Australia has some of the world’s most unique and interesting wildlife. Some are very well known such as koalas and kangaroos, others may not be so familiar to visitors. You can get up close to many of them in zoos and wildlife parks and many can be seen in their natural habitat. Discovering Australia’s animals is often high on the to-do list of visitors to the country.
Australia’s mammalian wildlife is unique from the rest of the world. The dingo, or wild dog, is our largest carnivorous mammal, while the numbat, quoll and Tasmanian devil are each generally the size of an average house cat.
Dingoes can be found all around Australia, except for Tasmania, and the best places to spot them include Queensland’s Fraser Island, The Kimberley in Western Australia and across the deserts of the Northern Territory and South Australia.
Endangered quolls are difficult to spot in the wild but inhabit the wet forests of south-eastern Australia and Tasmania, and a small area of northern Queensland. The bilby can be seen in Francois Peron National Park in Western Australia.
Australia has more than 140 species of marsupials, including kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, and wombats. The 55 different native species of kangaroos and wallabies vary greatly in size and weight, ranging from half a kilogram (1 pound) to 90 (198.4 pounds) kilograms.
Despite popular belief, the native koala is not a bear. Spot koalas at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve near Canberra, Port Stephens in New South Wales, Phillip Island in Victoria and the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Queensland.
The wombat is a stout, burrowing animal that can weigh up to 36 kilograms (79.4 pounds). Some of the best places to see them in the wild are the Blue Mountains National Park in New South Wales, Wilsons Promontory in Victoria and Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park in Tasmania.
Another animal group found only in Australia is the monotremes, or egg-laying mammals. The most distinctive is the platypus, a river-dwelling animal with a bill like a duck, a furry waterproof body and webbed feet. Platypuses live in burrows, which they dig into the banks of rivers. They are difficult to spot, but your best chance to see them is in small streams and calm rivers along the east coast, such as the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve near Canberra, Lake Elizabeth in Victoria’s Great Otway National Park and in northern New South Wales and Queensland.
The echidna, otherwise known as the spiny anteater, is another of Australia’s monotremes. It has a prickly coat like a hedgehog or porcupine – Kangaroo Island is one of the best places to spot them in the wild.
Australia has more venomous snakes than any other continent with 21 of the world’s 25 deadliest. But not all Australian snakes are poisonous. Australia is famous for its crocodiles; the freshwater crocodile, which is found nowhere else in the world, and the estuarine crocodile (also known as the saltwater crocodile). The Kimberley, Kakadu National Park and Cape York Peninsula are excellent places to see crocodiles in their natural habitat.
Of the seven species of marine turtles in the world, six can be found here including the flatback turtle, green sea turtle, hawksbill turtle, leatherback turtle, loggerhead turtle and olive ridley turtle. The best spots to see turtles are Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia and Eco Beach in Broome.
There are more than 800 species of birds in Australia and about half cannot be found anywhere else. They range from tiny honeyeaters to the large, flightless emu, which stands nearly two metres (6.6 feet) tall. See cassowaries in our tropical rainforest, kookaburras in our open woodlands and emus in sclerophyll forests and savanna woodlands. Get up close to penguins on Kangaroo Island in South Australia and Philip Island in Victoria, or hear the winter call of the lyrebirds in Wollumbin National Park and in the Gondwana Rainforests in southeast Queensland.
The Australian marine environments support around 4,000 of the world’s 22,000 types of fish, as well as 30 of the world’s 58 sea grass species. Australia also has the world’s largest coral reef system, the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, where there are countless species of colourful fish, including the beautiful clownfish seen in Finding Dory. We also have around 1,700 different species of coral.
Larger marine species include the humpback, southern right and orca whales, the dugong (or manatee), several dolphin species and many different sharks. Catch a glimpse of the whales during their migration along the east coast from May to November, or swim with gentle whale sharks on Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia.
Kangaroo Island and Phillip Island are two of the best places to see beautiful Australian fur seals in the wild.
Australia is home to some of the most venomous spiders on the planet, however most are harmless and lower the overall numbers of flies, mosquitoes and other insects. Spiders come in many different shapes and sizes and can be found all over Australia, inhabiting a variety of ecosystems. Even thought spiders live in both urban centres and the bush, bites are infrequent.
You can learn more about the vast variety of Australian spiders here: https://australianmuseum.net.au/australian-spiders
Australia is known for its dangerous snakes, some equipped with venom more toxic than anywhere in the world; however bites are quite rare and, since the development of anti-venom, fatalities have been low.
Most snakes would rather slither away from humans than fight them but will attack when threatened so its always best if, when in the path of a snake, to move away and leave them alone.
Australia’s 10 most dangerous snakes can be found on the What Snake is that? website.