Because Australia is an island, and has been for millions of years, its wildlife has been able to evolve independently.
The animals of Australia are particularly interesting because many of them are distinctly primitive. There are groups of animals whose relatives have long since disappeared from other parts of the world. Many of the animals found in this country are unique.
Australia is home to a variety of native mammals both on land and in the surrounding oceans. They consist of marsupials, monotremes and placental mammals. The largest number of the mammals, almost half, are the marsupials, which include the Kangaroo, Koala and Wombat. The word marsupial is derived from the Latin marsupium, which means pouch. The pouch gives protection to the very young animal and contains the teats from which it feeds. Nourished on its mother's milk, it grows in the pouch to a well-developed stage before it leaves the pouch. The only other country where marsupials are still found is America, and only a few species remain.
The next group of mammals are the monotremes, the only egg-laying mammals in the world. They have one opening which serves for reproduction and for the elimination of waste products. This group is represented by the Platypus and the Echidna.
The other native land mammals are the bats, rats, mice and the Dingo.
Australia's bird species include the Emu and Kookaburra.
MAMMALS: Marsupials, Monotremes and Placental
A small marsupial that ranges in size from a rat to a rabbit. They have pointed ears and tapering snouts. Bandicoots eat both plants and small animals. They are nocturnal, solitary animals. for more info
Belonging to the same family as bandicoots and commonly known as a rabbit-eared bandicoot. It has the same head and body shape except it has longer ears. The bilby has silky fur and a long tail with a bush tip. for more info
(Plural: dingoes or dingos)
Australia's native dog, believed to have been brought here on rafts or boats, by the ancestral aborigines. It is different from the modern dog in several ways: it yelps and howls, but it does not bark, it has a different gait, and its ears are always erect.
Dingos are about the size of a sheep-dog and they are usually creamy to reddish-yellow, but other colours are sometimes seen. for more info
The spiny ant-eater, one of the most primitive order of mammals, a monotreme. They are egg-laying mammals, and lay only one egg at a time. The egg is incubated in the pouch. Once hatched, it remains in the pouch until its spines appear. It does not become independent until it is about one year old.
Their main food is ants.
They look like a hedgehog or porcupine but are not related. Their backs and sides are covered with spines and coarse hair. When in danger they roll themselves into a ball or can dig itself into sand or earth with a great rapidity. for more info
Australia's best known and largest living marsupial, which has become recognised as our national animal. There are about 45 species. The Red Kangaroo (pictured), is the largest, usually only the males have the red-tinged coat, which gives it its name, and the females are more blue-grey.
Kangaroos live almost entirely on herbage or plants. Except for certain tree-dwellers, they are ground-living animals and they move by great bounding leaps on their hind legs, with the tail used for balance. The tail also serves as a prop when the animal is grazing or standing. They prefer to live in groups and can travel at speeds of up to 65km/h. They are normally of a gentle disposition but the male can become savage when at bay, and sometimes in captivity.
The koala is not a bear but a marsupial. Of all of Australia's animals, it has perhaps the widest appeal. Except when teased or frightened, it is as inoffensive as it looks.They live in, and feed on the young leaves of eucalypt trees. They are good climbers but slow and clumsy on the ground. They sleep most of the day in the fork of a tree, foraging for food at night.
They are rather plump and about two feet long when fully grown. It has thick grey woolly fur on top and yellowish-white below. It has a leathery nose, large rounded ears and pouchy cheeks.
Being marsupials, their young are born in an immature state and continue to grow in their mother's pouch for the next six months. It then emerges but still occupies the pouch for another two months and is then carried on the mother's back until about twelve months. for more info
Australia's other monotreme mammal (the other being the echidna). They have a duck-like leathery bill, a furred body, a flattened tail like a beaver, and four webbed feet with claws. Whilst the male has a poisonous spur, about half an inch in length, on the inside of each hind leg, no human deaths have been recorded. The maximum length for a male is 24 inches and 20 inches for a female.
They are expert swimmers and divers and can stay under water for several minutes. They are strong burrowers. They make two burrows, one for general living quarters and the other for breeding. for more info
Wombats are marsupials, greyish, beaver-like in appearance, and they do have tails.
Strong burrowers, they live almost entirely on grasses.
They dig very quickly and make a burrow from 10 to 15 feet long with a nest of bark at the end.
Only a single young wombat is born at a time. Immature wombats can be easily tamed and make agreeable pets. for more info
Although found in many parts of the country, the Black Swan has become associated with Western Australia and is the emblem of that State.
One of the most graceful of aquatic birds, it has glossy black plumage set off by a bright red beak and white wing-quills.
Both the male and female build the nest and share the care of the young. Unlike many swans, they usually nest in colonies.
The largest living bird after the ostrich, and unique to Australia. Their wings are small, the flight feathers being soft and flimsy. The legs, by contrast, are strong and powerful, so whilst they cannot fly, they can run up to 50km per hour. They are also strong swimmers.
It lives throughout the country, avoiding the most heavily forested areas and the treeless spinifex desert. Except when breeding they live mostly in small parties. In drought years they can become pests in the pastoral areas.They live on wild fruits, berries and grass.
The Gang-gang Cockatoo is a small stocky cockatoo with a wispy crest, large broad wings and a short tail.
The adult male has a distinctive scarlet red head and crest, with the rest of the body slate-grey.
The adult female has a dark grey head and crest, with the feathers of the underparts edged pink and yellow.
The Gang-gang Cockatoo is the faunal emblem for the Australian Capital Territory.
The largest of the kingfishers.
It has a diet of insects, small reptiles, crabs, rats, mice, as well as gifts of meat from the kitchen. It does have nest-robbing habits.
It nests in termites' nests in trees, or in hollow trees, and lays two to four white eggs.
Lyrebirds can best be described as plain brown birds about the size of a bantam but with long tails. Their most striking feature is the beautiful tail of the male which, when spread out in display, resembles the shape of the old-fashioned musical instrument, the lyre. It is also known to imitate the calls of other birds.
The wings of the lyrebird are short and rounded and it does not fly well, preferring to escape danger by running through the undergrowth. If feeding on a slope, it can flap and and glide out of harm's way.
It feeds on insects, worms, snails and little sand hoppers that are found amongst fallen leaves and rotting logs on the forest floor.
Also known as the sulphur-crested cockatoo, because of its lemon-coloured crest, it is one of Australia's best-known birds. In captivity it is a proficient talker and a popular pet.
They live in great flocks and rise like a white cloud from the ground. When feeding, they use their powerful beaks to dig out roots, bulbs and seeds.
They usually nest in holes in trees but sometimes in cavities in cliffs. They lay two white eggs.
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