So, you haven’t been to Australia before. You may be curious or anxious (or both) about our wildlife.
Do kangaroos hop around the streets of Sydney? Is there anything on Earth that looks sillier than a platypus? Are drop bears real? And will every species you encounter in the wild be capable of killing you?
This is the Land Down Under and yes, we are wild about life and wild about wildlife!
Our animals can be crazy critters: unique, cute, cuddly, funny, furious and sometimes downright deadly … sometimes all of the above all at once.
While staying in the lap of luxury inside the Pier One Hotel, it’s unlikely you’ll be hunted by marauding marsupials; have your toes nibbled by saltwater croc; or have your toilet door kicked down a crazy cassowary.
Then again … you never know.
To help you sort fact from fiction about fauna here’s a mug’s guide all things furry, slimy, scaley, crawly and creepy.
It is as cute as it is rare. Only found in small numbers in the south-west corner of Western Australia, the quokka looks like a cat-sized kangaroo — but they’re more friendly than your average roo, happy to bound up to humans for a selfie.
If its eyes were any bigger, the sugar glider would look like a living, breathing, real-life version of a Pokemon. This adorable possum has a membrane connecting its forelegs and hind legs that allows it to glide through the air, floating around the trees of the north and east coasts of Australia.
When British biologist George Shaw first laid eyes on the platypus in 1799, he wrote that he thought it was a hoax, and even used a pair of scissors to examine whether some skilled taxidermist had sewn a duck’s bill onto a beaver’s body. Scientists eventually learned that this semi-aquatic egg-laying mammal was indeed very real, inhabiting the east of Australia.
These four-legged marsupials are so roly-poly it was almost like they were designed to be cuddled. Wombats are found waddling around wooded areas of south-eastern Australia and you can spot their habitat by their distinctive cube-shaped poo, which scatters the bush like little brown dice.
Sharks, crocodiles, jellyfish, stingrays … there’s no shortage of scary animals in Australia’s waterways, but the sea lion isn’t one of them. The puppies of the sea occupy the waters around the south-west coast of the country.
The tree-kangaroo is its own distinct arboreal species that’s native to the rainforests of tropical Far North Queensland. There are 14 known subspecies of tree-kangaroo but, sadly, the population is in perilous decline due to hunting and the destruction of habitat.
Fluffy ears, puppy dog eyes, big button nose, cuddly body, the kind of sleepy demeanour that comes with sleeping 20 hours a day… what’s not to love about the koala? The adored tree-dwelling marsupial is found right along the east and south coast of Australia — basically anywhere they can find a gum tree to laze around in.
British colonisation killed one species of bilby but another strain of these desert-dwelling, pointy-eared, long-nosed marsupials has survived in Central Australia, although they are considered endangered. In fact, many Australians tuck into chocolate bilbies each Easter as a conservation effort, replacing the traditional rabbit, which is a devastating pest Down Under.
Echidnas are so cute that you still want to give them a hug despite knowing that they’re covered with thousands of sharp spikes. Australia’s most widespread native mammal, the four species of echidna are the only surviving monotremes (egg-laying mammals) on earth, alongside the platypus.
They’re not hard to spot around the country at the moment as the population booms past the 50 million mark, outnumbering humans two to one. An adorable appearance hasn’t saved Skippy from ending up on the dinner plate, though, with experts encouraging Aussies to get some kangaroo meat on their forks to combat the over-population problem.
The blue-ringed octopi are generally found living in coral reefs and tide pools in both the Pacific and Indian Oceans – reaching from Australia to Japan. Each year several humans are bitten, and although the bites are usually painless, within five to ten minutes the victim can start to experience paresthesias, numbness, muscular weakness and a difficulty breathing and swallowing. Currently there is no antidote, the victim simply has to wait it out.
Jellyfish can be rather powerful killers. Their powerful venom lies in their 15 tentacles, that can reach the length of three metres, holding around 5,000 stinging cells each. The venom isn’t triggered by touch, rather it is triggered by the chemical on the outer-layer of their prey. Although there are around 50 different species of box jellyfish found in warm coastal waters, very few hold venom that are lethal to humans. Over the last 100 years, the box jellyfish has been responsible for over 60 deaths.
The heaviest bird in Australia, standing between 1.5 and two metres in height is the cassowary. Although they are frugivores (fruit eaters) and will not attack for any reason, they are very territorial birds. Most attacks on humans – resulting in people being kicked, pushed, pecked, charged at, jumped on and head butted – are due to the human wanting to feed the bird. If you need more of a reason to not feed them, their middle claw is 12cm in length and acts as a dagger that could result in serious damage.
Funnel Web spider
Australia is home to many deadly looking spiders, and plenty of them. Although spiders can be found anywhere in the world, the funnel-webs have grown a (mostly exaggerated) fearsome reputation. There are at least 40 species of funnel-webs identified, varying from one to 5cm in length; however not all of these species are known to be dangerous. An icon of fear and fascination, is the Sydney Funnel-web; holding venom that is one of the most toxic to humans. A bite from this venomous mygalomorph spider should be treated similarly to a snake bite.
Salt Water Crocodile
Said to be one of the most dangerous animals in Australia, the Saltwater Crocodile is an aggressive and territorial animal, and is the largest reptile in the world in terms of their mass – known to reach over 1000kg. Although males can reach up to seven metres in length, in reality any length over 5m is rather rare. This protected species is known to mainly eat small reptiles, turtles, fish and wading birds, but have also been seen taking wild pigs and livestock (including cattle and horses).
Australia is commonly thought of as having shark infested waters, resulting in many people avoiding the water. Whilst the three shark species most likely to attack humans are the Great White, Tiger Sharks and Bull Sharks; there is no certainty behind their attacks as they are random events. Throughout the last 100 years (reported in 2014) there were a total of 298 provoked shark attacks – 204 were injured, 56 left uninjured, and only 38 of these attacks were fatal.
Now, we could list each snake that is classified as one of Australia’s deadliest but there are just too many. In Australia, there have been around 140 species of land snakes and about 32 species of sea snakes identified, of which about 100 are venomous; although only 12 of these species could result in a wound that would actually kill you. The Eastern and Western Brown Snakes have been responsible for the most reported deaths where their venom is known to cause paralysis and blood clotting disorders, however, there is an anti-venom available in medical centres that can reverse this.
Since 2006, stingrays have gained a bad reputation due to the death of Steve Irwin, however, what many people fail to realise is that although they are cousins of sharks, they are very rarely a threat to humans. Irwin was not killed by the sting, rather he was pierced in the heart, as a result bleeding to death. Although this isn’t a lovely image to have, the stingray’s sting – located in the spear of their tale and their only form of defense – is very rarely life-threatening to humans.
Although there have been no deaths recorded in Australia since the arrival of Europeans, the Stonefish is the most venomous fish in the world that lies hidden in Aussie waters. With their excellent camouflage capabilities, they are rather difficult to notice until they are stepped on. Their venom is released by their 13 spines when pressure is applied to their spine, and can cause severe pain, heart failure and, if untreated, death. Known to be naturally slow swimmers, their attacks can be as quick as 0.015 seconds.
Textile Cone Snail
Everyone loves collecting shells, but this is one shell you may want to skip. Featuring a highly glossy shell with a desirable pattern of light to dark brown or yellowish markings, the Textile Cone Snail is, however, one of the most venomous species of cone snails living in Australia but can be found in the Indian Ocean from Hawaii to Africa. This snail, also known as the ‘cloth of gold’ uses conotoxin to kill their prey, where their harpoon-like tooth injects the venom into its prey through its microscopic needles that are powerful enough to not only penetrate human skin, but further, gloves and wetsuits.