Weird and Wonderful Australian Animals

G’Day!  Traveling Down Under is quite the adventure because of  the animals. Check out koalas, dingos, flying foxes, the Penguin Parade, hungry crocodiles, a Tasmanian Devil, and the world’s largest earthworms, to name a few.

Here’s a Wombat, an odd animal much beloved by Aussies. We have no clue why this would be, as it looks like a cross between a bear and a rat, with short legs, a very small tail, and no discernible personality.

You’ve GOT to go to Wombat World, (in the south of Victoria) where this photo was taken. You can get up close and personal with kangaroos and wallabies there, too.

Fairy Penguins are incredibly cute, shy little birds (about 12 inches high) that nest in burrows or in hollows under ledges. You can get a good, close-up look at hundreds of them if you visit Phillip Island (Victoria) — just be sure it’s the right time of year (We went several times; I’m trying to remember which was best. . . .)

Kangaroos, Wallabies, Wallaroos, and Pademelons come in many sizes and are adapted to live in many environments: desert, wet rainforests, golf courses, rocky mountainous areas, and even trees!

The Tasmanian Devil is a small but impressive carnivorous marsupial with a ba-a-a-a-ad growl and sharp fangs. It feeds more on carrion than on prey it actually catches; nevertheless, we felt seriously intimidated just looking at it through bars at the Healsville the Wild Animal Sanctuary.

You’ve got to actually SEE these endemic Giant Worms to believe them. There’s a small but very interesting worm zoo and museum with live specimens, photos showing the worms’ full length, a giant walk-through worm replica, and some worm-a-bilia. (Near Wombat World.)

Termites (also called “white ants”) build themselves incredible “apartment buildings” out of a concrete-like substance made of termite shit and saliva. These are huge, impressive structures, which you’ll certainly see if you spend any time in the Northern Territory. During World War II, the “ant hills” were ground up and used to make airplane runways.

Locals call these “magnetic” structures, and insist that they’re aligned with the earth’s magnetic field, but I think I read that it’s actually the angle of the sun they’re aligned with: the termites have somehow figured out how to get optimal shade during scorching days. We passed miles and miles of these; they make for an impressive, eerie, cemetary-like landscape.

The Echidna, or spiny anteater, is a monotreme (like the platypus). Biologically, they share a lot of features with reptiles. Echidnas lay eggs and suckle their young in a pouch until it begins to develop spines (when, not surprisingly, it is moved OUT of the pouch and into the den).

The Dingo is related to dogs, but wild dingoes have larger feet and bigger teeth than most dogs. Also, dingoes howl but don’t bark. Or so we’re told. Do they eat babies? Well, their main food is rabbits, and they are known to eat larger mammals, including sheep.

 

Saltwater Crocodiles can grow to more than 20 feet long, and they definitely consider human beingspossible meals. Prey is often killed by being dragged underwater, drowned, and dismembered, then stuck under a log and left to tenderize . . . . Just like that scene in Crocodile Dundee where the woman is getting some water, and a croc jumps out and grabs her necklace. According to a ranger, crocs really DO lie in wait for an animal to come back to a spot to drink, and then grab them!

A Koala spends its entire life in eucalyptus trees, leaving only to move from one tree to another. They sleep about 22 hours every day, and reportedly have a 6-foot-long appendix, to help digest leaves. They rarely drink water, but do eat significant quantities of dirt. Go figure.

The Laughing Kookaburra is a large kingfisher with a loud, racous call. These birds are believed to live in small groups, with one pair mating and the other adults in the group all helping to maintain the territory, incubate the eggs, and raise the young. (It takes a village!)

Talk about weird animals: the Duck-Billed Platypus has a beak-like muzzle, webbed feet, a fur-covered body, a flat, beaver-like tail, and eyes on the top of its head. Males have a venom gland and a spine on their hind foot. Usually only out at night, so they are hard to find in the wild. When swimming under water, these guys keep their eyes closed and nuzzle around in the mud for food. They are wonderful fun to watch and Healsville has a really good exhibit.

The Cassowary is a large, flightless, rainforest-dwelling bird with legs so powerful they can kill a human, if so inclined. Females lay eggs on the forest floor, and the MALE incubates them and rears the young. Despite what land-hungry developers say, cassowaries are endangered, and rarely seen (at least the colorful males).

 

 

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