Native Australian Animals – A Guide to Some of Australia’s Unique Creatures
By Ammar Abdolreza
Some of you may remember singing the song in a round when you were young about these famous Australian native birds. “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree, merry, merry king of the bush is he, laugh kookaburra, laugh kookaburra, gay your life must be”!!
Kookaburras are part of the Kingfisher bird family and make a distinct noise. Some say it sounds like a hyena or someone laughing.
They prefer to live in open forests and woodlands but can be found in residential areas if there is running water. There are certainly a few round the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney that like to wake me up most mornings.
They tend to eat small lizards and insects, mice and raw meat. Their feathers are usually brown and white but there are some that have beautiful blue feathers such as the Spangled Kookaburra.
The Kookaburra was used as an emblem for the 2000 Olympic Games held in Sydney along with the Echidna and the Platypus. You will probably hear one before you see one as they tend to be high up in the trees. They can be found throughout Australia and you are likely to come across one on your travels.
The platypus is a semi aquatic mammal that is only found in Eastern Australia and parts of Tasmania. It’s a bit like a cross between a duck, otter and beaver. It is one of the more unique Australian native animals as it is the sole living representative of its family. It is one of only five mammals that lays eggs (the other one of the Australian native animals is the Echidna).
The platypus is venomous and can cause significant pain to humans. The male has a spurn on its foot that releases venom. It likes to eat fresh water shrimps and yabbies. It is the animal emblem of the state of New South Wales. It has been used as a symbol and icon of Australia in many events. It is featured on the 20 cent coin. The platypus can live to the age of 17. Their main predators are snakes, owls and eagles. You can try to see them on Kangaroo Island as there is a special platypus reserve. You will have to be lucky to see one though.
The bilby is a small Australian marsupial and a type of bandicoot. It is also known as the Rabbit-eared Bandicoot. The bilby is found in small scattered spots in the Tanami desert in the Northern Territory, and in the Great Sandy Desert, Pilbara and Kimberley areas of Western Australia. These are hot, dry areas of Australia.
They eat insects such as termites, as well as seeds, fruits and fungi. Bilbies have long, silky fur, silvery grey in colour with a white underside (tummy and chest). They have a long black tail with a long white tip. The ears are long and pointed, covered with fine fur. Bilbies are nocturnal animals which means they are active at night.
The numbat is a small marsupial also known as the banded anteater.
It is found only in a small area of woodlands in Western Australia. The numbat is the only marsupial that feeds purely on insects. The numbat uses its sticky tongue to collect termites. It has reddish brown fur with white stripes across its back and a long bushy tail.
Unlike other marsupials, the numbat is active during the day. The numbat is also unusual because it is a marsupial without a pouch. Once born, the young attach themselves to the mother’s teat on the outside of the mother’s belly and stays attached for about 5 months.
Echidnas are monotremes (mammals that lay eggs). On its back, sides and tail the echidna is covered with strong pointed spines. In between the spines is coarse hair but its tummy is covered with soft hair. When in danger the echidna pulls its head in and curls up into a ball to protect itself. The echidna has a long snout that is very sensitive to touch and vibrations and has a very good sense of smell.
This animal features on the Australian coat of arms as it is a symbol of progression. The Emu, like the Kangaroo that stands next to it, can only go forwards.
The Emu is Australia’s largest bird and one of the more important of the Australian Native Animals. Its name comes from the Portuguese word Ema, meaning large bird. They eat grasses, leaves and fruit but vary their diet by season, depending on what food is available. They can’t fly but get out of trouble by running very fast. They can run at speeds of 50km/h and a stride can be as long as 3m.
Emus are hardy birds so can survive even the harshest of Australia’s climates. Emus can be found in the dry centre of Australia or in the tropical woodlands in the north.
There are nearly 70 different species of possum in Australia and are most commonly found in urban areas. They have become pests given that they are usually found routing in the garbage or climbing on roofs or nearby trees. Opinion is divided on whether these animals are cute or a real pain.
They are generally about the size of a cat, have a long tail and look a little like a cross between a rat and a Koala. They can grow up to 120cm in length. They tend to hide in hollows in trees during the day and then forage for food during the night. It can see well in the dark and has a good sense of smell that it uses to find food. They prefer to eat plants and fruits but have been known to eat meat if it is on offer.
Even though possums are pests for many urban households, they cannot be baited. Instead households are advised to build them a nest away from the property or ward them off with garlic! The possum can do serious damage to trees given it likes to eat the new leafy growth of trees. This makes it harder for the trees to grow. Possum skin cloaks were important to the aboriginals as clan heirlooms.
These are part of the Kangaroo family and are basically small Kangaroos. They are one of the more widespread of the Australian Native Animals and you are sure to see them on your visit to Australia. Generally Kangaroos are much larger. If you see a small kangaroo, it is more than likely a wallaby.
The Wombat is a very shot legged Australian native animal of about 1m in length. It’s closest relative is the Koala which has similar fur. It also has a pouch where it keeps its young, making it part of the marsupial family. They tend to live in mountainous areas or heathland in south eastern Australia.
They like to burrow into the ground and have sharp claws specifically to help them dig their burrows. They have a backward facing pouch that enables their young not to get covered in dirt when they are digging. A rather intriguing invention making them one of the more ingenious of the Australian native animals
The young live in the pouch for about 6 to 7 months and after that they spend time in and out of the pouch until they are about 15 months old. Like the Koala, the Wombat has a very slow metabolism so moves very slowly and sleeps lots. It takes them 14 hours to digest their food. They eat grasses, herbs barks and roots.
The wombat can reach speeds of up to 40km/h when it needs to get itself out of trouble. Dingos and Tasmanian devils are their biggest predators.
Do the Dove Lake Walk at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania. You might be lucky and see a Wombat there. There are also plenty in most Australian zoos and wildlife parks.
The dingo looks like a dog and is a dog with one big difference. They have reverted back to a wild animal after thousands of years living independently from humans. This means that they may look all cute and cuddly, but actually they can be unpredictable and ferocious.
There have been stories of dogs carrying off small children (Fraser Island) but provided that you keep your distance, and don’t leave lots of rubbish around for them to rummage through, you shouldn’t have any problems.
Whilst Dingos can and do bark, it is much less often than a domestic dog. It is generally used as a warning. They like to eat meat – red kangaroo, wombats, possums, wallabies and rats. They belong to their own pack but can be seen wandering on their own. In warmer climates, they are more nocturnal, being particularly active at dusk. In cooler climates they are more active in the day.
Dingos live between 5 and 10 years in the wild but can live up to 15 years when kept in captivity. The aboriginal customs and beliefs place the dog and the dingo as one of the most spiritual and important of the Australian native animals. The dingo is most commonly found in the central areas of Australia. The best place to see them however is on Fraser Island in Queensland.
The Tasmanian devil looks like a cross between a pig and a dog and is one of the funniest looking Australian native animals. It is about the same size as a small dog, but much stockier. It has a black coat, often with a white stripe at the bottom of the neck, and a good set of teeth, including fangs.
The Tasmanian devil makes a terribly loud screeching noise. It is the only surviving carnivorous marsupial (animals that have a pouch to bring up their young). Tasmanian devils have been known to eat small kangaroos. They generally go for wombats, snakes, insects and other reptiles.
The Tasmanian devil stores fat in its tail. So if you see a devil with a thin tale, you’ll know it’s not too well. An average length of 65cm and the males weigh about 8kg. They tend to live 6 years in the wild but live longer in captivity. It is the symbol of the Tasmanian National Parks.
The biggest threat to these devils is a face skin cancer called devil facial tumour disease. The disease causes death after 12 months. It is so widespread that these animals have become a protected species.
Devils tend to be nocturnal so are difficult to see in the wild. Most of the wildlife parks in Tasmania have devils.
All animals in this post can be found in most, if not all, Australian zoos and wildlife parks.
Note:Some animal descriptions are subjective and may differ from person to person.