Theme from "Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo"
Australia is home to some of the strangest creatures on earth.
Monotremes are mammals that lay eggs and produce milk for their young. There are only two species world wide, both of which exist in Australia. The Platypus is unique to Australia, while the Echidna or spiny anteater, can also be found in New Guinea.
Marsupials are mammals that give birth to tiny embryonic young which continue to develop in their mother's pouch. Marsupial herbivores include Kangaroos, Wombats, Possums and Koalas, while carnivorous marsupials are the Bandicoot, the Numbat, the Tasmanian Devil, the Tasmanian Tiger, marsupial cats, marsupial mice and the marsupial Mole. Some smaller marsupials are omnivorous.
The platypus is about 60 cm (2ft) long and has thick dark brown fur, a large flat tail and webbed feet. The male has two very sharp rear claws called spurs, which carry poison. Sometimes called a "duck-billed platypus", it has a beak like a duck, a tail like a beaver, and it lays eggs. The beak is called a bill and is flat, quite soft and rubbery, and is very sensitive. The platypus uses its bill to stir creek bottoms in search of food. It eats mostly worms, insect larvae and yabbies, which it consumes underwater. The platypus builds its nest in a burrow on creek banks with an underwater entrance.
Sometimes called the "Spiny Anteater", the Echidna resembles the Hedgehog and the Porcupine. The Echidna is found all over Australia and although mostly nocturnal, in mild weather they can be seen during the day. If the weather is extreme (either very cold or hot) Echidnas will stay in shelter (under rocks, fallen timber or burying themselves in the ground). An Echidnas body is covered with 2 types of hair. A "normal" short coarse hair to keep them warm and long sharp spines which are actually a single hair similar to our fingernails. Echidnas are between 35 - 45 cm long and weigh anything between 2-7 kg. They have a pointy snout and an extremely long sticky tongue to catch ants and termites, sharp claws for digging, and the male has a non-poisonous spur on its ankle. Echidna eggs hatch 10 days after being laid, and the blind hairless young attaches itself to a milk patch on its mothers skin inside the pouch and suckles for the next 8 to 12 weeks. Once spines develop, the young Echidna is "evicted" from the pouch but stays in the burrow. The female Echidna comes back to the burrow regularly to let the young Echidna suckle for the next 6 months.
Found only in Tasmania, where its natural range is restricted to remote regions, the Devil once also lived on mainland Australia but is thought to have died out there because of competition from the dingo. The Tasmanian Devil is a short and sturdy brownish-black animal with patches of white on its chest, sides and rump. It has a broad head with pinkish almost hairless ears. It is generally a ground dweller and hunts at night, preying on mammals, reptiles, birds and even crustaceans.
Thought to be extinct, the Tiger is also known as the "Thylacine" or "Tasmanian Wolf", and is the largest marsupial carnivore in the world. Generally hunting at night, it formerly attacked domestic livestock and poultry, and as a result was hunted to the verge of extinction by 1914. The last known Tiger died in a zoo in 1933. The species has been protected since 1938, with the National Parks and Wildlife Service coordinating searches for any living animals. The Tiger is a pouched dog, growing to about 1.7 m long including the tail and large head. Its coat is brownish-yellow and has about 16 dark brown stripes across the back and haunches. The Tiger has a large mouth, oval shaped ears and a tapering tail.
Kangaroos and Wallabies
When European explorers first saw these strange hopping animals, they asked an Aborigine what they were called. He replied "kangaroo" meaning "I don't understand your question". There are about 45 species of macropods, ranging in size from the large Red kangaroo which may stand over 2 m tall to the smallest rat-kangaroo, only about 30 cm long. Of these, all but 2 are unique to Australia - these 2 being also found in New Guinea. The macropods family includes kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos, quokka and pademelons. The main difference between kangaroos and wallabies is their size. All macropods give birth to tiny embryos which travel up and into the mothers pouch and attach themselves to a teat, where they continue development. The young kangaroo, or "joey", begins to leave the pouch for short periods when it is 27 weeks old but returns to suckle until it is about 35 weeks old.
Although they are commonly called "Bear" by overseas visitors, Koala are NOT bears but are marsupials. The name "koala" comes from the aboriginal meaning "no drink" - koala's obtain moisture from the eucalypt leaves that they live on. Koalas are found along Australia's east coast and inland of the "Great Dividing Range", wherever there are suitable eucalypt forests. Koala's are most active around dusk, and spend up to 80% of their time sleeping. Koala's are usually ash grey with a white chest, thick fur, fluffy ears and a broad flat nose, which gives them a "cuddly" appearance. They have strong limbs, large hands and claws to help them climb, and a short stumpy tail. Of the two species, the Southern Koala is the larger by up to 1/3 than the Northern. Joeys are born 5 weeks after conception, blind, hairless and less than an inch long. The joey crawls into its mothers pouch where it stays for the next 6 months, drinking milk. The joey is weaned at around 1 year.