Wildlife by Animal Type
Wildlife by Animal Type
See below for
- mammals - kangaroos, koalas, platypus, bats, whales etc.
- birds- emus, cassowaries, lyrebirds, bowerbirds, malleefowl, eagles etc.
- reptiles- crocodiles, turtles, snakes, lizards
- fish - freshwater and marine
- invertebrates – land and freshwater: butterflies, glow worms, freshwater crayfish etc.
- invertebrates - marine: corals, starfish, octopus etc.
- plants – trees, vines, wildflowers, etc.
Australia’s mammalian wildlife is very different from the rest of the world. There are no native hoofed animals, monkeys, cats or bears, and half of our mammals are marsupials
Over 270 species of land dwelling mammals are native to Australia, approximately 84% of these being found nowhere else but the region encompassing Australia, New Guinea and neighbouring islands. Many (e.g. koala, wombat, numbat, platypus) are found only in Australia itself
Australia and New Guinea (which at times have been joined by land-bridges) are the only countries where all three sub-classes of mammal can still be found:
- Monotremes – egg-laying mammals
- Marsupials – young are born tiny and very undeveloped except for mouth, digestive system and arms for climbing immediately to the mother’s nipple, onto which they latch firmly for a few weeks, inside a pouch or protected by skin-flaps
- Placentals – includes most of the world’s mammals: nourished by a placenta before birth, and born at a more advanced stage (some are blind and hairless at first and unable to walk, others can walk or swim almost immediately), and just visit the mother’s nipple when they need a feed
Egg-laying mammals nowadays occur only in Australia and New Guinea, although they were more widespread in the Cretaceous.
The most famous is the platypus, found only in Australia. No one believed the first specimens collected by sailors were genuine, it was such a bizarre animal to look at – and that was before they knew it also laid eggs, despite being furry and giving milk to its offspring, that locate its prey or that the male had a venomous spur (thus being the world’s only venomous mammal).
There is one species of echidna in Australia, which occurs also in New Guinea along with a couple of other species. They are spiny, but they are not related to porcupines or hedgehogs and are very different (they lay eggs, develop pouches for their babies, and use their long sticky tongues to feed on ants and termites). Their closest living relative is of course the platypus.
Monotremes are of great biological interest, as they are the only mammals that lay eggs as well as having true mammalian hair and suckling their young with milk, and share various other oddities.
Where to see them.
Platypus are found in rivers and streams of eastern Australia, from north Queensland to Tasmania, and introduced to Kangaroo Island, South Australia.
They can be seen in a number of wildlife parks and zoos, including David Fleay Wildlife Park (Qld), Lone Pine Sanctuary (Qld), Taraonga Zoo (NSW), Healesville Sanctuary (Vic) and Platypus House (Tas). They can often be seen on tour with Araucaria Ecotours (Qld)
Echidnas are found throughout Australia but can be very unpredictable. They can be seen in captivity in Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary (Qld), Australia Zoo (Qld), Platypus House (Tas), Wings Wildlife Park (Tas) and various other zoos and wildlife parks.
Marsupials have a number of unusual features, the most famous being the use of a pouch to carry the young, which is most conspicuous in the kangaroo family. Burrowing and tree-climbing marsupials generally have a backward-facing pouch, and in several small carnivorous species it is reduced to just a fold of skin. Young are born at a very immature stage, and climb to the pouch where they attach firmly to their mother’s teats for several weeks. Approximately half of Australia’s mammals are marsupials.
Australian marsupials are divided into four orders:
- Diprotodonta, meaning ‘two front teeth’. These mainly herbivorous animals include about 80 species, the most well-known are mammals including kangaroos, koalas, wombats and possums.
- Dasyuromorphia. These carnivorous animals include the well-known Tasmanian Devil and about 50 other species of smaller animals. The largest mainland species is the spotted-tailed quoll.
- Peramelemorphia. These omnivorous animals include the bilby and seven species of bandicoot.
- Notoryctemorphia. This is a single species called a marsupial “mole”, completely unrelated to the placental moles and unique to Australia. It is very rarely seen, living below ground in the outback.
Where to see them.
Kangaroos and wallabies are found throughout Australia. The famous big red kangaroo is a creature of the outback, but the greys are in coastal forests. A great site to find where to see this family (and the related potoroo family) is rootourism. Tree kangaroos are confined to northern Queensland and New Guinea, but can be seen in Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary (Qld), David Fleay Wildlife Park (Qld) and a few other captive settings.
Koalas occur in the wild in eucalpt forests and woodlands of eastern Australia, and have been introduced to the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island (SA).
Numbats can be seen in the Perth Zoo and Cleland Wildlife Park. Various other marsupials are on display in other zoos and wildlife parks.
Young grow inside the mother’s uterus to a relatively advanced stage of development. Most of the world’s mammals belong to this group. Australia is the only continent where placentals are not the dominant group of mammals, around half of our mammals being marsupials.
Native terrestrial placental species are almost evenly divided between:
- Rodents accounting for 22% of Australian mammal species are all in the rat and mouse family, Muridae. Their ancestors came from the north in several waves probably from about 4 million years ago.
- Bats and make another 22% of Australian mammal species. The megabats, such as the flying fox, the tube-nosed bats and blossom bats lack echolocation and feed on fruit or nectar or both. The microbats are small, echo locating insectivorous bats – although some also eat frogs, mice and even other bats.
In addition there are a number of marine mammals: whales, dolphins, dugongs, seals and sea lions.
There are a number of mammals that have been introduced by humans and become well-established in the wild. The longest established is the dingo, brought to Australia perhaps 4000 years ago by Indonesian traders. More recently foxes, cats, rabbits, hares, horses, donkeys, cattle, buffalo, goats, camels, pigs, several species of deer and three species of rodent have been introduced.
Where to see them.
Dugongs are found in coastal waters from Brisbane northwards and westwards to a similar latitude.
Humpback whales travel the eastern and western coasts of Australia in the cooler months, and right whales visit the southern coasts, and there are many whale-watching tours.
Minke whales visit the northern Great Barrier Reef during the winter months (May-August) and during this time show a keen interest in boats and people.
Dolphins are often readily seen from the coast or a boat. Bottlenose dolphins abound in many coastal areas, the IndoPacific humpback in a few, and most readily seen at Tin Can Bay, Qld.
Seals and sea-lions are readily seen on Kangaroos Island, Tasmania and parts of the mainland’s south coast.
Fruitbat colonies – with large, noisy bats hanging conspicuously from the trees, are found in many areas of eastern Australia, especially up north, and along parts of the Top End. Smaller bats are numerous and diverse, and found throughout Australia, but generally not so easy to see.
Bush rats and other native rodents are common in some campgrounds. Native rodents generally are common throughout most habitats away from the cities (where introduced mice and rats predominate) but are small and nocturnal so difficult to see, and there are a few rare and endangered species. Water rats may sometimes be seen resting on logs or creek banks at night, but you need a lot of patience! Some rodents can be seen in captivity (e.g. hopping mice and Plains rats at the David Fleay WIldlife Park, Queensland)
There are over 850 species of birds in Australia and 46% of species are endemic (found nowhere else). Five families of bird are endemic to Australia and another nine families are endemic to the region encompassing Australia, New Guinea and neighboring islands.
Australia has an unusually high diversity of parrots (55 species), causing many visitors a delighted amazement at the bright colours of birds found even in our suburbs. The playfulness of wild cockatoos (of which Australia is home to most of the world’s species)and the sheer numbers in outback flocks surprise many.
Australia also has the world’s highest number of seabird species (about 80), and supports very high densities of migratory waders that travel from countries, mainly further north.
We have rattites (large flightless birds) along with other Gondwanan countries, such as ostriches in Africa and rheas in South America. Australia’s rattites are the emus of open heathland, woodlands and desert, and the cassowary of the northeastern forests.
Primitive songbirds (passerines) are found in Australia and New Zealand and it is thought by some researchers that the ancestors of the world’s songbirds originated in our part of Gondwana.
Lyrebirds, the world’s best mimics, are amongst the ‘suboscines’ or primitive songbirds. They also do an incredible courtship dance with their wonderful shimmering tails held fountain-like above their heads. They are found nowhere else in the world.
Birds of Paradise are identified mainly with New Guinea, but Australia has four species (3 in far north Queensland, one in southeast Queensland and New South Wales)
Bowerbirds are found only in Australia and New Guinea. The male makes and decorates an elaborate bower to attract females.
Where to see them. Emus are common in the outback and a few coastal heathland areas. Cassowaries are confined to north Queensland forests. Both can be seen in many zoos and wildlife parks. Lyrebirds are in dense southeeaster forests up to southeast Queensland, bowerbirds in northeastern forests and woodlands. Honeyeaters and parrots are found throughout Australia, although of course different species occupy different parts. There are several excellent guidebooks to refine your search, and various tour companies offer birding tours or accommodation in great birding sites
Australian reptiles are divided into these commonly recognized groups:
- Lizards and snakes, the order Squamata
- Turtles, the order Testudines and
- Crocodiles, the order Crocodilia.
The relatively dry climate in Australia has favored a high diversity of reptiles, with over 830 species currently known and 89% of those being endemic.
The most diverse group of Australian reptiles are the lizards. There are 617 species commonly known as goannas, skinks, geckos, dragon lizards, and flap-footed lizards (also called snake-lizards or legless lizards).
There are more skinks in Australia than any other country.
The large prehistoric goannas are related to the monitors of Africa and the Komodo dragon (a long-extinct Australian goanna was actually larger than its Komodo relative).
The true dragons include the famous frill-necked lizard any many other species, including the odd thorny devil pictured above, the family being named after brightly-coloured gliding species in southeast Asia.Many of them look iguana-like, but there are no iguanas native to Australia.
The flap-footed lizards are a primarily Australian group of lizard, related to the geckos
Australia is also internationally recognized for its snakes, especially its reputation for having many of the world’s most venomous species. e also have many nonvenomous or weakly-venomous species.
Snakebites are rare, and are generally easily avoided by not walking through long grass or carelessly reaching into dark corners. Stamp your feet to warn snakes if you do have to go through long grass, checking the ground in front of you when walking on a warm night. Do not reach into dark places such as under logs or into bags that have been outside for a while or in rodent-inhabited sheds without looking first.
Snakes do not see people as prey and generally only bite if they are startled or feel under threat. They will generally move out of your way quickly. The best thing to do is to stand still and let them pass.
There are 188 species of snakes in Australia, including the blind snakes, pythons, collubrid (rear-fanged) snakes, elapid (front-fanged) snakes, sea kraits and sea snakes. Now that taxonomists have separated pythons and boas, Australia has more pythons than any other country.
The crocodile family consists of only two species in Australia, the saltwater crocodile (found from Australia to India) and the freshwater crocodile (endemic to Australia).
Salt-water crocodiles are the largest reptile in the world today, and do very definitely see humans as prey – they have caused several human deaths. They are mostly restricted to coastal rivers and swamps in northern and north-eastern Australian coastal regions.
Fresh-water crocodiles will usually only bite in self-defence and do not attempt to capture humans.
Frogs are unusually diverse in Australia, with approximately 211 native species. All but one is endemic either to Australia or to Australia and New Guinea. Australian native frogs are currently classified into four families Hylidae, Myobatrachidae, Microhylidae and Ranidae.
91% of Australian species belong to the families Hylidae and Myobatrachidae. These families are now thought to be endemic to Australia and New Guinea, but related to South American families via a common Gondwanan ancestry.
There are no toads, newts or salamanders, although several ‘bumpy’ species of frog are called ‘toads’ or ‘toadlets’. One species of toad, the cane toad (Bufo marinus) has been introduced with disastrous effects on our wildlife.
Australia has a relatively small number of species of native freshwater fish (194), but 71% of these species are endemic to Australia and New Guinea.
Due to threats facing Australia’s freshwater systems, 21% of native freshwater fish are considered either rare, vulnerable or endangered.
Australia’s coastal waters however are among the most species-rich on earth, with approximately 3400 species of fish alone, most of which are endemic (that is, found nowhere else).
Terrestrial and Freshwater Invertebrates
There are many more invertebrates than vertebrates throughout the world. By far the largest group of terrestrial invertebrates is the arthropods, comprising insects, spiders, ticks, mites, scorpions, centipedes, and millipedes.
Australia has 26 of the world’s 29 orders of insects, yet many new species of insect are being discovered every year, and it is estimated that there are well over 225,000 species in Australia.
The glow worms (actually fly larvae), which live in caves and rocky creek banks and glow to attract their prey, are found only in Australia and New Zealand. The insects called glow worms in the Northern Hemisphere are the larvae of fire-flies, which are in fact beetles. The glow worm caves are a popular tourist attraction in both countries. Fire-flies are also quite common in some forested areas.
Butterflies are many and varied, belonging to five major families: whites and yellows (Pieridae), nymphs and kin (Nymphalidae), coppers and blues (Lycaenidae), swallowtails (Papilionidae), and skippers (Hesperidae). There are also beautiful jewel beetles, colourful dragonflies and many other highly attractive insects.
Termites in the northern outback build ‘cities’ of gigantic homes, and throughout most of Australia you can see smaller terrestrial or arboreal termite nests, some of which (especially the arboreal ones) are frequently used by kingfishers to make their own nests in.
Freshwater invertebrates include molluscs, leeches, spiders, water mites and a range of insects such as stoneflies, mayflies, water ‘scorpions’, water beetles, water bugs, mosquitoes and midges. More widely known are the crustaceans such as freshwater crayfish, crabs and yabbies.
The very high diversity of marine life in Australian waters is related to the wide latitudinal range of marine habitats, and the presence of the world’s largest intact coral reef – the Great Barrier Reef.
The main groups of invertebrates found underwater and along the shore are sponges, coelenterates, worms, crustaceans, molluscs, bryozoans, echinoderms and urochordates.
Where to see them. The Great Barrier Reef is justly famous, and many tours head to this amazing natural wonder. Fewer visitors no about other coral reefs, such as those at Ningaloo, which can be explored with Oceanwise, or the dives off the southern coast to see leafy seadragons.
Australia is home to a wonderfully diverse range of plants (flora).
There are over 20,000 species and the majority of these are endemic to Australia. Approximately 85% of the flowering species are found nowhere else in the world!
The flora here is also extraordinarily well adapted to the harsh conditions of the Australian environment – fire, drought and infertile soils.
Although there is a diverse range of plant species, the Eucalyptus (Gums) and the Acacia (Wattle) dominate much of the landscape, with over 850 Eucalyptus species and 1000 Acacia species.
As you travel inland, eucalypts become sparser and more stunted, and Acacia takes over as the dominant woody plant. Further into the outback even the acacias become sparse and are replaced by spinifex, saltbush and other arid land plants.
Lush and ancient rainforests include tropical, subtropical and temperate forms, with variations within these.
Brilliant wildflowers adorn many heathlands and open forest areas, the most famous being those of the southwest corner.
Some of this information was taken (with permission) from: Green, R.J., Higginbottom, K. and Northrope, C.L. 2001. Wildlife Tourism Research Report No. 7, Status Assessment of Wildlife Tourism in Australia Series, A Tourism Classification of Australian Wildlife. CRC for Sustainable Tourism, Gold Coast, Queensland.