When you think of Australia, it’s easy to jump right to kangaroos and koalas. But there is so much more to the Land Down Under than those critters. Because of Australia's remote location, animal species were able to evolve independent of the rest of the world and create the wide variety of species we see today. Almost 80% of Australia’s wildlife is unique to the continent. Check out these five animals you probably didn’t know are from Australia.
These adorable marsupials are about the size of a house cat and live primarily in Western Australia, especially Rottnest Island. Because they are always sporting a big smile, they have been dubbed “the happiest animal in the world” and are popular subjects for cute selfies.
Quokkas are members of the kangaroo family and move in much the same way. They use their long tails for balance as they hop around on their hind legs. They eat leaves, bark, and grass and can survive for long periods without food or water. Because they have no natural predators, they roam freely and are not afraid of humans. They are known for wandering into campsites or buildings in search of tasty treats.
These sea mammals look a lot like their Atlantic relatives, manatees, but are unique to the South Pacific. There are two main differences to easily tell them apart. Dugongs have an elongated, trunk-like snout for eating sea grass off the ocean floor and pointed tails resembling that of a dolphin or whale, while manatees have a stubby nose and a paddle-shaped tail like a beaver.
Dugongs enjoy warm waters and typically stay near the equator their entire lives. More than half the world’s dugongs live in Australian waters. Unlike manatees, they live only in saltwater. Adults can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh over 1,000 pounds! Dugongs and manatees are the only herbivorous marine mammals in the world.
Imagine a squirrel trying on a zebra-print jacket: That’s a numbat. Numbats are small marsupials that live mainly in Western Australia. They used to be widespread across the continent but are now considered endangered. While they may look like squirrels, numbats are slow-moving, which make them easy prey for predators, even house cats.
Numbats are insectivores and eat mainly termites. An adult numbat will eat up to 20,000 termites per day! Most animals that eat termites are large and have strong arms to break through the termites’ concrete-like nests. Numbats are not large or strong, so they have to wait for the termites to be active in order to get a meal. When the termites are awake, so are the numbats.
Tree kangaroos are native to the mountains of Queensland and, as their name suggests, spend their lives among the trees. Much like the land kangaroo we all know and love, tree kangaroos use their powerful hind legs to hop from branch to branch, using their heavy tail for balance.
Not much is known about tree kangaroos in the wild as they are a very mysterious creature and prefer a solitary life. There is still a lot to learn about the species.
Lyrebird? More like liar-bird. Lyrebirds are masters of mimicry and can imitate many of the forest sounds they hear all around them, ranging from other birds’ songs to camera shutters and even chainsaws. Male lyrebirds attempt to create the most complicated song possible in hopes of attracting a mate to come look at his fancy plumage. Because their imitations are so good, they sometimes accidentally fool other bird species who fly over to take a look.
These fascinating birds can be found in rainforests throughout Australia. While they can fly, they prefer to remain on the ground.
The Most Unique Creatures Around
Of course, these are not the only animals that make Australia special. The Land Down Under is home to the highest percentage of unique animals in the world with over 3,000 species that can be found only within its borders and another 18,000 species of endemic plants, each more interesting than the last.