By Amanda Little
Whether you're trekking through the Outback or making your way through the hustle and bustle of Sydney, you're sure to encounter some interesting wildlife in Australia. From wild dogs roaming beaches to foot-long spiders hiding under the fridge, Australia is a magical place filled with wonderful creatures.
The most iconic animal of Australia is the kangaroo. These cute marsupials look tame, but make no mistake, this is Australia. A group of kangaroos is called a mob, and Red Kangaroos can be a little over 5 feet tall with sharp claws on their feet and hands. They can lean back on their sturdy tail and “box” with their hind legs, delivering a powerful kick, which is sometimes necessary to fight off dingos. Kangaroos can also run up to 35 mph with their long and powerful hind legs, and can cover up to 25 feet in a single leap. While the Red Kangaroo is the most well-known, there are also gray kangaroos, which are much smaller and their fur is a slate gray with a blue tint, instead of the tawny red that’s known so well. While Red Kangaroos inhabit grasslands, gray kangaroos are found among forest settings.
Another marsupial (not a bear) in the Land Down Under, the Koala is known for looking like the best kind of teddy bear to cuddle. But these gray fuzzballs tend to be a little grouchy, and definitely lazy. They sleep around 18 hours a day, and munch nearly non-stop on eucalyptus to meet their daily 2-pound quota. Koalas weigh in around 30 lbs and grow to be a little over two feet long. Their strong limbs leave them perfectly suited for living in trees, and their coat is thick, wooly, and can be either the classic gray, or reddish brown. Koalas have a very strong sense of smell, which lets them differentiate between the 700 types of eucalyptus they love to eat.
Tasmania, an island state off the coast of Australia, is home to one of the fiercest little fighters in the animal kingdom - the Tasmanian devil. While these fuzzy critters don’t spin in a cyclone destroying everything in their path, the Tasmanian devil will still consume up to 10% of their body weight in a day, and they’ll eat almost any meat they come across. For these little animals only 26 inches long on average, they have strong jaws, little barrel-shaped bodies, dark fur with the occasional splash of white across the chest, and penchant for fighting with their own kind. Biting and screaming is common when these otherwise solitary creatures gather to eat, but the biggest danger to the Tasmanian devil right now is a contagious cancer called devil facial tumor. Conservation efforts are being applied to help keep the species alive.
Everyone’s favorite misfit, the platypus is possibly the strangest animal on the planet, and they’re only found in Australia. With beaver-like tails and duck-like bills and webbed feet, they are one of the few mammals that lay eggs. Platypuses burrow themselves into riverbanks when they’re not hunting for shellfish and shrimp. Males also have venomous barbs on their hind legs that are only active during mating season. While their venom is non-lethal to humans, it is still incredibly painful. With all of these odd facts and their unusual look, one of the first scientists to examine this cute oddity thought the animal was a hoax!
There are only two monotreme, or egg-laying mammal, species in the world. The one everyone knows about is the platypus. The less popular one is the spiny-yet-adorable echidna. To make them even cuter, echidnas have no teeth, and their babies are called puggles! They look like tiny porcupines, being only a foot to a foot and a half long. They have long, sticky tongues that make eating ants and termites easy, and have a powerful sense of smell to find their buggy breakfasts. When threatened by feral cats, foxes, or dingos, they curl up into a ball to expose their spines, making them a difficult meal. They’re found all over Australia, and have remained the same since prehistoric times!
Do your best to not pet the reddish, golden yellow dogs wandering throughout Australia. Even though they look like cute dogs, dingos are most certainly wild animals. While most of them are tawny in color, those that live in the forest will actually have dark coats with tan markings, and a very small percentage of dingos live in the alpine region, where they have creamy, light-colored coats. Dingos are mostly solitary, but can hunt in packs of up to 10 with adolescents or offspring. Dingos are mostly carnivores, but can eat anything, and can’t bark. They howl to communicate instead. Their prey includes rabbits, rats, magpie geese, and wallaby, but packs can band together to attack kangaroos. There are even stories about dingos eating babies. Because their numbers are so large, they’re considered pests, and a 3,400-mile long fence was put up in the 1900s to protect sheep flocks, and is now called the Dingo Fence.
Standing at a stunning six feet tall, emus are the second-tallest living bird in the world, aside from the ostrich, and the third-largest living bird in Australia, behind the Southern Cassowary and ostrich. Males incubate their beautiful blue-green eggs for eight weeks while females wander away. These impressive birds can sprint up to 30 mph, eat everything from plants and bugs to small lizards and rodents, and won the Great Emu War against ex-soldiers from Australia and British Veterans, armed with Lewis guns, which were the leading automatic rifle of the time.
This pint-sized marsupial rivals the koala in cuteness, and wins out in temperment. The unique sugar glider can glide nearly 150 feet thanks to the wing-like skin stretching from their front legs to their back, has opposable thumbs and four fingers on their hands and feet, and lives in a colony with 20-40 other sugar gliders. Sugar gliders are very small, only growing about 25 inches long, including their long, fluffy tails, and only weigh from 3 to 5 ounces. Sometimes they’re kept as pets in certain parts of Australia and the United States.
This particular spider likes to hide behind curtains, under refrigerators, under toilet seats, behind dressers, and generally any place that is small and likely to give you a scare. While the huntsman spider is a bit of a homebody, it’s completely harmless. They’re giant cowards, literally. Most only grow up to a leg span 5 inches, but they can get up to a leg span of 12 inches, and they are way more likely to bolt than bite. While they can bite humans, it isn’t considered harmful.
This little spotted marsupial is on the endangered species list, and is the smallest of the quoll species found in Australia. The Tiger Quoll is nearly twice the size of the Northern Spotted Quoll, but all are carnivorous. The word quoll is Aboriginal, and quolls are only found in Australia. The smaller quolls are very often found in trees, but all species are good climbers, and males die almost immediately after breeding season, making it easy for fox and other predators to attack and eat the young. There has been discussion for making quolls available as pets to maintain their numbers.
This lizard belongs to the dragon family, and for good reason! Growing to about 3 feet long and with a startling frill around their neck, a Frilled Lizard trying to intimidate can certainly scare off a predator. Luckily, these lizards acre actually quite harmless. Affectionately nicknamed “frillies” by Aussies, the only danger they present is a scare. While they can stand on their back feet with their frill up and their mouth open to display sharp teeth, they mostly rely on camouflage to protect themselves, so spotting one at all is a little difficult. However if you do startle a frilly and it pops up, wait it out. The lizard will turn and run away on its hind legs in a hysterical wobbly walk!
One look at a cassowary will bring you straight back to prehistoric times. These highly territorial, very aggressive birds have a unique horn-like protrusion on the tops of their heads (called a casque), vestigial wings, and top speeds of about 30 mph. As if that weren’t enough, cassowaries also have a nearly five foot vertical jump, as well as long, sharp claws on each of their three toes. These birds are herbivores, mainly eating fruits and berries, but will also hunt down rodents, lizards, and other small prey. Females are bigger than males, and more brightly colored, because males sit on a clutch of eggs to incubate them and then raise the chicks. Males will teach baby cassowaries how to forage, and eventually drive them away as they get bigger.
Even though the box jellyfish is not technically considered a jellyfish, it’s still the scariest plastic bag-like fish floating through the ocean. The box jellyfish has four distinct sides, hence the name. When referring to the box jellyfish, most people mean the large Australian species, however there is also a very small species, about the size of a thumbnail, called the Irukangji, which is just as deadly. However, the Australian box jellyfish can have a 10-inch diameter, while its stinging tentacles can grow up to 10 feet long. With 15 tentacles on each corner of the box, a translucent blue coloring, and propelling speeds of up to four knots, this makes the jellyfish hard to see and faster than the usual jellyfish, on top of being deadly. Luckily, the box jellyfish also has a highly sophisticated eye system, with clusters of eyes on each side of the box, and is quite adept at avoiding even small pieces of debris it doesn’t want to bump into. Box jellyfish will very likely do their best to avoid a human in the water.
The odd laughing call of the kookaburra is easy to distinguish among other bird calls, especially when wandering through the eucalyptus forests in Eastern Australia. Kookaburra females can grow up to 18 inches in length, and weigh up to a pound, with beaks reaching a maximum of four inches. While kookaburras mostly eat insects and small vertebrates, they also occasionally eat fowl, much to the frustration of Australian fowl farmers. A kookburra is easy to hear, but with its shock of white plumage, black and brown back, and reddish tail, it’s also easy to see.
This tiny, brightly-colored octopus is deceptively deadly, and is considered by many as one of the world’s most venomous animals. This octopus likes to spend its time in tide pools in Australia and Japan, and is frequently encountered by wading humans. If you see a tiny octopus light up with blue rings, get away, and quickly! The bright blue rings are a warning to a provoked or startled octopus, and if scared or stepped on, it will bite. Because there is no antivenom, a bite from a blue ringed octopus can kill an adult human in just a few minutes.
The happiest animal on earth is found throughout Western Australia, but your best bet to see this inquisitive cutie is on Rottnest Island. While quokkas usually gather around watering holes with tall grass for shade and protection, quokkas will also wander right up to humans! Cyclists, hikers, and those just going for a stroll, particularly on Rottnest Island, may have a curious, fuzzy, friendly-faced quokka approach them. Sometimes hoping for water, sometimes curious about the new visitors, and sometimes looking for a selfie, the quokkas are beloved by all.
Australian Saltwater Crocodiles
Affectionately nicknamed “salties” by Australians, the Australian Saltwater Crocodile is arguably the most dangerous predator in Northern Australia. Even though the name says saltwater, these crocodiles can live in saltwater or brackish water, and their young are raised in freshwater. Male crocodiles can grow up to 23 feet long, females usually max out around 10 feet, and weigh in over 2200 lbs, however most crocodiles average around 16 feet long. They usually eat small reptiles, fish, turtles, and birds, however they can also go after larger prey like wild pigs, buffalo, and livestock like cattle or horses. With massive jaws that can exert several tons of pressure, powerful back legs, and lightning-quick reflexes, not much is off the menu for a saltie. In spite of the name, you can find these giant reptiles all over the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and occasionally in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and India.
Unless your wish is to see the cutest little blue penguins, Fair Penguins, or Little Penguins, aren’t likely to grant your wish, but they will bring you joy! These adorable Australian and New Zealand penguins are the smallest species of penguin, measuring only 13 inches in height, and have slate-gray and blue plumage, with silvery eyes. Colonies of Australian Fairy Penguins mostly exist on offshore islands like Neptune Island, West and Wright Island, and even Kangaroos Island, where they can be protected from predators and humans. There are many day-trip tours to visit these penguins, which are an incredibly popular attraction for visitors and local animal fans alike.