Australia is known for many wonders; the Great Barrier Reef, Aboriginal Art, the 12 Apostles, and sultry beaches, to name a few. It also has exotic wildlife.
Australia homes 200,000 to 300,000 species, out of which 250 are mammals, 550 are land and aquatic birds, 680 are reptiles, 190 are amphibians, and more than 2000 are marine and freshwater fish, all endemic to Australia. This diverse range of Australian fauna can be credited to its unique biodiversity, including mountain ranges, deserts, and rainforests.
Let’s take a look at the various Australian animals in detail.
Among the 379 species of mammals living in Australia, 159 are marsupials, 218 are placentals, and 2 are monotremes.
1. Marsupial Mammals
Out of all the marsupials in the world, two-thirds live in Australia, while the rest are found in South America. Marsupial mammals are known for having pouches in which they raise their young ones. Although, not all marsupials have pouches.
Marsupials can be categorized based on their diets. Herbivorous marsupials are known as Diprotodonts (Koalas, Kangaroos, Wallabies, Wombats, Possums), Carnivorous marsupials are known as Dasyurids (Tasmanian Devil, Quolls, Numbats) and Omnivorous marsupials are known as Peramelemorphs (Bilbies, Bandicoots).
Kangaroo is the national animal of Australia. They come in all shapes and sizes, heights, and weights ranging from 4ft and 43kg to 8ft and 90kg. They have a muscular build with strong hind legs and forearms needed for hopping. Their lifespan is between 6 to 27 years.
A lesser-known fact about kangaroos is that they are incredible swimmers. They swim to avoid predators. They can also use their forepaws to drown attackers.
The Red Kangaroo is the world’s largest marsupial. It can hop at a speed of 70 km/h. They are found wandering in the open plains of Australia and can survive on very little water.
Tree kangaroos of Australia are found in the northern tropical rainforests of Queensland. They have shorter hindlegs, more powerful forearms, and longer and thicker tails than other kangaroos for balance while climbing trees.
Australian animals, wallabies are a smaller form of kangaroos. They range from 2.2ft to 2.6ft in height and weigh 11kg to 18kg. They can be further classified into brush wallabies, rock wallabies, nail-tail wallabies, hare wallabies, and forest wallabies. Kangaroos and wallabies also differ in their teeth structure. Wallabies have flatter teeth for eating leaves.
Quokkas are also called short-tailed scrub wallabies. They are widely known as the ‘happiest animal’ because of their naturally smiling faces. They can be found in western Australia and Rottnest Island near Perth. They are active during early mornings or early evenings. They, too, can survive on very little water and food which they store in their tails for times of extremity.
1.3. Tasmanian Devil
Tasmanian devils earned their name from European settlers because of their piercing shrieks. They have dog-sized bodies with red ears, tough jaws, and sharp teeth, giving them a devilish appearance.
Tasmanian devils are an endangered species found on the Tasmanian island of Australia. Contagious facial tumor disease caused a decrease in its population.
These Australian animals carry their young in their pouches and can carry up to four joeys at a time. They are bioluminescent, meaning that they glow in the dark.
2. Placental Mammals
Placental mammals have a placenta carrying oxygen and nutrients for their offspring. They are warm-blooded and produce milk through mammary glands after the birth of their offspring.
Dingoes are wild dogs native to the Australian continent. It is believed that they were brought to the Australian wildlife by ancient sea voyagers from Asia about 4000 years ago. They are an invasive species.
Dingoes are closely related to domestic dogs but display characteristics of the wild. They can be found prowling almost every grassland and tropical forest in Australia except Tasmania.
These wild dogs are fierce predators capable of hunting prey as big as adult kangaroos. A dingo is different from a domestic dog because of the flexibility of its wrists as it uses its paws to catch prey and climb small trees.
2.2. Flying Fox
Flying Foxes are bats native to Australia. They are the only mammals that can fly.
These Australian animals hang upside down while resting. While in this position, they fold their wings around their bodies. This process is called roosting.
Flying foxes are also known as fruit bats because their diets consist of fruits, leaves, flowers, nectars, and pollen. Since their food is stationary, they do not need to. They use their excellent vision and olfactory senses to find food.
3. Monotreme Mammals
Monotreme mammals are mammals that lay eggs. They do not have teats. Instead, the milk is secreted through pores on the female’s belly. Several species of monotreme mammals have gone extinct. Now only 2 remain, both of which can be found in Australia.
Platypus is commonly described as having the bill of a duck, a flat tail like a beaver, and webbed feet like an otter.
Platypuses are egg-laying mammals found in the northeastern parts of Australia, such as Queensland and the stream waters of Tasmania.
The Australian platypus is the only known venomous mammal. They have two sharp venomous spurs near their ankles to defend themselves against provocation.
Echidnas were formerly known as Spiny Anteaters. They have spines covering their bodies, similar to a porcupine or a hedgehog. They can be spotted anywhere throughout the Australian mainland.
When feeling threatened, they curl up into their bodies to protect themselves.
Echidnas are another species of egg-laying mammals. Female echidnas lay a single egg in their pouch. Their babies, called puggles, leave the pouch once they have grown. The mother echidna provides milk to the puggles through her skin containing milk patches.
Australian bird species are not as widespread as Australian animal species, but most of the birds’ origin in the world can be traced back to the country. Out of all the species of birds found in Australia, 45% of them are endemic to the continent.
The cassowary is the heaviest among all flightless birds in Australia, weighing up to 76kg. They can be found in the rainforests of northern Australia. They are an endangered species.
Cassowaries are the most dangerous birds in Australia because of their powerful kicks. Their feet have three toes with razor-sharp claws. Both male and female cassowaries have helmet-type structures on their heads called ‘casque.’ Scientists are yet to determine the purpose the casques serve to the birds.
Females mate with two to three males, lay eggs in their nests then mate with another male. The male cassowaries are responsible for hatching the eggs laid by the females by incubating them for 50 days.
Emus are the tallest and fastest birds in Australia, with a height of 6.5ft and a running speed of 50 km/h. They can be found in all parts of Australia except dry lands, rainforests, and Tasmania.
These flightless birds are also closely related to Cassowaries with their powerful kicks. Like Cassowaries, male emus take care of the eggs laid by female emus after mating till they hatch. Male emus are fiercely protective of their eggs. Anyone tampering with them will likely attain serious injuries from the emu’s kicks. Emu is the most dangerous bird in Australia, following the Cassowary.
Lyrebirds get their name because of the shape of their tail-feathers resembling the ancient Greek instrument ‘lyre.’ But their most fascinating feature is their voice. It is the largest singing bird in the world. They are known to be masters of mimicry. They can imitate almost any sound they hear, including camera shutters, car alarms, ringtones, and even human voices.
There are two types of lyrebirds- Superb lyrebird and Albert’s lyrebird. Albert’s lyrebird is smaller than the Superb lyrebird with less defined features than the latter.
Lyrebirds are secretive birds. They are found hiding among bushes or resting atop low branches of trees in the forests of Australia and Tasmania.
Kookaburras are the world’s largest kingfisher birds. They can grow up to 18 inches long. They are known as Laughing Kookaburras because of their distinct call, which sounds like human laughter. They can be found in parts of eastern Australia.
Kookaburras fly slowly to conserve energy. Their wings consist of thicker feathers helping them stay 25% more insulated than most birds of the same size.
Kookaburras live in close-knit families with definite territories. They mate for life. They have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years.
5. Black Swan
The Black Swan has red eyes and a red beak with a white strap on a black body. It is found in the southern waters of Australia.
Black swans have a lifespan of up to 40 years. They can fly at speeds of 80 km/h. A male black swan is called a cob, a female is called a pen, and a baby black swan is called a cygnet.
The key difference between black and white swans is the color of their beaks and feathers, and their location. White swans have white feathers with orange beaks. They are found in the Western hemisphere. Black swans are a little smaller in size than white swans.
Among all Australian animals, reptiles dominate Australian wildlife. There are 800 native species of reptiles, among which 93% are endemic to the Australian continent.
There are two types of crocodiles in Australia, Saltwater and Freshwater crocodiles.
Freshwater crocodiles can only be found in Australia. They inhabit rivers, creeks, swamps, and freshwater wetlands of western Australia and Queensland.
The Saltwater crocodile, also known as the Estuarine crocodile, is the world’s largest reptile. They can grow up to 6m long and weigh 1300kg. The largest saltwater crocodile ever spotted was 8.6m long. They are affectionately called “Salty” by the locals. They are found in northern Australia.
Saltwater crocodiles capture their prey through tactics of ambush. Saltwater crocodiles can hold their breath for an hour underwater by reducing their heartbeat to 3 to 4 beats per minute. They have a lifespan of about 70 years.
Australia is infamous for harboring the world’s most venomous snakes. Of all Australian snakes, around 100 out of the 170 species are venomous. Most of them are shy animals and prefer avoiding confrontation with humans. Only 12 Australian snake species are lethal to people.
2.1. Australian Taipan
There are two species of taipans in Australia, Inland Taipan and Coastal Taipan. Inland Taipan is the most venomous snake in the world, while Coastal Taipan is the third-most venomous snake. Venom secreted through an Inland Taipan’s bite is enough to kill 100 humans at once.
These Australian snakes are found in burrows in western Australia’s deserts, arid areas of central Australia, and monsoon forests of coastal Australia.
2.2. Eastern Brown Snake
Eastern Brown Snakes are the world’s second-most venomous snakes. Their venom can kill a human in less than 4 hours. This is because their bites cause uncontrollable bleeding, including internal organs, paralysis, and respiratory failure resulting in death.
Eastern brown snakes are fond of living on the Australian mainland. Unfortunately, they are responsible for most of the snake bites in the country. It is a dangerous animal but not aggressive. If spotted at a distance, they would remain stationary or flee rather than attack.
These snakes can be found throughout eastern Australia, from northern Queensland to South Australia, and in the deserts of central Australia.
2.3. Red-Bellied Black Snake
Red Bellied Black snakes have a black upper body and bright red bellies. They are ovoviviparous. Unlike most reptiles, they do not lay eggs. Instead, they give birth to 8 to 40 offspring who are 9 inches long.
Like Eastern Brown snakes, red-bellied snakes are not aggressive. They are shy and attack only if they are provoked.
But they may become nocturnal during peak summers.
Red-bellied black snakes live in moist and humid habitats such as forests and grasslands. They can be found throughout the eastern coast of Australia, from southeastern Queensland through eastern New South Wales and Victoria.
Australia’s animals include over 700 species of lizards, the largest amount in the world. They are divided into five categories: dragons, monitors or goannas, geckos, skinks, and legless lizards.
3.1. Blue Tongue Lizard
Blue Tongue Lizards are also known as Blue Tongue Skinks. Their most prominent feature is their neon blue tongue. They stick their tongue out when they feel threatened or in the presence of predators. These lizards can be found throughout Australia.
Like most lizards, the Blue Tongue can shed its tail if grabbed. A shorter tail will then grow in its place. But these lizards store their nutrition and water in their tails. So losing their tails can result in their deaths due to starvation.
3.2 Thorny Devil
The Thorny Devil is a dragon that can only be found in the deserts of Australia. It can be called an introduced species. Other known dragons are bearded, military, water, rock, and jacky.
These native animals have conical spines on its body to appear threatening toward predators. They can absorb water through these spines by only standing in a puddle.
Their main source of food is ants. They eat about 750 to 3000 ants per day.
Australian Marine Animals
Unlike Australian mammals and reptiles, most Australian marine animals are not native to the country. Visitors approach Australia during breeding season because of the favorable climate.
Forty-five species of whales and dolphins have been found in Australian waters. Humpback whales are the most common examples of breeding migrants. They travel from Antarctica’s feeding grounds to the eastern and western Australian coasts during the mating season.
Bottlenose dolphins are common in the Australian waters of Port Stephens and Jervis Bay in New South Wales.
1. Australian Sea Lion
Australian Sea Lions are marine mammals found along the coastline of South Australia and Western Australia. They breed once every 18 months. Females only breed at the location they were born.
Australian Sea Lions are a threatened species. Their current estimated population is 6500. Gillnets used to capture sharks are a more recent threat to Australian Sea Lions, who unintentionally get caught and suffocate to death in these traps.
2. Box Jellyfish
The Box Jellyfish is one of the most venomous animals in the world. They have venom that can kill up to 60 people. If stung, the pain leads to cardiovascular failure and death within 2 to 5 minutes. Box jellyfishes aren’t aggressive animals. They are difficult to spot due to their transparent nature. This leads to accidental deaths when colliding with them.
Box Jellyfish can be found living along the northeastern coastline of Australia, including the Great Barrier Reef.
3. Little Penguins
Little penguins or Fairy penguins can only be found in southern Australia and New Zealand. Their colonies can be found on Montague Island, Sydney’s Manly Beach in New South Wales, near the St. Kilda breakwater in Melbourne, and Phillip Island in Victoria. Phillip island is home to the largest Little Penguin colony, with about 32,000 penguins.
1. Funnel Web Spider
There are 35 species of funnel web spiders in Australia. Out of these, Sydney Funnel Web Spider is the deadliest in the world. It is ranked ninth among the most venomous animals in the world. Their venom, lethal only to humans, can kill them in less than 15 minutes. Other animals, such as cats and dogs, remain unaffected if bitten.
Funnel web spiders build funnel-shaped webs. Their silk web threads act as tripwires confusing wandering insects. The insects trip on these set traps, after which the spider paralyzes and drags the insect into its burrow to be consumed.
2. Redback Spider
The Redback spider is the second deadliest spider, following Funnel Web. It has a red stripe at the back of its body, giving its name. They are closely related to the Black Widow spiders found in North America.
Female Redback spiders are more dangerous than males. The venom from their bites can kill a human. Redback spiders show cannibalistic traits, with female Redback spiders eating their male counterparts and baby spiders eating each other.
Australia has gone through the loss of many wonderful species of animals. One such animal is the Tasmanian Tiger. It was known to be the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world. It had stripes resembling those of a tiger on its lower back. Their extinction was a result of hunting by humans. The last known Tasmanian Tiger died in Hobart Zoo, Tasmania, in 1936.
A common example is the reduced population of Koalas. This is due to habitat destruction. Eucalyptus trees are the main source of livelihood for Koalas. They eat eucalyptus leaves and hibernate on these trees for 20 hours a day. People are tearing down these trees, the natural habitat of Koalas, to make way for commercial buildings. With their homes destroyed, these Australian animals have no place to go. They are sometimes killed by speedy vehicles while crossing the road.
A simple step everyone can take to preserve natural habitats is to advocate against the obliteration of forests. People can also plant trees native to Australia to aid the growth of habitats.
Australia is a beautiful country. More than half of its beauty comes from breathtaking natural beauty, including Australia’s flora and fauna. Australia’s wildlife should be nurtured to protect all the species that call the country their home.