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Australian Wildlife

Because Australia is an island, and has been for millions of years, its wildlife has been able to evolve independently.

The animals of Australia are particularly interesting because many of them are distinctly primitive. There are groups of animals whose relatives have long since disappeared from other parts of the world so many of the animals found in this country are unique.

Australia is home to a variety of native mammals both on land and in the surrounding oceans. They consist of marsupials, monotremes and placental mammels.

Of all the mammals, almost half, are the marsupials, which include the Kangaroo, Koala and Wombat.

The word marsupial is derived from the Latin marsupium, which means pouch. The pouch gives protection to the very young animal and contains the teats from which it feeds. Nourished on its mother's milk, it grows in the pouch to a well-developed stage before it leaves the pouch. The only other country where marsupials are still found is America, and only a few species remain.

The next group of mammals are the monotremes, the only egg-laying mammals in the world. They have one opening which serves for reproduction and for the elimination of waste products. This group is represented by the Platypus and the Echidna.

The other native land mammals are the bats, rats, mice and the Dingo.

Australia's bird species include the Emu, Kookaburra and Cockatoo.

Marsupials, Monotremes & Placental


A small marsupial that ranges in size from a rat to a rabbit. They have pointed ears and tapering snouts. Bandicoots eat both plants and small animals. They are nocturnal, solitary animals.


Belonging to the same family as bandicoots and commonly known as a rabbit-eared bandicoot. It has the same head and body shape except it has longer ears. The bilby has silky fur and a long tail with a bush tip.


(Plural: dingoes or dingos)
Australia's native dog, believed to have been brought here on rafts or boats, by the ancestral aborigines. It is different from the modern dog in several ways: it yelps and howls, but it does not bark, it has a different gait, and its ears are always erect.

Dingos are about the size of a sheep-dog and they are usually creamy to reddish-yellow, but other colours are sometimes seen.


The spiny ant-eater, one of the most primitive order of mammals, a monotreme. They are egg-laying mammals, and lay only one egg at a time. The egg is incubated in the pouch. Once hatched, it remains in the pouch until its spines appear. It does not become independent until it is about one year old.

Their main food is ants. They look like a hedgehog or porcupine but are not related. Their backs and sides are covered with spines and coarse hair. When in danger they roll themselves into a ball or can dig itself into sand or earth with a great rapidity.


Australia's best known and largest living marsupial, which has become recognised as our national animal. There are about 45 species. The Red Kangaroo (pictured), is the largest, usually only the males have the red-tinged coat, which gives it its name, and the females are more blue-grey.

Australia's best known and largest living marsupial, which has become recognised as our national animal. There are about 45 species. The Red Kangaroo (pictured), is the largest, usually only the males have the red-tinged coat, which gives it its name, and the females are more blue-grey.

Kangaroos live almost entirely on herbage or plants. Except for certain tree-dwellers, they are ground-living animals and they move by great bounding leaps on their hind legs, with the tail used for balance. The tail also serves as a prop when the animal is grazing or standing.

They prefer to live in groups and can travel at speeds of up to 65km/h. They are normally of a gentle disposition but the male can become savage when at bay, and sometimes in captivity.


The koala is not a bear but a marsupial. Of all of Australia's animals, it has perhaps the widest appeal. Except when teased or frightened, it is as inoffensive as it looks.

They live in, and feed on the young leaves of eucalypt trees. They are good climbers but slow and clumsy on the ground. They sleep most of the day in the fork of a tree, foraging for food at night.

They are rather plump and about two feet long when fully grown. It has thick grey woolly fur on top and yellowish-white below. It has a leathery nose, large rounded ears and pouchy cheeks.

Being marsupials, their young are born in an immature state and continue to grow in their mother's pouch for the next six months. It then emerges but still occupies the pouch for another two months and is then carried on the mother's back until about twelve months.


Australia's other monotreme mammal (the other being the echidna). They have a duck-like leathery bill, a furred body, a flattened tail like a beaver, and four webbed feet with claws.

Whilst the male has a poisonous spur, about half an inch in length, on the inside of each hind leg, no human deaths have been recorded. The maximum length for a male is 24 inches and 20 inches for a female.

They are expert swimmers and divers and can stay under water for several minutes. They are strong burrowers. They make two burrows, one for general living quarters and the other for breeding.


Wombats are marsupials, greyish, beaver-like in appearance, and they do have tails.

Strong burrowers, they live almost entirely on grasses. They dig very quickly and make a burrow from 10 to 15 feet long with a nest of bark at the end.

Only a single young wombat is born at a time. Immature wombats can be easily tamed and make agreeable pets.

Australian Birds

Black Swan

Although found in many parts of the country, the Black Swan has become associated with Western Australia and is the emblem of that State.

One of the most graceful of aquatic birds, it has glossy black plumage set off by a bright red beak and white wing-quills.

Both the male and female build the nest and share the care of the young. Unlike many swans, they usually nest in colonies.


The largest living bird after the ostrich, and unique to Australia. Their wings are small, the flight feathers being soft and flimsy. The legs, by contrast, are strong and powerful, so whilst they cannot fly, they can run up to 50km per hour. They are also strong swimmers.

It lives throughout the country, avoiding the most heavily forested areas and the treeless spinifex desert. Except when breeding they live mostly in small parties. In drought years they can become pests in the pastoral areas. They live on wild fruits, berries and grass.


The largest of the kingfishers.

It has a diet of insects, small reptiles, crabs, rats, mice, as well as gifts of meat from the kitchen. It does have nest-robbing habits.

It nests in termites' nests in trees, or in hollow trees, and lays two to four white eggs.


Lyrebirds can best be described as plain brown birds about the size of a bantam but with long tails. Their most striking feature is the beautiful tail of the male which, when spread out in display, resembles the shape of the old-fashioned musical instrument, the lyre. It is also known to imitate the calls of other birds.

The wings of the lyrebird are short and rounded and it does not fly well, preferring to escape danger by running through the undergrowth. If feeding on a slope, it can flap and and glide out of harm's way.

It feeds on insects, worms, snails and little sand hoppers that are found amongst fallen leaves and rotting logs on the forest floor.

White Cockatoo

Also known as the sulphur-crested cockatoo, because of its lemon-coloured crest, it is one of Australia's best-known birds. In captivity it is a proficient talker and a popular pet.

They live in great flocks and rise like a white cloud from the ground. When feeding, they use their powerful beaks to dig out roots, bulbs and seeds.

They usually nest in holes in trees but sometimes in cavities in cliffs. They lay two white eggs.


The Galah is one of the most abundant and familiar of the Australian parrots, found in large flocks usually near water and is found over most of Australia.

Galahs form huge, noisy flocks which feed on seeds. They form permanent pair bonds, although a bird will take a new partner if the other one dies.

The nest is a tree hollow or similar location, lined with leaves and both sexes incubate the eggs and care for the three or four young.

Dangerous Wildlife

Although it is often said that Australia has more poisonous creatures than any other nation, in both the sea and on land, it is remarkably free of what are usually considered wild and dangerous animals. There are, however, many creatures that could prove absolutely lethal if people were to invade their territory.

Thankfully our encounters with such deadly creatures are few and far between.

The danger associated with creatures such as snakes, spiders, and sharks are usually exaggerated – they tend not to attack unless harassed in some way. Just remember that these creatures would rather not meet you either.


Snakes are objects of fear and loathing - in part because Australia has more species of venomous snakes than any other continent, including some of the world's most dangerous snakes.

The most aggressive and therefore the most dangerous of Australia's snakes is the brown snake. The Eastern Brown Snake has the second most potent land-snake venom in the world. A bite can cause bleeding, kidney damage and paralysis. An effective antivenom has been developed.

Remember, snakes would rather escape than attack - most bites are inflicted while people are trying to catch or kill them. And snakes do have advantages for humans - they are predators of pests such as mice and rats and their venom provides the basis for pain relief and anti-blood-clotting drugs.

Prevention & First Aid

  • Be aware and take care in bushland and grassy areas, especially in summer.
  • Wear sensible shoes when walking and gloves when gardening.
  • Do not put hands or feet in or under logs, rocks, hollows, crevices or debris without first checking.
  • When camping, check inside your shoes, clothes and sleeping bag before using them.
  • Use a torch when walking around campsites or the bush at night.
  • Do not handle injured snakes - a hurt animal is a much more dangerous animal.
  • If you see a snake, stand still and wait for it to go.
  • If bitten, do not panic. Put a bandage tightly, without blocking circulation, around the limb that was bitten and keep the limb as still as possible, preferably with a splint, then seek urgent medical attention.
  • Do not wash the bite, suck out the venom or cut out the bite as doctors need the venom from the wound to identify the snake.
  • Try to remember the colour and shape of the snake for identification.


Spiders are ancient creatures and have always been a source of fear. Australia is home to approximately 2,900 species. They are found everywhere – in the backyard, woodland, bush and beach.

The Red-back Spider is Australia's best-known spider, with songs written about it and a beer named after it.

Insects are the usual prey of the Red-back, but it is capable of capturing larger creatures, such as crickets and small lizards, and will bite humans if a direct invasion of its web is made.

Only the female bite is dangerous – it is so lethal that very few male Red-backs survive the reproductive process! The bite can cause serious illness, but since an antivenom became available in 1956 no deaths have been recorded. The venom acts directly on the nerves, causing severe pain, sweating, muscular weakness, nausea and vomiting.

Prevention & First Aid

  • Wear shoes, long trousers and thick gloves when gardening.
  • Avoid walking outside with bare feet, especially at night.
  • Do not touch spiders.
  • If bitten, apply an ice pack to the bitten area to relieve pain.
  • Do not apply a pressure bandage as the venom moves slowly and pressure worsens pain. Collect the spider for positive identification.
  • Seek medical attention.


Crocodiles are directly linked to our prehistoric past. The Saltwater or Estuarine Crocodile is found in coastal tropical and subtropical northern Australia. As well as living in the tidal reaches of rivers, it is also common in freshwater lagoons and swamps and has been seen in inland waterways at least 100 kilometres from the sea.

Reaching around five metres in length, it often lies in the water along the banks of rivers with only the ears, nostrils and eyes protruding from the surface. The adult Saltwater Crocodile will eat anything that comes too close to it including fish, birds, and mammals of any size including feral pigs, wallabies and even humans, who venture near the water's edge.

Even though it looks like it should be clumsy on land, it is extremely fast, is an excellent swimmer, an expert at camouflage and is intelligent enough to stalk a human. Despite its fearsome reputation, the Saltwater Crocodile is protected in Australia as its numbers were in radical decline from hunting – it has also been a victim of habitat destruction.

Prevention & First Aid

  • Take great care when in northern tropical Australia at rivers, swamps, billabongs and when in the sea.
  • Ask local people about safe places to swim, fish or camp.
  • Obey the warning messages on signs.
  • Don't swim after dusk.
  • Never clean fish or discard fish scraps near the water’s edge or at boat ramps.
  • Never dangle your arms or legs over the side of a boat. If you fall out of a boat, get out of the water as quickly as possible.
  • Never provoke or interfere with crocodiles, even small ones.
  • Do not feed crocodiles – it is illegal and dangerous.
  • Do not leave food scraps at your campsite.
  • Be more aware during the breeding season, September to April.
  • Stay well away from the water's edge in crocodile areas.
  • Avoid crocodile nesting areas.
  • If attacked, hit it repeatedly on its relatively sensitive nose, poke it in the eyes and scream.

Great White Shark

The White Shark, also known as the Great White Shark, is found in temperate and sub-tropical waters all around the world. The largest ones appear to be around seven metres, with a weight of between two and three tons.

Most human attacks are probably cases of mistaken identity as the Great White’s favourite prey appears to be seals.

Box Jellyfish

Pale blue, transparent and shaped like a box about the size of your head, the Box Jellyfish is found along the northern Australian coasts and has been described as the world’s deadliest venomous animal.

The danger of the Box Jellyfish lies in its tentacles, which when hunting stretch out to three metres in length and are covered in thousands of stinging cells, which fire off when they touch an animal. The pain is so excruciating that victims often go into shock and drown before they reach help. Death can occur in less than four minutes, the venom attacking the nervous system, the heart and the skin.

Box Jellyfish have no reason to 'attack' humans. The incredible killing power of the stings is to instantly immobilize the prawns and fish that the jellyfish feed on, not to deliberately harm humans.

Blue Bottle

In Australia and New Zealand, this jellyfish is known as the blue bottle, due to its colour and shape when strewn on a beach.

The blue bottles colour can range from a blue to a pink hue, with a transluscent body. The float or body of the blue bottle measures between 3 to 15 cms. The tentacles can range in length from 15 cms up to 10 metres!

The blue bottle feeds on small fish and other small ocean creatures. They envelope their prey with their tentacles, where a poison is released thus paralysing its prey before being consumed.

If a tentacle attaches itself to a human, it releases a poison (through the use of nematocysts), and if you continue to rub the skin after the tentacle has been removed more poison or venom will be released.

If you are stung, it is best to wash the area without touching. A cold pack should be used to relieve the pain. No fatalities have ever been reported within Australia or New Zealand from the sting of a blue bottle.

Blue-Ringed Octopus

With a body no larger than a golf ball and an arm spread of only 20 centimetres, the Blue-ringed Octopus is hardly a fearsome creature. It sits quietly in rockpools around the Australian coast, with camouflage colours of mottled brown, using a special venom to kill crabs, its main food.

If poked or prodded, the Blue-ringed Octopus transforms to bright yellow with brilliant blue rings and bites with its powerful beak. This time it uses a different venom, one more potent than that found in any land animal! The bite is almost painless, but the venom is in its saliva and within a few minutes paralyses its victim.

Fortunately it is not aggressive and is quite content unless provoked. It is precisely when the Blue-ringed Octopus is at its most beautiful that it is at its most lethal so look but don’t touch!

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