35 Amazing Australian Animals – Guide to the Strangest Creatures on Earth

From egg-laying mammals to thorn-studded lizards and desert-dwelling frogs, Australian animals are as bizarre as creatures get on this planet, which makes Australia an extraordinary safari holiday destination.

Sure, we have a fair share of iconic and instantly recognizable animals like the kangaroo, koala and cockatoos. Still, the majority of Australian native animals are like nothing you’ve ever seen before. And fair enough, more than 80% of Australia’s plants, mammals, reptiles and frogs are unique to Australia and do not occur anywhere else in the world. So what’s the story?

Here’s a short video of some cool Australian critters I encountered on my travels.

What is the largest animal in Australia?

The Red Kangaroo is Australia’s largest native terrestrial animal. The largest recorded male stood 2.1 meters (6.9 ft) tall and weighed 91 kg (201 lb). However, most mature males are slightly smaller, reaching around 1.8 meters (5.9 ft) tall.

What is the smallest animal in Australia?

The long-tailed planigale is the smallest mammal in Australia, and one of the smaller mammals in the world. But while it only grows to 2.6-6.6 grams, the planigale is a ferocious predator of centipedes, spiders, insects and even small lizards.

What is the national animal of Australia?

Technically, the Kangaroo and the Emu are the two national animals of Australia. They appear on the Australian coat of arms. But by popular tradition, the kangaroo is accepted as Australia’s national animal emblem.

Are there carnivorous marsupials?

Yes. There is an entire family of marsupial carnivores in Australia – Dasyuridae. They range in size from the stocky 8 kg (18 lb) Tasmanian devil to the tiny Long-tailed planigale that grows to all of 2.6-6.6 grams.

Platypus

where to see platypus in Tasmania - Australian animals
Platypus in Tasmanian Arboretum

Egg-laying mammals are as strange as it gets and that’s what monotremes are. Not only do they lay eggs, but they also don’t have teats – the milk is excreted from many pores on the female’s belly. And it gets even more interesting…

When the English naturalists first saw the preserved skin of a platypus in 1799, they believed it to be a fake made of parts of different animals sewn together. You can hardly blame them. The semi-aquatic platypus has a broad bill of a duck, a flat tail of a beaver and the webbed feet of an otter.

It is the only Australian mammal that is known to be venomous. Male platypus have venomous spurs on their back feet that they use in territorial disputes with other males.

Female platypus lays soft-shelled eggs in a specially constructed den where she incubates them by curling around them. Once the eggs hatch, she feeds the hatchlings by excreting milk onto the fur on her belly.

Platypus feed on aquatic vertebrates that they detect in the murky streams with the aid of electroreceptors located on their snouts.

And if that’s not strange enough, it was recently discovered that platypus glow in a bluish-green colour under a black light.

Some of the best places for spotting platypus in the wild are Deloraine, Tasmanian Arboretum and Mountain Valley Log Cabins all in Tasmania, as well as Eungella National Park and Wallaman Falls in Queensland.

Short-beaked Echidna

Australian animals - short-beaked echidna
Short-beaked echidna on Kangaroo Island, South Australia

Only slightly less odd than the platypus, the short-beaked echidna has spines like a porcupine, a beak like a bird, and a pouch like a kangaroo. Unlike the platypus, the echidna lays a single egg in its pouch. Baby echidnas, once they are big enough to leave their mum’s pouch, are known as puggles, and they are as cute as the name suggests.

Also known as a spiny anteater, the echidna has a superbly elongated tongue – up to 17cm long, that’s equipped with electro-receptors for detecting its prey.

Echidna’s breeding behaviour contributes to its status as one of the oddest Australian animals. When a female is ready to breed, up to a dozen male echidnas line up behind her forming a train. Trains can last for weeks at a time, with individual males dropping out and rejoining. In the end, the remaining males will push each other around until a single winner remains to mate with the female.

One of the best places to spot an Echidna in the wild is Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain.

Kangaroo

Australian animals - eastern grey kangaroo with a joey
Eastern grey kangaroo with a joey in Kangaroo Valley, NSW

The animals that Australia is most known for are, no doubt, marsupials. Marsupials come in all shapes and sizes in Australia, from the stately Red kangaroo that weighs in at 90 kg to the tiny Long-tailed Planigale that weighs all of 4.3 grams as an adult.

Kangaroo is as Australian as it gets. It is an instantly recognizable Australian animal, and together with an emu, a national animal of Australia. The term kangaroo refers to the three largest macropods, while the smaller members of the family are called wallabies.

There is also a Wallaroo – a macropod of an intermediate size between a kangaroo and a wallaby, and tree kangaroos that occur only in the rainforests of north-eastern Queensland.

The red kangaroo is the largest marsupial on earth and can hop at 56 kilometres an hour. The two species of grey kangaroos, Eastern grey and Western grey, are only marginally smaller.

Female kangaroos are almost permanently pregnant. As soon as a joey is borne and enters the pouch, the female will mate and fall pregnant again. However, in times of drought, when food is scarce, a female kangaroo can freeze the development of the embryo in a process known as embryonic diapause.

Because they are large and often active during daylight hours, kangaroo is not difficult to see in Australia. With a bit of determination, you can even see Eastern grey kangaroos in Sydney.

Wallabies

The smaller members of the Macropodidae family, wallabies, come in all shapes and sizes. There are brush wallabies, rock wallabies, hare-wallabies, nailtail wallabies and a short-tailed scrub wallaby or quokka.

Rock wallabies include one of the most handsome macropods – the yellow-footed rock wallaby. These incredibly agile wallabies live on the rocky slopes of Flinders Ranges National Park.

Of the two hare-wallabies, the Rufous hare-wallaby or Mala is the most charismatic. Yet its adorable cotton candy-like looks didn’t save it from going extinct on the Australian mainland. Today Mala are restricted to Bernier and Dorre Islands in Western Australia.

Known as the happiest animal on earth, Quokka is restricted to the islands off the coast of Western Australia, particularly Rottenest Island and a few fragmented populations on the mainland. One of their most interesting adaptations to eating tough Australian vegetation is swallowing their food whole, regurgitating it, and eating it again.

Tree Kangaroo

Animals in Australia - Lumholtzs tree kangaroo
Lumholtzs tree kangaroo. Image – iStock

Compared to terrestrial kangaroos, tree kangaroos have bigger and more flexible hind feet with sharp, long nails. They also have coarse pads on their paws and soles of their feet to give them a better grip. And their tails are longer than in their terrestrial cousins, helping them balance while hopping about in the trees.

So, what does it look like when they hop along a vertical tree trunk? They wrap their front feet around the trunk in a bear-like hug and push themselves up with their powerful back legs. They can jump up to 9 meters between branches or take huge leaps from the branches to the ground. Once on the ground, however, they move about in awkward hops much less expertly than terrestrial macropods.

There are two species of tree kangaroos found in Australia: Bennett’s and Lumholtz’s, both occurring in Far-North Queensland. Sadly, both species are threatened by hunting and loss of habitat.

Koala

Australian animals - koala sleeping in a tree

In the world of wildlife celebrities, the koala is even more famous than the wombat, to whom it is closely related. Looking like a surprised teddy bear, the koala is no more a bear than the wombat is.

A connoisseur of eucalypt leaves that are extremely difficult to digest, the koala is all about preserving energy. It sleeps for about 20 hours a day and spends the remaining four hours eating as many eucalypt leaves as it can since it can only absorb about 25% of the nutrients from the leaves. No wonder koalas have a rather lethargic demeanour.

And here’s something you probably didn’t know – young koalas eat their mum’s droppings for a few weeks before they can start eating eucalypt leaves. The leaves are toxic to most mammals, so the joeys have to ingest the microorganisms from their mothers intestine before they can digest the leaves.

Some of the best places to see koalas in Australia are Kangaroo Island and Kenneth River on the Great Ocean Road.

Wombat

Maria Island wombats - adorable Australian animals
Flinders Island wombat on Maria Island, Tasmania

Here is an animal that needs no introduction. Looking like a stocky, short-legged bear that walks in an unhurried waddle, the wombat is one of the most well-known Australian animals. However, not many people realize that this clumsy marsupial can run up to 40 kilometres an hour.

Prolific diggers, wombats construct elaborate burrow systems with multiple entrances and long tunnels. They use their powerful claws to dig the initial opening and then lie on their side to dig the walls of the burrow. And because wombat burrows are quite large, they are often used by all kinds of other animals once wombats abandon them.

The most intriguing thing about wombats, however, is their cube-shaped poop, usually deposited at prominent locations. The unusual shape of wombat’s scat is due to their slow digestion and the workings of their digestive tract. The Bush Heritage Australia website explains it well: “Wombats have a very long digestive process that normally takes 14 to 18 days. It has a very long digestive tract to absorb the most nutrients and water possible, which means its digestive matter is very dry and compacted”.

Despite the wombat’s nocturnal habits, you can easily see them in Kangaroo Valley in NSW or on Maria Island or Cradle Mountain in Tasmania.

Tasmanian Devil

Native australian animals - Tasmanian devil
Tasmanian devil at Cradle Mountain, Tasmania

Probably named for its loud screech and aggressive feeding manners, the Tasmanian devil became the largest carnivorous marsupial in Australia when thylacine (aka Tasmanian tiger) became extinct in the 1930s. The devil’s distribution is limited to Australia’s island state of Tasmania, where it is endangered – its population was decimated by a contagious facial tumour disease.

An interesting fact about the Tasmanian devil is that it has the strongest bite in relation to its body mass among all terrestrial predators in the world. As nocturnal hunters of wallabies and pademelons, devils spend their days in dens, usually those dug and abandoned by wombats.

Another interesting bit of Tassie devil trivia is that these unique predators appear to glow in the dark! Bioluminescence is more common in marine creatures or insects like glowworms and fireflies, but scientists discovered that some Aussie terrestrial mammals also glow under ultraviolet light. You can see an image of glowing Tassie devil here.

The best places to see Tasmanian devils are Mountain Valley Wilderness Reserve and Cradle Mountain.

Dingo

Dingo - Australian animals
Dingo at Devil’s Marbles

In comparison to the marsupials and monotremes, Dingo is a relatively recent arrival in Australia. The earliest dingo fossil on the continent dates to 3,450 years ago. It is believed to be an ancient breed of domestic dog, probably brought to Australia by Asian seafarers about 4,000 years ago.

It is Australia’s largest extant terrestrial predator, capable of taking down prey as large as an adult red kangaroo. Like most dogs, dingos live in packs that usually consist of a breeding pair, cubs from the current litter and occasionally adult cubs from the previous litter.

When the European settlers arrived in Australia, they were not too keen on having their sheep killed by dingos, so they erected one of the longest man-made structures in the world – the dingo fence.

Stretching 5,614 kilometres (3,488 mi), the dingo fence cuts across the south-eastern part of the continent, separating the relatively fertile section of Australia from the more arid lands to the west and to the north. So, if you are keen to see a dingo in the wild, head on a road trip to the Northern Territory, where they are quite common.

Bilby

Bilby - Australian animals
Young bilby in Western NSW

The desert-dwelling bilby is one of the most charismatic animals in Australia. Its exceptionally long ears give it a rabbit-like appearance, and it’s not uncommon to see chocolate bilbies in Australian confectionary stores, especially around the time of Easter.

At the time of the European conquest of Australia, two species of bilbies could be found. The lesser bilby is now extinct, while the greater bilby is now endangered. One of the best places to see them in the wild is Currawinya National Park in Queensland.

Bilbies have one of the shortest pregnancies of any mammal on earth at just 14 days. They exit the mother’s pouch at three months and become sexually mature around six to eight months of age.

Bilbies are prolific diggers. They excavate elaborate burrow systems in their territories that they use to escape predators and the heat of the day.

Quolls

Spotted-tailed quoll in the wild, Tasmania
Spotted-tailed quoll at Mountain Valley, Tasmania

Quoll is a nocturnal cat-like marsupial carnivore that preys on small mammals, birds, lizards, and frogs. It is, in fact, quoll’s penchant for snaking on frogs that contributes to its decline in Australia. Used to hunting frogs, quolls readily prey on the introduced cane toads, naive to the fact that cane toads produce a toxin that’s deadly to Australian mammals.

Biologists recognize four species of quoll in Australia: western, eastern, northern and tiger quolls, all of which are in decline.

A curious fact about quolls is that while they are generally solitary animals, they use communal toilets that are usually located on rocky outcrops.

As nocturnal hunters, quolls are not the easiest animals to observe. If you really want to see a quoll in the wild, you’ll need to join a specialised wildlife experience. Mountain Valley wilderness holidays in Tasmania is an excellent place to see quolls in the wild.

Numbat

Numbat - Australian marsupial animal
Numbat. Image: Depositphotos

The adorable numbat is an insectivorous marsupial that looks remarkably similar to Scrat – a character from Ice Age cartoons. However, numbats don’t eat acorns. They feed almost exclusively on termites, which they scoop out with their superbly elongated tongues.

In the past, numbats were distributed across most of southern Australia, but now they are restricted to a few small endangered populations in Western Australia.

Numbat joeys in the pouch
Numbat joeys in the pouch. Image was taken during a wildlife survey

The numbat is the only marsupial that is active during the day, and it spends most of its time looking for termites, retreating into its den at night. The dens are usually located in hollow logs or burrows.

The best place to see a numbat in the wild is Dryandra Nature Reserve in Western Australia. Other places to try are Perup Nature Reserve and Karakamia Sanctuary, both in WA.

Possums

Western pygmy possum in Dakalanta
Western pygmy possum. Image taken during a wildlife survey in South Australia

Possums are some of the most common animals in Australian cities. Brushtail and Ringtail possums can even become a nuisance when they choose to nest on the roofs of suburban houses.

But there are also much less conspicuous possums in Australia of the pygmy variety. You are unlikely to stumble upon Eastern or Western pygmy possums unless you are carrying out a fauna survey. These adorable tiny creatures look like mini Yodas with their huge eyes and massive ears.

Pygmy possums live mostly in trees, where they use their long prehensile tails like extra limb, which helps move swiftly between branches and even leap between trees.

Gliders

sugar glider - australian animal
Sugar glider in Royal National Park, Sydney

Closely related to possums, gliders are the most acrobatic Australian animals. Thanks to the special membrane of skin called a patagium that extends between their front and back feet; gliders are capable of gliding between covering distances of up to 100 meters in the case of the greater glider. They can even change direction in mid-flight with the help of their long tails.

There are six species of gliders in Australia, ranging in size from a 1.6 kg Greater glider to a 12-gram Feathertail glider. Their acrobatics require a fair bit of energy, and when the food is scarce, Feathertail and Sugar Gliders are able to enter torpor – a state similar to hibernation in bears.

A good place to see sugar glides in Sydney is Royal National Park. Check the Sutherland Shire council website for any scheduled nocturnal walks in the park.

Dunnarts

Common dunnart -Australian animal
Common dunnart in Western NSW. Image was taken during a wildlife survey

The majority of Australia’s fearsome predators are only slightly bigger than a house mouse. Dunnarts, the hunters of beetles and crickets, range in size from the chubby Julia Creek Dunnart that weighs up to 70 grams to the tiny Lesser Hairy-footed Dunnart weighing a measly 10 grams.

Dunnarts are similar to their larger cousins in that the females don’t have a true pouch. Instead, they have a fold of skin on their bellies for the newborn joeys to crawl into and attach themselves to a nipple.

Bettongs

Burrowing bettong or Boodie in Australia
Burrowing bettong or Boodie at Scotia Sanctuary, NSW

Bettongs are one of the most underrated groups of Australian mammals, barely known by the general public, even in Australia. Yet these rabbit-sized small wallabies are possibly the most important ecosystem engenders on the continent. Once widespread across Australia, bettong populations have been reduced to just a few colonies and captive populations in fenced-off reserves, like AWC’s Scotia sanctuary.

The reason bettongs are important to Australian ecosystems lies in their refined tastes – more than 50% of their diet is made up of truffles. Truffles have been compared to underground cacti – they hold precious water reserves and exchange nutrients with the roots of trees with which they associate.

To get to the truffles, bettongs can dig more than 100 teacup-shaped holes in the soil in one night. These holes collect precious rainwater that otherwise would be lost as runoff. This tree-truffle-bettong relationship has been crucial to ecosystem health in Australia for thousands of years.

Bandicoots

Southern brown bandicoot on Maria Island
Southern brown bandicoot on Maria Island

Bandicoots are small marsupials characterised by their pointed snouts, large ears, and hunched backs. They have a unique foraging behaviour, using their keen sense of smell to locate food and their strong forelimbs to dig it up. All this happens at a frenzied speed. Like bettongs, bandicoots are accomplished ecosystem engineers.

The curious thing about bandicoots is that they have the shortest gestation period of any mammal on earth, just 12 days. Of course, being marsupials, bandicoots are born as tiny little beans that crawl into their mother’s pouch and continue their development there.

Good places to see bandicoots are North Head at Manly in Sydney for Northern brown bandicoots and Maria Island in Tasmania for Southern brown bandicoots. The Eastern barred bandicoots are often seen around Hobart Rivulet in Hobart.

Hopping Mouse

Spinifex hoping mouse
Spinifex hopping mouse at Uluru, NT

No one knows how rodents made their way from Asia to Australia about 8 million years ago, given that they are not prone to long-distance swimming feats. One scientist proposed that it could’ve been a single pregnant female that floated over aboard a coconut palm and gave rise to rodents in Australia. All Australian native rodents belong to the same family – Muridae, so it is quite likely that they evolved from the same maverick species.

Over 8 million years, rodents diversified in Australia into 60 different species, filling a diverse range of ecological niches. There are fish-eating water rats, desert-dwelling hopping mice, tree rats, and ground rats that specialize in building huge nests from dry sticks and twigs.

Given their small size and nocturnal habits, rodents are not easy to spot in the wild. But if you are visiting Uluru, head to the rock at dusk and you might spot Spinifex hopping mice looking for leftover scraps from the day’s tourist activities.

Bats

Lesser long-eared bat - australian animans
Lesser long-eared bat in Western NSW

Another huge group of Australian mammals are bats. With 90 recognized species, bats represent more than 20% of Australian mammal species. There are two broad kinds of bats – the large fruit-eating megabats, often referred to as flying foxes and the small insect-hunting microbats that use echolocation to find their prey and often have odd structures on their faces that aid them in emitting and receiving high-frequency sounds.

The most conspicuous megabats in Australia are the grey-headed flying foxes. They congregate in huge colonies in Sydney and can be seen flying over the city at dusk as they travel from their roosting grounds to their feeding spots.

Microbats are much harder to see. At best, you’ll catch glimpses of them as they dart between the tree crowns. They usually roost inside tree hollows, in caves or in abandoned man-made structures. Scientists studying microbats use a bat detector – a gadget that translates the high frequency emitted by the bats into the lower frequency sounds that humans can hear. Here is a sample of a bat sound translated by a bat detector.

Whales

Humpback whale breaching - Australian marine animals
Humpback whale breaching off the coast of Sydney

Unlike the terrestrial animals in Australia that are confined to the continent, many of the marine mammals living in Australian waters are transient visitors. Some of the most well-known migrants are the Humpback whales that cruise along Australian eastern and western coastlines on their epic migrations between their feeding grounds in Antarctica and their breeding sites in the tropical waters.

If you visit Sydney between May and November, you’ll find plenty of whale-watching tours available. These generally run for 2-4 hours, and it is highly unlikely not to see a whale during the migration. More than 30,000 Humpback whales cruise past Sydney each year.

You can also see other whale species from Sydney on a pelagic tour. On a couple of trips, I’ve seen Pygmy killer whales and a Dwarf minke whale.

Dolphins

Bottlenose dolphin
Bottlenose dolphin off the coast of Sydney

Australian waters are home to several species of dolphin. You are most likely to encounter Bottlenose and Common Dolphins. Bottlenose dolphins, in particular, are a common sight along the Australian coastline. Some of the best places to spot them are Port Stephens and Jervis Bay in NSW and Monkey Mia in Western Australia.

The best way to see the dolphins is on a dolphin cruise. These are available in both Port Stephens and Jervis Bay. Common dolphins are surprisingly not as common as the name suggests. Or maybe I’ve just been very unlucky. The only place I saw Common dolphins was on a ferry to Maria Island in Tasmania.

Seals and Sea Lions

Australian sea lion
Australian sea lion on Kangaroo Island

There are at least nine species of seals found in Australia. The endangered Australian sea lions can be viewed at Seal Bay on Kangaroo Island. And if you are looking for a more up close and personal encounter, you can go snorkelling with Australian fur seals in Narooma.

Seals and Sea lions are quite similar in appearance, so here are a few tips on how to tell them apart. Sea lions are much more agile on land, walking on their large flippers, while seals wriggle on their bellies – their flippers are not large enough to support their weight. Sea lions also have visible ear flaps, while seals do not.

Crocodiles

Saltwater crocodile in Kakadu National Park
Saltwater crocodile in Kakadu National Park

There are two species of crocodiles in Australia: saltwater and freshwater crocodiles. The saltwater crocodile, affectionately known as salty, is by far the more formidable of the two. It is the largest living reptile, with males reaching 6 meters and 1,300 kg. Although the largest salty ever shot was 8.6 meters long.

Crocodiles are ambush predators. They stay concealed underwater and wait for their prey to approach them. The saltwater crocodile is capable of overpowering virtually any animal by pulling it in a “death roll”. This killing technique is as terrifying as it sounds. Once the crocodile has its prey in its jaws, it begins to violently spin it underwater so that the prey becomes completely disoriented and drowns.

Despite their predatory prowess, saltwater crocodiles were hunted almost to extinction for their skin in the 1970s. Thankfully, after decades of conservation, their population has recovered, and you can easily see saltwater crocodiles in Kakadu National Park. Obviously, you’ll want to avoid approaching the water’s edge and if you feel tempted to go for a swim – find a swimming pool.

Venomous Snakes

northern death adder - australian venomous snakes
Northern Death adder in Northern Territory

Australia has a reputation for having the most venomous snakes in the world. However, while more than half of Australian snakes are venomous (around 100 out of 170 species), only 12 of them could be potentially lethal to people, and most of them are quite shy and would try to avoid encounters with people.

Australia’s Inland taipan is the most venomous snake in the world. A single dose of its venom is enough to kill at least 100 humans. Thankfully, the inland taipan is quite a shy animal and will usually try to retreat to avoid trouble. It occurs in the remote semi-arid region of NSW and seldom encounters people.

Other dangerously venomous snakes include mulga or king brown snake, eastern brown snake, western brown snake, tiger snake, coastal taipan, lowlands copperhead, small-eyed snake, common death adder, and red-bellied black snake. Snakes, of course, can be difficult to identify in the field, so If you come across any snake in the bush, simply walk the other way.

Pythons

Murray Darling Python
Murray Darling Carpet Python in Western NSW

Australia is home to almost half of the world’s pythons (14 species out of 31). And while pythons often terrify people by their formidable size, they are neither venomous nor aggressive. They do, however, have plenty of sharp teeth to defend themselves with if needed.

You can spot Diamond pythons in the national parks around Sydney. But if you really want to see pythons, head to Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, and you’ll see half a dozen in a day

Thorny Devil

Thorny devil
Thorny devil in Kings Canyon

Yes, there are real-life dragons in Australia. We have bearded dragons, military dragons, water dragons, rock dragons, and jacky dragons, but none are as legendary as the thorny devil.

These extraordinary lizards are some of the most incredible Australian desert animals. Their bodies are covered in conical spikes, they have false heads to confuse predators, and they can absorb water by simply standing in a puddle. As far as odd Australian animals go, the thorny devil is as unexpected as a reptile can get.

Cassowary

Cassowary
Cassowary. Image – David Clode on Unsplash

Marginally smaller than an emu, the cassowary is Australia’s heaviest bird. It can weigh up to 76kg! And if there ever was a bird that still looked like a feathered dinosaur, this is it. Both sexes have a large casque on top of their heads and the scientists are not quite sure what they are for.

Like the emus, cassowary females court the males, lay a clutch of eggs, and promptly walk away to court another male and lay another clutch. The male dutifully incubates the eggs for about 50 days, then protects the chicks for about a year, after which he chases them away.

The best place to see Cassowary is Mission Beach in Far North Queensland.

Emu

Emu in western NSW
Emu in western NSW

The emu is the most iconic bird of the Australian Outback and the world’s second-largest bird after its African cousin – the ostrich. Apart from their looks, the most interesting thing about emus is their breeding behaviour. It’s almost the exact opposite strategy to all other birds.

The female emu mates with different males and lays several clutches of eggs. And that’s about it for her part. It is the male who incubates the eggs on its own, barely eating or drinking until the eggs hatch and losing a lot of weight in the process.

Once the eggs hatch, the male emu guards his chicks with such vigour that he becomes one of the most dangerous creatures in the Australian bush, even for humans. So if you come across an emu in the bush, always check whether he has little stripy chicks following him. And if he does, stay well away.

Parrots

Australia is home to one-sixth of the world’s parrots. Out of 330 parrot species that inhabit our planet, 57 are found in Australia. With their stunning looks and entertaining behaviour, parrots are some of the most famous Australian birds.

Australia’s geographic isolation allowed the parrots to diversify into a huge array of species and to colonize every corner of the continent in the absence of other large seed-eating birds. As a result, parrots are found in most Australian habitats from the arid inland regions to the forested coast. You can even see a good variety of parrots in Sydney.

Most parrots are specialist seed-eaters – their powerful short beaks are well suited for tearing apart seedpods and nuts. However, some species, like lorikeets, feed primarily on nectar and pollen.

Superb Lyrebird

Things to do in Kangaroo Valley - see a lyrebird at Minnamurra Rainforest Centre
Superb lyrebird.  Image © Fir0002 – Own work, GFDL 1.2

Another famous Australian is the superb lyrebird. Not much to look at, outside of the breeding season, the superb lyrebird is known for having one of the most elaborate, most complex and most beautiful calls in the world, according to David Attenborough.

About 80% of the male’s song consists of expert mimicry. It can incorporate virtually any sounds from its environment into its song, including the calls of other birds, the sound of a clicking camera, a dog’s bark, a car alarm, or the noise of a chainsaw. Here is an excellent video by BBC Wildlife of a performing male superb lyrebird.

Monitor Lizards

Perentie
Perentie in Western MacDonnell Ranges

Perhaps the most famous monitor lizard is Indonesia’s Komodo Dragon, which can grow up to 3m long.

Monitors are the largest lizards in the world, and Australia used to be home to a giant, Megalania, that was twice the size of the Komodo dragon. Today, the biggest monitor lizard in Australia is the magnificent Perentie, which, at 2 meters, is the fourth largest lizard in the world.

But while Perentie inhabits the arid centre of the continent, the lace monitor or tree goanna is a common site in the forested areas around Sydney.

An interesting thing about goannas is that occasionally, they would stand on their hind legs to check out their environment or to frighten their opponent. A 2-meter-long lizard standing upright is a sight to remember.

Geckos

Knob-tailed gecko
Knob-tailed gecko in Western NSW

With their huge eyes and large toes, geckos are perhaps the most handsome group of lizards. They are unique among lizards in their vocalizations. While most of them are not as loud as Thailand’s tokay, the majority of geckos produce chirping or clicking sounds to communicate.

As many geckos are nocturnal, they are not as easy to spot as the other lizards. Some species, like leaf-tailed geckos, have evolved such excellent camouflage that you probably won’t notice them even if you are looking right at them.

Some of the most charismatic geckos are the knob-tailed geckos. They belong to the family of barking geckos, which means that on top of their good looks, they also have an easily recognizable call that sounds like a dog bark.

Shingleback

Shingleback
Shingleback crossing the road in the Outback

Typically I would consider skinks the least interesting group of reptiles, but not when it comes to Australian skins. Like most animals in Australia, our skins are quite unique. Some of our skinks, the bluetongues, grow to 40 centimetres and have blue tongues; others are 70-centimetre-long giants, like the mullet skink, some are aggressive nocturnal desert hunters, like the sand swimmers, and others are ancient-looking slow-moving desert dwellers like the shingleback.

Even the tiny garden skins are not as boring as they may appear. During the breeding season, these usually shy creatures aggressively attack each other in defence of their territories. It is not uncommon to see several skinks locked together in a melee, all holding on to each other. Life’s a battle for the tiny reptiles.

Frogs

desert burrowing frog
Burrowing frog

Australian terrestrial frogs have come up with some unexpected adaptations for living in arid conditions. One group of frogs spend a part of their lives about a meter underground. These burrowing amphibians can spend years in their burrows, and it takes heavy rains to soak up the soil to encourage them to emerge and reproduce.

Another fascinating amphibian is the pouched frog. Australia is known for its marsupial mammals, but here is a frog that follows a similar reproductive strategy. A female pouched frog lays eggs on the ground, usually under logs or in leaf litter. And this is where her role ends.

It is the male pouched frog that has flaps of skin or pouches on both sides of his body designed for the newly-hatched tadpoles to wriggle into. The tadpoles of pouched frog develop in the male’s pouches (they don’t need water) and emerge as fully formed little frogs.

Animals in Australia - Green tree frog
Green tree frog

Tree frogs generally prefer more humid environments. They are particularly abundant in coastal areas. One of Australia’s best-known tree frogs is the Green tree frog – a large animal reaching more than 10 centimetres in length. This frog is quite docile and seems to like living near or in human houses. They are often found in bathrooms or laundries catching insects attracted to the lights.

These frogs have a rather loud croaking call, which becomes even louder when the frogs make themselves at home in the pipes and water tanks which act as amplifiers of their low ‘brawk, brawk, brawk‘. Despite the volume of their call, green tree frogs are popular exotic pets due to their human-friendly behaviour and phlegmatic temper.

Glow worms

Glow worms Blue Mountains with WildScape Adventures Burralow Creek

Australia is famous for its venomous spiders. But as far as weird and wonderful creatures go, none are more interesting and spectacular than the glowworms that light up the forest at night like the starry sky. They are not actually worms but the larval stage of a winged insect, a fungus gnat, that lives in caves or on moist rock walls behind waterfalls.

Glow worms produce a cold chemical light in their abdomen to attract their insect prey to the sticky strings of silk (somewhat like spider webs). And because glowworms live in colonies and synchronize their shining, their communal shining turns a rock wall into the starry sky that fools their prey into thinking they are flying towards the sky.

Some of the best places to see glow worms are Springbrook National Park in Queensland and Blue Mountains National Park in Sydney. If you’d like to go glow worm spotting, I have a dedicated guide to finding glow worms in the Blue Mountains.


This list only scrapes the surface, but it gives you a sense of just how wonderfully odd Australian animals are. If you are planning a trip down under, try to include one of Australia’s wildlife hotspots to see some of our unusual creatures in their natural habitat.

More on Australian Wildlife Watching


10 thoughts on “35 Amazing Australian Animals – Guide to the Strangest Creatures on Earth”

  1. There are a lot of very cute looking animals on this list! I honestly haven’t heard of most of them, or seen photos of them before, so I really enjoyed reading about them all!

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  2. I just love the unique animals that are found in Australia. During my visit to Australia a few years ago, visiting with the wildlife was my favorite part! I especially love the wallabies. They are so cute! I loved learning about some new animals in this article. Very cool!

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  3. Oh I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading this post and get to know the vast diversity of Australia’s wildlife! Even though I knew some of them before (Wombats, Kangaroos, Wallabies, etc.) I discovered so many new ones. My favorites are for sure the Numbat, Bilby and the Quolls. They just look so adorable :)

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  4. Oh my. I tried to pick a favorite and couldn’t…there are so many cute ones! I would love to see the thorny devil lizard walking. He just looks like he’d have an amusing walk! I might need to search YouTube :) Great post!

    Reply
  5. My eyes got stuck at short-beaked echidna. That’s a lovely guide on the animals. I am glad you took the effort to include so many of them.

    Reply

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