Australian Wildlife


Australia has many species of wildlife, roughly there are in excess of:

450 species of mammals,
300 species of lizards,
140 species of snakes,
2 species of crocodiles,
2,000 species of bony sea fish,
180 species of fresh water fish,
100 species of sharks,
50 species of rays,
750 species of birds,
2,000 species of flies,
5,000 species of bees,
110,000 species of insects and
2,000 species of spider.


Kangaroo

Kangaroo
When European explorers first saw these strange hopping animals they asked a native Australian (aborigine) what they were called.
He replied "kangaroo" meaning "I don't understand" your question.
The explorers thought this was the animal's name. And that's how the kangaroo got its name.

Kangaroos are the largest living marsupials in the world and are usually red or grey. The Australian Coat of Arms has a Kangaroo and Emu holding a shield with symbols representing the six states on it. Kangaroos have greatly enlarged hind legs, a strong, muscular tail, small forelegs, a relatively small head, and large ears. They usually move around with a hopping gait. The long, strong tail is used as a balance when hopping and as a prop when resting or fighting.

Like most marsupials, kangaroos give birth to small premature young called a "joey". Although the period of gestation (pregnancy), may be short, ranging from 27 to 40 days, the young may spend a long periods in their mothers pouch. In the case of the red kangaroo, they remain there for up to eight months.

The Red Kangaroo has a number of adaptations for coping with unpredictable drought conditions, especially in relation to its breeding cycle. Both male and female are potentially capable of breeding at any time of year, but severe drought suppresses the cycle indefinitely.

After the "joey" is born the mother mates again. However, the embryo resulting from this mating remains "on hold" so long as the earlier "joey" remains in the pouch. Should this "joey" die for any reason, or when it is weaned and leaves the pouch naturally, then the embryo (unborn "joey") resumes development, and the reproductive cycle continues. In effect, a female Red Kangaroo constantly has one youngster in her pouch and another in reserve.

By these strategies, the Red Kangaroo avoids wasting resources on futile breeding attempts when conditions are poor, but remains in permanent readiness to breed rapidly when conditions improve.

The 50 or more species of kangaroos are distributed from Tasmania and Australia proper to New Guinea and adjacent islands, and some have been introduced into New Zealand.

Red kangaroos are slightly larger than the eastern grey kangaroo and the western grey. In general, males have an average height of about 1.5 m (5 ft), weigh 55 kg (121 lb), and may have a tail length of 1 m (3.2 ft); females are somewhat smaller. Kangaroos can leap 1.5 m (5 ft) when moving slowly and more than 9 m (30 ft) at high speeds. For short distances a grey or red kangaroo can travel at 48 km/h (30 mph). Grey kangaroos inhabit bushland in southern and eastern Australia and Tasmania, while red kangaroos live on the plains throughout Australia. Kangaroos are ground feeders, eating various kinds of grasses and small plants.

Usually there is one dominate male who rules the "mob". In his short reign as king he may fight many would be successors. He may survive for up to a year or more and sire many "joeys" but in the end he will be driven out by the next dominant male. On his own, his life expectancy is short.


Koala

Koala

How did the Koala get its name? The Australian Aborigines used the word "koala" when they did not wish to drink from a communal water vessel. They adapted the usage of this word to include the tree dwelling animals that did not drink.

The koala, called a native bear by the first settlers, is not a bear but a marsupial. A series of advertisements in America run by QANTAS featuring the koala led to a lot of Americans referring to them as "QANTAS bears".

The koala has a large head, hairy ears fringed with white, and a large nose. It has dense, woolly, greyish white fur. It grows up to 84 cm (33 in) long, and weighs up to 14 kg (30 lb). Selective eaters of eucalyptus leaves and young bark, koalas are solitary or live in small harems led by a single male. The young are born after a gestation (pregnancy) period of 25 to 30 days and weigh about 5.5 g (0.2 oz) at birth. They spend about 6 months in the mother's pouch and are weaned on predigested eucalyptus leaves. After this the young cub takes to riding on its mothers back. At one year of age it leaves the mother, fends for itself and finds it own tree.

Though its range extends across eastern and southeastern Australia roughly from Cairns to Adelaide), the koala's distribution is far from continuous. Today it is still absent from large areas of apparently suitable habitat. On the other hand, it has been successfully introduced into many areas where it apparently did not occur before European settlement. Its habitat requirements are not yet clearly understood but, in general, koalas seem to prefer open forests over dense forests and lowlands over highlands.

The koala sleeps during the day, usually huddled up in a fork in cold weather, sprawled along a branch with legs dangling in warm weather. Most feeding occurs just after sunset. A typical koala spends about 20 per cent of its time feeding, nearly 80 per cent sleeping, and less than one per cent grooming, traveling and seeking mates. Koalas are solitary animals occupying home ranges normally about three hectares in extent, though this varies widely with habitat and population density. They are not particularly sedentary, and wanderings of up to 20-30 kilometres have been recorded.

Koalas are remarkable in feeding almost exclusively on eucalypt foliage, a diet high in fibre, low in protein and rich in various toxins. Their slow life-style means that their protein requirement is about half that needed by other mammals of similar size. Even so, koalas have a number of particular adaptations for coping with such a low-grade diet. Especially notable is the caecum (a part of the lower intestine corresponding to the appendix in humans), which is proportionately longer than in any mammal. Here the gut contents are held for some time while bacteria process the otherwise indigestible fibre.

Nearly exterminated by epidemics around the turn of the century, by massive slaughter for their fur in the 1920s, and by human-caused fires. Many are also killed by traffic on roads. Koalas in some areas have reached plague proportions necessitating the need for "culling".


Wombat

Wombat

The wombat is a burrowing, herbivorous, marsupial mammal. Except for the lack of a tail, the wombat is remarkably beaver like in appearance. They are greyish brown, thick-bodied animals ranging from 70 to 120 cm (27-47 in) and weighing up to 27 kg (60 lb).

There are three existing species of wombat, common, hairy-nosed and Tasmanian found only in Australia. They are believed to have evolved from the same basic possum-like marsupial stock that gave rise to the koala, but they have become specialised for a ground-dwelling, burrowing existence.

Wombats prefer dense forests and eucalypt woodland, but they also sometimes occur in coastal heath and scrubland.

During the day wombats occasionally emerge to feed or bask in the sun, but for the most part wombats are active only at night. They are solitary animals having overlapping home ranges that are undefended and more or less permanent. These vary greatly in extent depending on the quality of the environment, but 10-20 hectares is about average. Within its home range, a wombat digs, maintains and extends a number of burrows. These also vary widely in size and importance from mere temporary shelters to intricate structures which have side corridors, numerous bed chambers, and multiple entrances.

Wombats are wholly herbivorous and feed entirely on grasses, roots and the inner bark of trees, and some fungi, such as puffballs. In a typical night of foraging, a wombat visits three or four of its burrows in turn, using them as temporary refuges from danger or as places to rest for a while before resuming feeding; in this way it might visit a dozen or more over several weeks of its nocturnal wanderings. In overlapping ranges it might happen that, by coincidence, two neighbouring wombats come together in the same burrow, but such meetings are generally amicable: where they are numerous, wombats frequently use each other's burrows.

Wombats are speedy diggers in rough country, as shown by their powerful build and shovel-shaped nails, while their rodent-like incisors can gnaw through the toughest roots. Their burrows can be up to 30m (38 ft) long, and be large enough for a small child to crawl into. Wombats' large and numerous burrows are a hazard to domestic range animals.

Very little is known about their mating habits. There is no particular breeding season. Females have one baby usually in late autumn. It is carried around in its mothers pouch for about 25 weeks, it then follows its mother at heel until it reaches independence and wanders off at about 18 months of age. Wombats reach sexual maturity in their third year. The average life expectancy of wild wombats is at least five years, and some captive individuals have lived for 20 years.

The common wombat is a very tough, rugged animal. It is too strong to have any natural enemies - even foxes and dingoes, and would seem to be in no danger as a species.


Kookaburra

"An Aboriginal legend tells us that Agoodenout, the keeper of the sun's fire, sent the kookaburra to awaken man and all the bushland creatures to the glories of a new day. For centuries between the origin of this legend and the present, Australians have been listening to the laughter of the kookaburra and still have not found a better explanation for it.

A journey through folklore shows us that in this legend, men have always had a somewhat personal relationship with the kookaburra. The bird may laugh along with man in a merry mood or it may laugh mockingly at man's folly. Some say that it laughs to warn man of forthcoming rain or even danger. Only recently, it was suggested that the kookaburra can afford to have a mirthful chuckle at us, for in spite of centuries of folklore his intimate secrets have been known only to him."


Veronica A Parry - Kookaburras - 1970
Kookaburra

Veronica first heard the "laughter" of the kookaburra when working partime in San Diego Zoo. She was fascinated by the sound and would go to work early just to hear it. She dreamed of visiting Australia and studying the bird in its natural bushland setting. Two years later Professor Marshall of Melbourne's Monash University offered her a postgraduate scholarship. At the end of the scholarship she was granted a Master of Science degree and wrote the book. I believe Veronica now lives in Australia.

The kookaburra, or laughing jackass, Dacelo gigas, is a large and noisy bird of the Australian bush. Although a member of the kingfisher family, the kookaburra does not eat fish but feeds mainly on large insects and small reptiles and amphibians. At a maximum of 47 cm (18.5 in) in length, and with a 10-cm (4-in) bill, the kookaburra is larger than most kingfishers, but its brown and tan plumage is drab by the standards of the family. Kookaburras nest during the spring and lay 2 to 4 white eggs in tree holes or termite nests. Their loud cries, which resemble human laughter and are typically chorused at dawn and dusk, are one of the characteristic sounds of the Australian bush.


Emu

Emu

The flightless emu, is widespread over Australia's open country. The largest bird except for the ostrich, the adult emu stands about 1.5 m (5 ft) high and weighs about 55 kg (120 lb). Emus run at speeds of up to 50 km/h (30 mph), defend themselves by kicking, and swim well. The hairlike plumage of both sexes is brownish gray. The slightly smaller male incubates a clutch of 8 to 10 dark green eggs for about 60 days, each egg weighing about 0.7 kg (1.5 lb).

The emu has served as a source of food, and it appears on the Australian coat of arms. Farmers often consider it a pest, however, because it may break fences and feed on crops (while also eating many insects). Smaller species were exterminated by settlers on nearby islands, but Australian emus survived even a brief "emu war" in 1932, an attempt at their mass destruction by using machine guns.


Platypus

Platypus

When first sent to England, the duck-billed, web-footed platypus looked so strange to the scientists in London's British Museum that they thought it was a "fake". They thought that it had been put together by parts of other animals to fool them. They tried to prise off the animals bill and today you can still see the marks on the platypus at the Museum of Natural History in London.

The platypus is one of two egg laying mammals to be found in the world today, the other is the echidna. Both belong to a group called monotremes. They lay eggs with soft leathery shells, similar to those of reptiles.

In size and weight, the Platypus varies quite widely according to locality, but males average about half a metre in length and one to two kilograms in weight. Females are significantly smaller than males.

It is restricted to the seaboard and associated mountain ranges of eastern Australia from near Cairns to the vicinity of Adelaide, including Tasmania. However, it is quite fussy in its habitat requirements, reliant on unpolluted, relatively undisturbed rivers and streams, so it is strongly local in occurrence. It is apparently now extinct in South Australia, except for an introduced population on Kangaroo Island. Nevertheless, it remains common in a number of suitable localities and seems in no immediate danger.

Platypus are shy and wary. But in the early evening in a suitably quiet, secluded pool, they often emerge to spend some time at the surface, feeding, grooming or, sometimes, simply floating quietly as though sunbathing. Though strongly aquatic, platypus do occasionally come ashore, or haul out on some log or boulder to groom themselves.

The platypus is described as a semiaquatic animal with a flat, rubbery bill and a beaver like tail. The rubbery, supersensitive bill is used in sifting the bottom silt and gravel for minute animals. It is about 61 cm (24 in) long, weighs about 1.8 kg (4 lb), and has a coat of dark brown to yellow fur. Webbed feet enable the platypus to swim well. On each hind foot of the male there is a poison spur that can kill small animals and inflict painful wounds on larger ones. Eating by crushing its food with the horny plates of its bill and mouth, the platypus consumes about half its own weight in worms, insect larvae, mollusks, crustaceans, and vegetation. This it does underwater where it is blind and deaf. However, its bill has in built electric sensing powers that signal the presence of prey. No other animal has this, although some fish do have this sixth sense (humans have only five senses). The platypus can see and hear on land.

Sometimes several may be seen together in the same pool, but little is known of their territorial behaviour and, on the whole, Platypus appear to be largely solitary in habits. When not hunting, they spend most of their time in short residential burrows dug into the riverbank, with an entrance (or sometimes two entrances) barely above waterlevel.

Mating takes place in late winter and early spring. The female digs a burrow 4.6 to 18 m (15 to 60 ft) long, at the end of which she builds a nest and lays her eggs, usually two. The eggs are incubated for 8 to 10 days. After the eggs hatch, the young suck milk from the mammary glands of the mother. The young are weaned at about 5 months and reach sexual maturity within a year. The life span is about 10 years.


Echidna

Echinda

The echidna is the only native Australian mammal found throughout the entire continent, including Tasmania. It seems equally at home in all environments from above the winter snow line in the Snowy Mountains to tropical northern woodlands and the harshest deserts of the interior. A highly specialised feeder, it relies almost entirely on ants and termites for food. It lacks teeth.

Spiny anteaters as echidnas are known, are egg-laying mammals. They have compact, muscular bodies and short legs with broad feet and large claws that they use for digging up food in the form of termites, ants, and worms. The echidnas powerful forepaws are used to break into an ant or termite nest. Its long tongue and sticky saliva is used to flick through the nest. Insects stick to the tongues surface, then are dragged back into the mouth to be crushed between tough pads on the palate.

Generally solitary, the echidna occupies permanent, overlapping, and undefended territories that lack fixed dens of any kind. Usually, an echidna simply beds down for the night (or for a few hours during the day if the weather is exceptionally hot) wherever it happens to be at sunset, sheltering under a bush, in a hollow log or a pile of boulders, or the abandoned burrow of some other animal.

Lacking significant predators, the echidna generally ignores any other animal it might happen to encounter. Trundling short-sightedly about like a miniature tank on its short, squat legs, if disturbed, its reaction varies with the circumstances. In soft soil it burrows straight down disappearing with astonishing rapidity. Among rocks it erects its spines to wedge itself immovably in some convenient crevice. Or, on bare open ground, it may simply roll itself into a tight ball, shielding all vulnerable parts behind an impenetrable barrier of spines.

The echidna's body is covered with coarse hair and barbless spines, and it has small ears, a stubby tail, and a long, toothless snout. The female lays a single, leathery egg, which is placed in a temporary pouch formed on her abdomen. The egg hatches in 7 to 10 days, and the young feeds on thick, yellowish milk that flows from the mammary glands along several tufts of hair into the pouch. Young stay inside the pouch for 6 to 8 weeks until a spine develops. They become sexually mature after one year.

The short-nosed echidna, ranges from Tasmania and Australia proper into New Guinea. It reaches about 50 cm (19.5 in) in length, plus tail, and 6.5 kg (14 lb) in weight. Recently, scientists have found electroreceptors in the tip of the snout that may be used to detect electrical signals given off by worms and ants. Further studies are under way to learn if similar electroreceptors are found in other echidnas. The long-nosed echidna, is confined to New Guinea. Here it reaches 66 cm (26 in) in length, plus tail, and 10 kg (22 lb) in weight.

Life expectancy of echidnas is over 50 years. In mammals, only humans have a longer life expectancy.


Galah

Galah

The Galah's distribution stretches almost entirely across the Australian continent, though it tends to avoid the extremes of the very harshest deserts and dense forests, instead it favours open plains and savanna woodland. Formerly it was largely absent from the eastern seaboard but in recent decades has become much more common in several east coastal towns and cities, including several in Tasmania. The diet consists mainly of fallen seeds of various native plants, occasionally supplemented by insects, but it also feeds on cereal crops such as wheat and oats, especially spilled grain in the vicinity of storage silos and along country roads.

Galahs are strongly gregarious, spending most of the year in flocks that may number several hundred birds. Pairs drop out only in order to nest; the pair bond seems to be permanent, and the same nest site may be used year after year. Even when breeding, however, the birds are not especially territorial. They readily tolerate neighbouring nesting pairs, often in the same tree, so long as they do not trespass into the immediate vicinity of the nest cavity itself.

Breeding may take place at any time of year, but especially in early spring in the south, and just after the wet in the north. Eggs are laid in a tree cavity (which may be up to 20 metres from the ground), lined with green leaves. There is usually a conspicuous patch on the trunk or limb near the nest cavity from which the birds remove the bark, apparently as a sort of signal to other Galahs that the cavity is occupied. Two to six eggs form the clutch. They hatch in about 30 days, and the chicks remain in the nest for six to eight weeks before fledging. The newly-hatched chicks of cockatoos generally are clad in sparse yellow down, but the Galah is exceptional in that the natal down is pinkish. Both parents share more or less equally in incubation and raising the young.

Young Galahs do not leave the nest until they can fly quite well, and soon join other youngsters from neighbouring pairs to form a creche in some suitable nearby patch of woodland. Their parents continue to feed them in the creche for a further six to eight weeks before they are finally left to fend for themselves. Parents and young recognise each other by their calls. Galahs spend the first three or four years of their lives in wandering flocks before settling down to breed for the first time, after which they are generally sedentary - though they are such strong swift fliers that they commonly commute 15 kilometres or more in search of food. Mortality among Galahs is high at first - on average only about 10 per cent survive their first year - but adults generally live for many years.

[ Return to Home Page ] [ Top of Page ]