Brace yourself for the weird and wonderful creatures of the Land Down Under.
Cute, fluffy little sleepyheads. Perhaps not so friendly, because they don’t like to be woken up from their 22 hours of sleep daily. When they do rise and shine, it’s to eat eucalyptus leaves. The koala has one of the smallest brains in proportion to body weight of any mammal, probably because of its nutrient poor diet. They are also endangered, so lots of environmental activists are out there in Australia making sure there are green corridors filled with tasty eucalyptus trees for the koalas to travel through.
You might not have been expecting this one on the list! Picture a smaller Komodo dragon. They are often found in the barks of bigger trees, and have incredible claws that help them climb up and down trees under their heavy bodyweight. Goannas belong to an ancient lineage that evolved during the Cretaceous period, 90 million years ago! One of the most impressive sites is when goannas stand up on their rear legs to fight each other. Just take care, they love our salad wraps at picnic areas! Their predators include hawks, snakes, other giant lizards and dingoes.
If you’re heading to Fraser Island on your program, you will surely see one of these guys. Dingos are a type of wild dog (technically closer to a wolf) that walked across a land bridge with humans as domesticated pets some 4000 years ago! Dingoes are an apex predator, and in the state of South Australia they built the longest predator fence in the world to keep the dingoes out! It was once longer than 500miles! That gives us some idea of how pesky and cunning dingoes can be; they really can be a headache for sheep farmers. They can rotate their heads 180 degrees and rotate their wrists, and they howl rather than bark. It’s very exciting to spot a dingo in the wild.
Humans got a bit confused when they discovered this mammal - that lays eggs! In fact, when the platypus was first discovered, scientists thought it was a hoax and someone had put different animals together (now is the time to google it!). Look out for these swimmers in freshwater lakes and rivers across Australia. They look cute, but don't pick up a male because they have a venomous spike under their back legs! Baby platypi are called puggles. Bizarre fact: when these small brown creatures are put under UV lights, they give off a biofluorescent green-blue glow.
So the locals don’t quite ride them to school or keep them as pets, but kangaroos are everywhere! There are 60 different species, with the biggest roaming in the outback. In fact, the Big Red is the largest kangaroo and it can jump a whopping 25 feet in one jump! Weather conditions in Australia can be very harsh, with droughts that shorten food supplies. To combat difficult conditions, the female kangaroo is able to suspend the development of their joeys in a process called embryonic diapause. This allows her to give birth when conditions are right, or wait to give birth until another joey has left her pouch. Amazing, huh?!
It’s the Aussie version of a porcupine. Also called a spiny anteater, they are spiky outside, soft belly and a toothless snout. They are also mammals that lay eggs, in the monotreme family with the platypus. They move very slowly, so the chance of seeing them cross the road is likely because it takes so long for them to get across! Incredibly, their ears are sensitive to low frequency sounds so they can hear their foodsource, which are ants and termites, under the ground.
Is it a bird, is it a plane? Right the first time! It’s a bird that loves to make itself known at dawn, with the sound of cackling laughter ringing through the trees. They’re so popular there’s even a well-known song about them: 'Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree, Merry merry king of the bush is he. Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh, Kookaburra, Gay your life must be!' These birds are the biggest of the kingfishers, and they are a beautiful sight to see.
These guys are obvious from their deep dens, dug into the side of hills. One of the most widely circulated facts about wombats is that they have square poo. The crafty little marsupial can pass up to 100 deposits of poop a night and they use the piles to mark territory. The shape helps it stop rolling away! Wombats also use their backside to deter prey from entering their burrow. It works like a hard steel plate and they pin unwelcome visitors against the door!
9. Diamond Python
This is our snake of choice in Australia. There are lots to choose from! Chances are, while on program, we will see a snake or five. The best way to manage this is not to get any closer once you see it and stamp your feet because the snakes can feel the vibration and it will make them slither away. Diamond pythons are beautiful, with a black base colour and creamy diamond-shaped blotches covering their body. Being a python, they are non-venomous. They constrict their prey in order to kill it and then consume it whole.
10. Humpback Whale
Whale season in Australia is mind blowing! Thousands of whales swim up each side of the country on their annual migration to have their calves in warmer waters. Perhaps you’ll get a chance to spot the most famous Humpback Whale of all. Migaloo, whose name means “white fella” in several Indigenous languages, is believed to have been born in 1986 and was first spotted in 1991 off the coast of Byron Bay (one of the locations on our Australia program!). This whale is unusual - because it’s white! Only a handful of white whales have ever been spotted in the world.
Alright, so these are our top picks. We hope you’ve learnt something new. There are loads of animals that didn’t make the list, and you will find out what those are once travelling up the east coast in your group’s van! Join us for a trip down under, we run Summer Gap and Mid Teen programs to Australia as well as a Mini Semester and it makes up half of our New Zealand and Australia Gap Semester and our Australia and Bali Gap Semester programs.