The Weird and Wonderful Wildlife of Australia
Featured destinations: Australia
Published 22 March 2017
When Australia split from the rest of the continents about 50 million years ago, the animals living there followed a separate evolutionary line, giving rise to some unique and quite frankly bizarre adaptations. The kangaroo and the koala are well known, but what about the weirder side to Australian wildlife? Here’s a selection of our favourites.
On receipt of a stuffed platypus specimen, 18th century European naturalists assumed that it was a fake, and attempted to prove it by cutting it up with scissors. Though with its duck’s bill, beaver’s tail, otter’s feet and unusual egg-laying habits, it’s easy to see why they were sceptical. Platypuses are notoriously shy, so you’ll need to be patient and quiet to see a wild one. Don’t get too close though – the male has venom-filled spurs on its hind feet that are excruciatingly painful to humans. If you want to interact with a platypus safely, you can arrange a swim with the non-venomous females in their tank at Victoria’s Healesville Sanctuary. Talk to one of our Experts today about adding this experience to your trip.
Found in eastern and northern Australia and Tasmania, the wide-eyed sugar glider’s claim to fame is its patagium, a type of membrane between its front and back legs. This acts like a superhero-style wingsuit, allowing it to glide effortlessly through the air, covering distances of up to 50 metres. The female has a small pouch for carrying her babies, known as joeys, which have a gestation period of just 15 days and are the size of a grain of rice when they are born. Awww!
The echidna joins the platypus in the monotreme family of egg-laying mammals. With a body covered in spines, an elongated snout and a long tongue used for seeking out ants and termites, echidnas resemble a cross between a hedgehog and an anteater. They are often spotted by the roadside, so drive slowly and keep your eyes peeled.
At 3.5cm long, the bizarre mole cricket has a front half consisting of shovel-like limbs made for burrowing (like a mole), and a back half that looks more like your conventional cricket. Having colonised every continent apart from Antarctica, the mole cricket is fairly common, although it has not yet made its way to the UK. Listen out for the males singing loudly in their burrows to attract females.
Beware the cassowary – this volatile bird has a mean temper on it, and has been known to attack without warning. One of the largest birds in the world (only the emu and ostrich are bigger), it has a 12cm-long middle toe on its claw that acts like a dagger, stabbing its victims and in some cases disembowelling them. That’s not to mention its helmet-like crest and menacing expression. Apparently 221 individuals have died from cassowary attacks. Steer clear people, steer clear.
One of the world’s most venomous (and might we say, ugly) fish, the stonefish secretes neurotoxins from glands in its sharp dorsal fins. Not only that, it can survive on land for up to 24 hours, disguised as a harmless stone, waiting for unsuspecting flip-flop wearers to misstep. Cunning. If you are unlucky enough to step on one, there is an antivenom, but it’s best not to get stung in the first place.
The popularity of this cute little marsupial went through the roof in early 2015 with the rise of the quokka selfie. Wildlife loving tourists can’t get enough of the cheerful critter, who happily poses for photos, complete with cheesy grin. If your Facebook page would benefit from more quokka-related content, sail across to the quokka haven of Rottnest Island, just off the coast Fremantle in Western Australia.
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Resembling a giant woodlouse, these enormous crustaceans are found in cooler waters off Australia’s east coast. Growing up to 50cm in length, the carnivorous isopod feeds on dead whales and squid and was once filmed attacking a dogfish shark by latching onto and eating its face. Nice.
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With their protruding ears, which are actually fins, it’s no wonder these loveable little octopuses were named after Disney’s Dumbo the elephant. As they live at depths of 13,000 feet you are unlikely to see one, but you can always watch Finding Nemo, which features a cute (and pink) dumbo octopus called Pearl.
These scary looking lizards, also known as thorny devils, live in the desert of central Australia. To defend against predators, they can puff up their chests to appear larger, or bizarrely, put their heads between their front legs, leaving a strange protrusion on the back of their neck, like a false head.
This spotty creature has the unenviable distinction of being the most deadly animal on our list. In fact, it is so poisonous that its venom is 1,200 times more toxic than cyanide and could kill 26 grown men in just a few minutes. Victims rarely realise they’ve been bitten until paralysis occurs, by which time it’s too late to raise the alarm oh, and to make matters worse, there’s no antivenom. The blue rings may look pretty, but this is one octopus you don’t want to meet.
It may look like seaweed but, believe it or not, this funny creature is actually a seahorse. The ‘leaves’ are for camouflage and, as with regular seahorses it is the male who incubates the eggs. Sadly their numbers are diminishing due to pollution and their use in alternative medicine, but they are a protected species and there’s a lot of red tape involved if you want to capture one. Despite the obstacles though, both Sydney and Melbourne’s aquariums have them on display.