continent, meaning they naturally occur no where else on the planet. This unusually high percentage can in large part be attributed to Australia’s long geographic isolation.
From a zoological perspective, Australia could almost be described as a window into the past, as the types of animals found there are primitive and in many ways indicative of animals which existed everywhere when the continent first became isolated.
The native mammals of Australia are perhaps the most unique, since the very way they reproduce is so fundamentally different to the reproductive habits of other mammals. The vast majority of Australian mammals are either marsupials (metatheria) or monotremes (prototheria), while placental mammals (eutheria) dominate every other landmass.
Marsupials give birth to their young at an extremely early stage of development, and the newborns (which are often no larger than a jelly bean) must then navigate their way around their mother’s body to find a special pouch, this new home contains the nipple from which they can feed and continue their development.
Monotremes are even more primitive, laying eggs like their reptilian ancestors, although the egg is retained for longer and actively provided with nutrients from the mother. Monotremes also lactate, although they have no nipples and instead their mammary glands excrete milk through special openings in the skin.
Wildlife Australia Topics
- Plastic Bags: A bride-to-be from North Stradbroke Island in southern Queensland has made her wedding dress entirely out of plastic shopping bags to draw attention to the number of plastic bags that are finding their way into the environment, particularly the marine environment where they can injure and kill wildlife.
- Artificial Reefs: A group at Bundaberg on the Queensland Coast is seeking a Russian built MIG fighter jet to sink in waters off the coast near the town to add to its artificial reefs and thereby creating more sights for scuba-divers to explore. In the last six years or more years, various old warships and retired commercial ships have been sunk around the Australian coast to boost the number of reefs. It is hoped that encrusting organisms, such as soft and hard corals, would establish on the MIG while larger fish, such as gropers, would lurk under the wings and fuselage. Australia captured 35 MIG jets during its involvement in the Iraq War.
- Shark Attack: A 17-year-old surfer survived an attack from a 2.5 metre long bronze-whaler shark in the waters off Bunbury, south of Perth in Western Australia. The shark rolled the surfer off his surfboard and bit him and the board, but only gave the surfer small cuts. The surfer wasn’t aware of the cuts until he’d swum back to shore. He said "It grabbed my board first, that's when I saw its jaws and all that kind of stuff and how big it was and then it let go of the board and went for my leg". The attack is the third of its type this year. The state government officials have warned people not to swim at the Bunbury Beach at dusk or dawn, or when the weather is overcast.
- Crocodiles: In the Northern Territory there is a ban at Kakadu National Park's Twin Falls due to fears of a saltwater crocodile attacks, although people are still allowed access to the banks of the water holes. Parks Australia North believes the current Twin Falls arrangements achieve a balance between public access and managing crocodiles. It has received advice from park rangers, expert wildlife managers, crocodile project officers and traditional owners.
- Broken Frog Leg: Veterinarians mended the leg of a Green Frog at Curumbin Zoo in southern Queensland. The frog weighing only 50 grams, had pins inserted in its leg bones and made a full recovery.
- Whale: A large sperm whale is stranded in Macquarie Harbour in the west of Tasmania. It is thought to be about one kilometre into the harbour, in shallow water although its body is almost covered. It is about 10 to 14 metres in length and appears to be in good condition.
- Great Barrier Reef: The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority announced closures to the reef for fisherman in 2003 in attempts to protect more of the reef from over-fishing. More information is now being mailed to commercial fishermen to boost awareness.
- Tasmanian Devil: There are ongoing concerns about the health of the Tasmanian Devil, the largest living carnivorous marsupial species. Many devils are suffering from facial tumours drastically affecting their health. Tasmanian government wildlife managers have been microchipping wild and captive devils, to gather information that might help them discover the cause of the disease. A captive breeding program is not yet being considered and more information is still required on the cause of the disease.
- New Species of Frogs: Three new species of frogs appear to have been identified in South Australia. Two of the frog species were found in the Mount Lofty and Flinders Ranges while the third was found in the far north-west of South Australia. They are small and plain looking frogs about 30 millimetres long and usually brownish in colour. South Australian Museum research scientist Steve Donnellan said they probably came out with recent rains, and their size and colour was probably why they had gone unnoticed until now. The frogs do, however, have bold black and white patterns on their belly.
- New National Parks in Western Australia: Western Australia is expected to create 30 new national parks in the south-west of the state. The Western Australian government is committed to end the logging of old growth forests, and has drafted laws for nine new parks with laws for 20 more parks to be drafted later this year.
- Major Fish Kill in southern New South Wales: A major fish kill of thousands of leatherjackets was discovered on beaches from Narooma to Bermagui on the south coast of New South Wales. An investigation will determine whether a parasite which attacks fish scales is responsible, or if there is some other reason. People are being warned not to eat the fish, but that birds and crabs will eat them and therefor clean the beach quite quickly.
- Koalas: A politician in South Australia, Bob Such, has called for the killing of koalas on Kangaroo Island. It has been revealed that since 1998, about 4,000 koalas had been sterilised and about 1,500 moved to the mainland to relieve stress on the environment caused by overpopulation. Koalas were introduced to Kangaroo Island from the mainland and have increased in population size to the detriment of the island’s environment. Meanwhile the Australian Koala Foundation has called on the Australian Government to classify the koala as vulnerable and create a law to protect its habitat.
- Australian Water Plan: Australia now has a national water plan. The agreement was entered into by most of the state governments and the Australian governments. The access to water by farmers is very controversial with rivers running between states, some states accuse others of taking out too much water. Often there is not enough for other farmers, towns and the environment including the rivers themselves and associated wetlands. It is hoped the new agreement will encourage farmers to invest in sustainable management practices, and to implement the new technology irrigation methods. However the leader of the Australian Greens, Bob Brown said it is a terrible outcome for the environment, and is failing to keep pace with the degradation and is failing the rivers.
- Whales: Rescuers saved a 14 metre long sperm whale that was in Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania's west coast, however four other whales that were in the same pod have died with three of these being washed into the harbour by high tides. It is now being decided what to do with the dead whales, which each weigh between 30 and 50 tonnes. Meanwhile it is hoped that listening to whale songs will help learn if whales suffer when exposed to man-made noises. University of Queensland Veterinary researcher Michael Noad says sounds from shipping, military sonar and oil exploration could be harming the ocean giants. He is observing whales on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.
- Western Australia Coastal Strategy: A comprehensive environmental management strategy for the south coast of Western Australia is in place. It has been put together over many years by the South Coast Regional Initiative Planning Team, and is now available for public comment until the end of July. The strategy includes a the coastal strip from Walpole to Esperance and for some kilometres inland.
- Coral Reefs: An international group of ecologists, including two Australians, has released a new plan for saving the world’s coral reefs. The plan includes promoting species of fish and coral that can help them recover from damage and resist change. It is believed that some species of fish, such as the giant humphead parrot fish, clear dead coral and that this may help reefs recover by allowing corals to recolonise. Meanwhile, three sensitive offshore basins on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef have been listed by the Federal Government as a high priority for oil exploration. These are the Eastern, Marion and Townsville Plateaus, just outside the Great Barrier Reef.
- Quolls: More than 60 Northern quolls were last year moved from Kakadu National Park to the islands of Pobassoo and Astell to protect the species from the spreading cane toad. Quolls are cat-sized native marsupial carnivores. They live and hunt both in trees and on the ground in forests, heathlands and other habitats. The cane toad, an introduced species, has poison producing glands on its skin that can kill animals that prey upon it. The cane toad is spreading quickly in the Northern Territory with a fear that the Northern Quoll could be in danger by preying upon the toads. There are four species of Quoll in Australia, however their occurrence has been greatly reduced through clearing of habitat, hunting and competition with introduced animals such as foxes and feral cats.