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If someone says “wild Australian animals”, there’s no doubt that most of us will think snakes, crocodiles, koalas and kangaroos. It seems these are the only ones that people ever talk about and the internet is awash with articles and picturesof the same few animals. Surely with such a vast country there’s many more that you don’t really hear of!?
There certainly is! With such vast area and varied climates, Australia has a massively diverse wildlife portfolio. It goes without saying I could not cover anywhere near all of them in this post but we shall cover 5 of the most prolific and amazing animals that you don’t really hear too much about.
Out of all the animals I saw in Australia, I’ve got to say these were the most captivating. There’s just something about a bird of prey…
Coming from the UK, I know there are some eagles that live in north Scotland but seeing them in the wild is well, like finding rocking-horse s**t. The biggest birds we see on a regular basis here are pigeons and seagulls. In comparison, the wedge-tailed eagle is like a Pterodactyl from the Jurassic.
The wedge-tailed eagle is the biggest bird of prey in Australia, and 3rd biggest eagle in the world. Weighing in, at up to 5.5kg, standing 1m tall and with a wingspan ranging up to 2.3m these eagles can carry away nearly half their own body weight.
The main food source of the wedge-tailed eagle are rabbits, lizards, smaller birds and roadkill. They mainly hunt singly but sometimes, they’ll hunt in a large group to take down even a fully grown kangaroo. Every now and again, one will even take a small lamb, but more often than not it would be carcasses of lambs which would be eagle food. Nevertheless, this has lead to farmers being convinced that eagles are killing all of their lambs and going out to hunt/poison them even though they are legally protected.
Wedge-tailed eagles mate for life and generally have nests 1-4km apart depending on how much prey is available in the surrounding area. They can be found in every state in Australia, as well as southern New Guinea.
In my opinion the best place to see these amazing creatures in the wild is north WA, just drive up the coast road and you are pretty much guaranteed to see plenty of eagles stood at the side of the road eating road killed kangaroos. It’s funny they are completely happy to stand there while you drive past at 80kph, within meters of them but stop 50m up the road, get out to take a picture and they’re off.
Definitely something to see on the west coast.
Australia has more species of lizard than anywhere else on the planet. From the small “cute” gecko, the larger blue tongue to the substantial monitor lizards.
“Goannas” is the name given to the Australian monitor lizards by the first European settlers, of which there are 20 differing species. With the largest growing to around 2 meters in length.
In all but the hottest areas in the north the Goannas will burrow in and hibernate in winter (May- August).
Goannas are armed with long claws, extremely sharp teeth and a crushing bite. Loose flaps of skin around their necks is able to be puffed up to make themselves appear bigger to predators. They tend to get used to humans being around pretty quickly and don’t seem to be afraid of us too much, so you can get pretty close. You should always keep in mind those razor sharp teeth, get your fingers too close and you might find yourself a couple of fingers short of a peace sign.
Goannas eat pretty much anything they can catch. Fast across the ground and very capable of climbing means there ain’t much that isn’t on the menu. Insects, birds, eggs, snakes and even smaller lizards are the usual diet. Like a snake they an even unhinge their bottom jaw to eat prey larger than you would think possible.
Well we all know about the kangaroo but what about the wallaby!? Pretty much the same thing aren’t they? Well yeah not so far of, as far as appearance goes anyway. There size does mean you can get up close and personal with on for a quick selfie if you are such inclined. This is not something I would recommend with a 6ft red kangaroo!
The name wallaby is pretty vague, as it means macro pod of moderate to small size. The wallaby is from the same family as the kangaroo and native to Australia and New Guinea. There are 11 species of wallaby in total, with most being 78cm – 180cm head to tail. While the dwarf wallaby usually only grows to 46cm and weighing in at a poultry 1.6kg.
Over the years many have been hunted to dangerous levels, all for the fur and meat (great us humans aren’t we!!). As well as us humans wallabies have a few other predators including foxes, feral cats, wild dogs and many are hit by cars. The only defense a wallaby has is a nasty kick to warn off predators.
The main diet is vegetables, grasses, leaves and other foliage. They prefer to live in remote, heavily wooded areas over semi arid plains.
Wallabies habitat is Australia wide but because they prefer remote areas, they take some finding and if you want to get close, slow and quiet is the only way.
Kookaburra – soundtrack of the outback
Kookaburras come from the kingfisher family. In the early 19th century the kookaburra was known as the “laughing jackass” because of how their call resembles a loud prolonged laugh. Dawn and dusk it’s all you’ll hear! Everyday you’re walking through the bush and there it is again, laughing at you!!
The laugh of a kookaburra is just so unbelievably loud, you always hear them but rarely see them, their call can heard from long distances away. “OOOOO-HOOOOO-OOOOO-HOOOOO-HA-HA-HAHAHAHA” I remember the first day I heard the kookaburras laugh, I was sure there weren’t any monkeys in Australia but there must be, I can hear them. Much to Australian Dave’s amusement, “every rookie backpacker gives the same reaction”.
Guaranteed at some point someone must have got lost in the outback with no food or water, feeling like the worlds against them and it can’t get any worse…. And then the kookaburras start laughing! Now it can’t get any worse!!
The odds are even if you have never stepped foot in Australia, you’ve heard a kookaburra. Well how does that work? It works because for years now the kookaburras famous laugh has been used in many films such as “Tarzan” and “Jurassic park”. Click the link above you’ll recognize it.
Kookaburras live mainly in east Australia, from the deep south all the way up to Cape York. Prefering eucalypti forest and wooded areas but also quiet at home in your back garden. They’ll even nest in termite mounds.
On the whole they are pretty timid and if you’re lucky you may be able to get one to eat out of your hand.
A kookaburra will live for around 15 years and grow up to 42cm, weighing in at nearly half a kilo, nowhere near as big as the wedge-tailed eagle but a substantial bird nonetheless.
They eat lizards, insects, of course worms and snakes!? Why does everything eat snakes? I’m not being funny but a half kilo bird eating snakes… I’m a 11st man and out of all the snakes I have seen in Australia, I’m sorry but I just ain’t tackling no snake!!
One of the most remarkable things about the kookaburra is, they lay 3 eggs, of which, the larger 2 chicks kill the weaker one and then for the next few years the non-breeding offspring stay in the territory and help rear and feed next years young as well as protecting the family territory.
So yeah that’s the kookaburra a.k.a the “bushman’s alarm clock”.
Termites and their mounds.
Yes I know termites are not classed as animals, they are insects but they are just one part of the wildlife I saw that really sticks with me so I thought I would add them. Well not so much the termites themselves but more the “termitariums” they make.
The termitariums are built from soil, saliva and, well termite poo. A single mound can be active for 100 years.
One you get up into the north of Australia from Broome to Cape York, you’ll see termite mounds. Mounds as far as the eye can see! Field upon field, just littered with termite mounds up to 6 meters tall, 30 meters in circumference and weighing up to 10 tonnes! people have been known to crash into these things and lets just say the mound could have been stood there for 80 years… Your crappy ford laser doesn’t stand a chance!
These things are huge and everywhere. People have vandalized some of them in the form of spraying faces on them, now while I don’t condone this type of behavior, you can’t help but smile when you see a good one.
Worldwide there are around 2000 species of termite ans Australia has 350 of them, with 20 species being the destructive type that if you have a wooden house… You’re in the brown stuff!
Every so often an “invader”, normally a lizard, python or spider will take refuge in a termite mound, much to the termites dismay. The termites have two options. One, send in the soldiers and try force the intruder out or in the case of something too big, simply just seal off part of the mound around the intruder and make new tunnels elsewhere.
There’s a fair bit of history with humans and termites in Australia. Two things in particular.
One: An old Aboriginal ritual was when one of them died they would cut open a termite mound, place the dead body inside and the termites would rebuild their termitarium around the deceased, creating a kind of natural tomb.
Two: The first European explorers used the mounds as an oven. They cut a large hole out of one side and a smaller one out of the other for the chimney. Apparently they made a very efficient oven. You can still find animal bones in them to this day.
To wrap it up…
So there you have it there are more wild Australian animals than just kangaroos, crocodile and koalas. These are just some of the ones I was impressed with that you don’t hear too much of.
Have you seen any of the wild Australian animalds I have written about in this post, I’d love to hear your experiences….