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Australian fauna

Early in geological history, Australia was cut off from the rest of the world's land masses. This allowed a range of animals to establish successful populations in Australia - animals that were unable to do so in other parts of the world.

Almost all of Australia's native mammals are marsupials. Marsupials give birth to their young and then carry them in a pouch near their belly until the infant is old enough to survive on its own.

Another unusual type of mammal is the monotreme. Monotremes lay eggs instead of giving birth to live young. There are only two types of monotreme in the world - the platypus and the echidna - and both of them are found in Australia.

Platypuses

Platypus leaving the water

Platypus leaving the water. Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia: A8746, KN17/11/71/6.

Platypuses are found all along the eastern coast of Australia, from Tasmania to far north Queensland. They are small dark-brown furry mammals with webbed paws and a duck-like beak.

Platypuses live in burrows that they dig into the banks of rivers. They are diving animals, and can stay under water for up to fifteen minutes. Unlike a duck's beak, the platypus' beak is rubbery and flexible. It has hundreds of electroreceptor cells inside it, which can detect the electrical currents that are caused by its prey swimming through the water.

Platypuses give birth by laying eggs. The eggs are incubated by the mother in special nesting burrows. When it hatches, the baby platypus feeds on milk secreted from two patches of skin midway along the mother's belly.

Echidnas

Echidna

Echidna (Tachyglossus Aculeatus). Image courtesy of National Archives of Australia: A1500/1, K12499.

Echidnas can be found all over Australia. They are small, round animals with large clawed feet, a long snout and a coat covered in sharp, flexible spines. Their diet consists almost exclusively of termites, which is why they are also known as spiny anteaters.

Echidnas also lay eggs. A single egg is laid in the female echidna's pouch and hatches in about ten days. The baby echidna (or puggle) lives in its mother's pouch until it begins to develop spines.

The echidna's spines are used mainly as a defence mechanism. When threatened, an echidna will either roll itself into a spiky ball or dig itself into the ground until only its spines are exposed.

Kangaroos

White kangaroo

White kangaroo. Image courtesy of Wave Rock Wildlife Park

The kangaroo is Australia's largest marsupial. Kangaroos travel by hopping on their long hind legs, using their tail for balance. They can reach speeds of up to 60 kilometres per hour and can jump distances of eight metres and heights of around three metres.

Kangaroos live in large packs (or mobs) of around 100. Their diet consists of grasses, leaves and other plants. They thrive wherever a regular water source is available. The introduction of European farming methods has established regular water supplies and allowed the kangaroo population to grow dramatically. It is estimated that there are around fifty million kangaroos in Australia.

A baby kangaroo is called a joey. Joeys are raised in their mother's pouch, suckling from the teats inside, until they are about one year old. Within a few days of giving birth, female kangaroos enter into heat and will mate again and, if they successfully conceive, after one week's development the microscopic embryo enters a dormant state that will last until the previous young leaves the pouch.The development of the second embryo then resumes and proceeds to birth after a gestation period of about 30 days.

Emus

The emu is a large, flightless bird with hairy, grey feathers. Standing up to six feet tall and weighing an average of 60 kilograms, it is the second largest bird in the world. Emus can be found in all areas of Australia, except for rainforests.

Emus have a stride that measures around nine feet and can run at speeds of up to 60 kilometres per hour. They travel large distances in pairs or small groups, though occasionally large herds of up to a thousand have been formed.

Emus have fairly large territories and can travel up to 500 kilometres in a nine-month period. If there is a reliable source of water, emus will stay nearby. They mainly tend to travel long distances in search of water. Their diet consists of leaves, grasses, fruits, native plants, and insects. Emu young are called chicks.

Wombats

The wombat is the world's largest burrowing herbivorous mammal. They average one metre in length and 35 centimetres in height. Wombats have four powerful legs that they use for digging, and large heads with small eyes, pointed ears and prominent snouts. Wombats are found mainly on the east coast of Australia, from Tasmania to southern Queensland.

Wombats are nocturnal animals. Nocturnal animals are active by night and sleep during the day. Wombats spend almost eighty per cent of their time underground in their long, complex burrows. They mainly leave their burrows at night when the air temperature is cooler, but in colder weather they can be seen out during the day as well.

Wombats are grazing animals, eating mainly grass and other plants, like shrubs, roots, bark and moss. When feeding, a wombat can pick up its food with one of its front feet and place it straight into its mouth. Wombat young are called joeys and the female wombat has a pouch which faces backwards to prevent dirt from entering it when it is burrowing.

Tasmanian devils

Tasmanian devil

A Tasmanian devil - this unique Australian mammal is found only in the island state of Tasmania. Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia: A1200/19 L2150.

The Tasmanian devil is the world's largest carnivorous marsupial. It is roughly the size of a dog, and thick-set with a muscular build, a large, wide head and a short, thick tail. The devil's fur is black and usually has patches of white on its chest and rump.

Tasmanian devils are only found in Tasmania, though fossil evidence shows that there were devils on the Australian mainland 600 years ago. They have powerful jaws and long, sharp teeth. They are primarily nocturnal, coming out at night to forage for food. Devils are scavengers, sometimes eating small mammals as prey, but mainly living on the remains of dead animals. When feeding, a Tasmanian devil will eat everything, including bones and fur.

Generally speaking Tasmanian devils are solitary animals, but packs of devils will feed communally on larger dead animals they find, like cattle and sheep.

Koalas

Koalas are tree-dwelling marsupials whose diet consists almost exclusively of the leaves of a particular type of tree called Eucalyptus. Koalas have soft grey fur, large prominent ears and a round face. Their limbs are long and muscular and their paws are broad with long claws. They can be found throughout mainland eastern Australia.

Koalas' paws have rough pads and long claws to help them climb. A koala's front paw has three fingers and two opposing digits, almost like two separate thumbs. The hind paws have a clawless opposing digit and two toes that are fused together to form a 'grooming claw'.

Koalas spend twenty hours a day sleeping or resting. The rest of the time is spent feeding, grooming and moving from tree to tree. The koalas' diet of eucalyptus leaves is a very low-energy diet, which accounts for their low levels of activity. Their main source of water is the dew and rain that collects on the leaves they eat. Koala young are called cubs.

Other native Australian animals, birds and reptiles

Australia has quite a few native animals, birds and reptiles. Some of the other native Australian marsupials include: the bilby; the wallaby; the phascogale; the possum; the wallaroo; the glider; the bandicoot; the pademelon; the bettong; and the quoll. Other native mammals include: flying foxes; mastiff bat and little broad nosed bat; and melomys.

Native Australian birds include: the Lorrikeet; the Kookaburra; the King Parrot; the Galah; the Cockatoo; the Crimson Rosella; the Wedge-tailed Eagle; the Magpie; the Willie Wagtail and the Tawny Frogmouth Owl.

Native Australian reptiles include: the frilled necked lizard; the lace monitor; the bearded dragon; the gecko; the eastern water dragon; the goanna; the australian coral snake; the carpet python; the death adder; the eastern brown snake; and the red bellied black snake.

Useful links

Australian wildlife organisations

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Last updated: 29th November 2007

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