The Animals And Birds Around Sydney

If you want to know about dangerous animals, see the
dangerous animals page.

Brumbies | Camels | Cane toads | Carnivorous marsupials | Feral cats | Cicadas | Donkeys | Echidna | Feral goats | Australian Reptile Park | Koala | Kookaburras | Lyrebird | Kangaroos and wallabies | Magpies | Marsupials | Pelicans | Penguins | Feral pigs | Platypus | Possum | Rabbits | Taronga Zoo | Wombat |

Main features here: Zoos and aquaria, Australian birds, Australian mammals, Invertebrates, Feral animals

The Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union, has its home page at http://www.birdsaustralia.com.au/

For many useful and reliable fact sheets, see the The Australian Museum's collection at http://www.amonline.net.au/explore/index.cfm

Zoos and menageries

Taronga Zoo,
Australian Reptile Park,
Aquaria

Australian wildlife is a must for most tourists. To get a good range of animals and birds which keep still, you could do worse than to visit the Australian Museum - where you may be pleasantly surprised to find some live animals as well. You may see some freshwater crocodiles in a tank, eating crickets, or spiders, or bats, or even cute cockroaches that people actually enjoy handling. Our favourite exhibit used to be the nest of green tree ants, so don't pass the museum altogether.

Once you have checked out the preserved birds in the Long Gallery at the Australia Museum, bird lovers may prefer to wander down into the Royal Botanic Gardens to see as many a 120 species of bird - not to mention numbers of fruit bats roosting in the trees overhead. For the rest of the Australian wildlife, you will probably need to look more in zoos.

Taronga Zoo on the shores of Sydney Harbour, a mixed bag of animals, great views
Western Plains Zoo a branch of Taronga, big animals in natural-looking surroundings
Featherdale a commercial animal collection.
Koala Park tourist-oriented, mainly Australian.
The rather trite and boring Sydney Wildlife World. I wouldn't touch it with a bargepole, but if you like Disney, and wanna see a whole bag of animals in one place without making any effort, this might just be for you. I would rather remove my spleen with a rusty nail while sitting on a green tree ant nest.
Australian Reptile Park near Gosford, by far the best place to go for reptiles, but with excellent all-roond collections
Darling Harbour Aquarium anything that lives in water, just about
Manly Oceanworld a great range of fish, less crowded than Darling Harbour, same management.

In Victoria, there are three excellent zoos, dotted around Melbourne: the Melbourne Zoo, close to the University, the Open Range Zoo at Werribee, and the Healesville Sanctuary, where they have been breeding platypuses jst recently. All three zoos are under a single management, and can be contacted at http://www.zoo.org.au/ - just follow the links.

The Currumbin Sanctuary on Queensland's Gold Coast (on the web at http://www.currumbin-sanctuary.org.au/informat.htm ) offers birds, mammals and reptiles for public viewing.

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Taronga Zoo

Getting there

The best way is by ferry from Circular Quay, and you can also get there by a 247 bus from Wynyard, or by car - there is parking for 600 cars only, and this can fill up quite fast, causing traffic bankups, right back to Spit Junction. We recommend a ferry to the zoo, a cable car ride to the top for orientation, and then a leisurely walk down again, before you leave again by ferry.

Access, times, entry costs

Opens: 0900
Closes: 1700
Entry fees: Adult $41
Family: 2 adults, 2 children, $103.70
Conc. $28 (pensioners, seniors, students), $20 for children.

Closed: Open every day.
Checked September 2, 2009.

Last time I looked, there were also a ZooLink ticket, covering rail fare to Circular Quay, ferry to Taronga, entry, and return, and ZooPass ticket, for bus, ferry and zoo entry.

What to do there

Look at the animals, the birds, eat in the great eateries

What to watch out for

The walk-through aviary, the Free Flight Bird Show, and Amazonia, with a display of South American animals - as you might expect.

Contact details, Web links

Phone: (02) 9969 2777
Web:
http://www.zoo.nsw.gov.au/

What else is around

You are in the vicinity of Ashton Park which makes a pleasant walk, and you are just 12 minutes by ferry from Circular Quay. The 238 bus which comes up from the ferry wharf can take you to Balmoral beach, where there is pleasant harbour swimming, and brilliant food to be had.

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Australian Reptile Park

Getting there

Take the F3 north from Sydney, and get off at the Gosford exit: look for the dinosaur, ahead on the left.

You can also get there by public transport: see their site for details of coach deals and rail-taxi deals.

Access, times, entry costs

Opens: 0900
Closes: 1700

Entry fees: Adult $22.50
Family $60 (2 adults, 2 children)
Conc. $15 (pensioners) $11.50 (children 3-15)
Closed: Christmas Day
Checked September 2, 2009.

What to do there

This park is always winning awards in assorted tourism categories. That tells you there is plenty there.

What to watch out for

As the name implies, plenty of reptiles, including giant pythons from Burma and US alligators, and most of the main Australian reptiles, but there are Tasmanian devils, rare Parma wallabies - being bred up from a remnant population found near the park, koalas in an excellent viewing enclosure (where you can get "nose to snout"), wombats and baby wombats, bird-friendly vegetation and wildflowers, plus two walk-through aviaries, the only public snake-milking (the reptile park does venom collection from snakes and also from Funnelweb Spiders), echidnas and platypuses (and they have plans to try to breed the platypuses), alpine dingoes, a good range of frogs from Australia, and quite a lot more, like the kangaroos that hang out in the picnic area.

Contact details, Web links

Phone: (02) 4340-1146 (recorded information) (02) 4340-1022 (main switch) Web:
http://www.reptilepark.com.au

What else is around

You are in the vicinity of Brisbane Water National Park and Bouddi National Park

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Sydney's aquaria

There are two that are worthy of the name: Manly Oceanworld and Darling Harbour's Sydney Aquarium. They are run by the same company. Each offers good value. Manly Oceanworld is just to the west of Manly Wharf: turn left as you walk out of the wharf, and you will see a large round object in the water. Go there.

I will have to take a closer look for Sydney Aquarium, but there is a monorail station nearby, and it is just under the old Pyrmont bridge. You can also get a ferry there, or you can walk down Market Street.

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A few of the birds

Lyrebird

The male superb lyrebird, Menura novaehollandiae, is featured on the reverse of the Australian 10-cent coin. This bird is found introduced into a small part of southern Tasmania, and naturally in eastern Victoria, eastern NSW and south-east Queensland, and A second, rather less impressive-looking specimen, Albert's lyrebird or Menura alberti, lives in the ranges of northern NSW and southern Queensland.

The lyrebird's main claim to fame is the dance display and singing that the male bird performs, seeking to attract a mate. The males are enthusiastic mimics, and will imitate other bird calls, the sounds of camera shutters in bird-watching areas, train whistles, axe-chopping and chainsaws.

The female lyrebird weighs about 900 g (2 pounds) and the male weighs in at about 1500 g (3 pounds). The common name comes from the mistaken reconstruction of the dead bird by English zoologists, who put the tail in the form of a lyre. The male's tail does briefly take this form, but used to be commonly shown in this form, and this form only.

Lyrebirds dig for their food in leaf litter, and will come quite close to humans while they are feeding like this - the trick is to stand very still, and let the bird come to you, if it feels like it. The males are territorial, and plying a tape of the "plik, plik" call is said to provoke a response from any male within earshot.

Where to see lyrebirds: Taronga Zoo, the southern end of Lady Carrington Drive or along the Scientist's Cabin Track in the Royal National Park, in the early morning at West Head lookout in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park The adult male moults its tail in spring, and has its tail complete once more by January. Note: if you hear a male lyrebird displaying and try to approach it, it will probably stop, unless it is very used to people. You may be better advised to stand off, listen, and get a video later on.

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Pelicans

Weighing up to 6.8 kg (15 pounds), the Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus) is one of Australia's largest birds. It ranges across Australia, Papua-New Guinea, western Indonesia, and even reaches New Zealand on occasions. It is found all around the Australian coast and many inland waters. They breed on inland lakes, swamps and rivers, and also at some coastal locations.

The bill of the pelican is its most remarkable feature, mainly for the huge pouch that hangs below the lower bill, which is used as a trapping and filtering device to sort out food, and also to get its food lined up, ready to swallow.

Pelicans cannot manage sustained flapping flight, but given the right thermals or wind-driven updrafts, they can stay aloft for 24 hours, reaching air-speeds of up to 55 km/hr, or 35 mph. They commonly soar to a thousand metres on updrafts, and have been reported at 3000 metres (10,000 feet)!

Pelicans mainly eat fish, but have also been seen consuming tadpoles, crustaceans, turtles and assorted scraps, though the allegations about Chihuahuas are probably urban myths. When eating fish, pelicans will often work cooperatively, driving fish into the shallows.

Captive birds have been known to survive for 50 years, and wild birds may well last as long as 25 years.

Where to see pelicans: Taronga Zoo has pelicans, but The Entrance on the Central Coast is probably one of the best places to go, with pelican feeding every afternoon - just follow the crowds, or look for the pelicans getting ready for 3.30 pm. You can also usually count on seeing a few pelicans at Bicentennial Park near Homebush.

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Penguins

Twelve penguin species are known from the shore of Australia, but most of these are just passing by. Only one species, the Little Penguin, Eudyptula minor, breeds on the Australian coast. It also breeds on the New Zealand coast.

Most people will tell you fairy penguins never breed on the mainland, that they are restricted to islands where they can avoid predators. This is generally true, but there are breeding fairy penguins in Sydney Harbour, in "secret" locations, not far from Manly. The secret is fairly open, but remains unpublished because the penguins can be annoyed and upset by people. Some of them are in the Sydney Harbour National Park, some are not, but that as far as I will go. In Melbourne, there are breeding penguins even closer to the CBD, at St Kilda, a breakaway group from the colony at Phillip Island, but they are hard to find unless you know where to look. It has now become common knowledge that there are penguins living under Manly Wharf, and you will find volunteers in attendance at dusk to keep people from getting too close.

The fairy penguin is the smallest of the living penguins, standing only 40 cm (16 inches) high, and they weigh up to 1.1 kg (2.4 pounds). They go to sea to catch fish, and then return to shore to recover. They use burrows and rocks for shelter, and haul themselves with bill and flipper to get there. Where there are no grips to be found, they can jump 20 cm, half their height, from a standing start.

The burrow is also a place of shelter when the penguins moult: at this time, they lose all their waterproof feathers, and are restricted to the land, living on reserves until a new set of feathers grows out. The reserves are also important when they are incubating the usual pair of eggs. Normally, the "shift" is one or two days, but can extend out to ten days. The time of incubation averages out at about 36 days, and then the chicks hatch out with a downy covering.

For the first three weeks or so, the chicks cannot maintain their body temperature, and they are closely guarded by the adults. Until an age of 7-9 weeks, they are regularly fed by their parents each night, and then they leave the nest to fend for themselves, not returning again for another year. The body reserves that all penguins carry have been a liability in the past. Sealers on Macquarie Island found that they could use dried penguin carcases as fuel for the boilers in which they rendered the seal oil, and when the seal numbers dwindled, they turned to the penguins as a source of oil for sale. Now penguins are fairly well protected around the world, and have only natural predators to worry about.

Predators include the bluetongue lizard, which eats penguin eggs, tiger snakes which take both eggs and chicks, and a number of large predatory birds, including kelp and Pacific gulls, sea eagles and harriers. At sea, sharks and seals use penguins as a food source. On land, introduced predators such as dogs, cats, rats and foxes take their toll, while the New Zealand populations also suffer from introduced stoats and ferrets. Now wonder they prefer islands!

At least one other penguin species appears to have lived in Australia in quite recent times: an 800-year-old midden on Hunter Island in Bass Strait has yielded bones of a new genus and species, Tasidyptes hunteri. The role of humans in making this penguin extinct is uncertain, but as the bones were found in a midden, it seems possible that humans made some sort of contribution.

Where to see fairy penguins: Taronga Zoo has good captive populations and viewing, Phillip Island in Victoria has the largest wild populations (see their penguin web site at http://www.penguins.org.au/), Kangaroo Island has penguins at a number of places, while Granite Island in South Australia offers well-managed penguin tours at night. In the wild, you can see them in the water near Manly Wharf occasionally, near the sea wall at the Royal Botanic Gardens and all over Pittwater, near Palm Beach.

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Kookaburras

The kookaburra is the largest of the kingfishers, but it eats land animals, rather than fish. It has a characteristic cackling laugh that Australians recognise immediately: gangs of kookaburras use this laugh as a territorial marker, and when one group starts, another group will fly in to answer them. The call is often heard at dawn and dusk, but other times are also possible.

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Magpies

A magpie joins the picnic. Picture: A magpie joins the picnic.

The magpie is a corvid, a member of the crow group, and it is slightly dangerous. In spring, when they are nesting, the birds get quite territorial, and fly up behind people, especially children, to attack them. In areas where this is a problem, people may wear a cap or an ice-cream container, with eyes drawn on the back. No, this is not a legpull: it happens, but I do not guarantee that it works.


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A few of the mammals

The monotremes: platypus and echidna

The name means "one hole", and refers to the fact that they have one opening for all reproductive and excretory functions. Monotremes include the
echidna and platypus of Australia, and two echidnas in Papua-New Guinea. And that's all there is: monotremes are restricted to this part of the world - these days, though some zoologists are beginning to suspect that a number of regional varieties of platypus may in fact be separate species.

Monotremes are interesting because they have a lot of things that make them like reptiles, including the fact that they have a collar-bone, and they lay eggs. On the other hand, they are warm-blooded (sort of), and echidnas are pouched, like marsupials, so they are worth looking at. The trouble is that they are hard to see in the wild.

One can, in fact make a case for calling the monotremes unusual reptiles. The argument is based on their locomotion, the coracoid bone and a few other features which make them VERY unusual mammals. For now, their hair and their warm-bloodedness makes them mammals.

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Platypus

The platypus, or Ornithorhynchus anatinus to its admirers, is a species - or maybe a dozen species - of egg-laying mammals. Or maybe of warm-blooded and furry reptiles - you can take your pick on that (see above). The name platypus was first conferred as Platypus, but this name had already been used for a beetle, but by the time anybody noticed, Australians had adopted the name.

Platypuses (you can use that as the plural , or platypodes, but never platypi) have an electrical sense built into their "duckbill", which they use to sense the muscle activity of food animals. When it is fossicking about on the bottom of a lake or a river, the platypus swings its head from side to side, and some scientists think this is used to detect a 3-dimensional "view". Who knows? One day, we may be able to develop a better way for the blind to "see".

So is the platypus truly unique? It is now, but some 61 to 63 million years ago, just after the last of the dinosaurs, there was a small platypus that we call Monotrematum sudamericanum, living in South America. We know this from a single fossil tooth, found in Patagonia, and remarkably similar to other material from 15 million years ago at Riversleigh, called Obdurodon, and also to an opalised Cretaceous (110 million years old) monotreme called Steropodon galmani, whose jaw, complete with teeth, was found at Lightning Ridge in the 1980s. It is now at the Australian Museum.

The very learned reader may be puzzled by this reference to platypus teeth, because platypuses don't have teeth - not as adults, anyhow. Young platypuses have teeth which they soon lose, but as little as fifteen million years ago, even adult platypuses had teeth.

Where to see a platypus: Taronga Zoo, Healesville Sanctuary in Melbourne, Australian Reptile Park. If you want a book on them, look for Ann Moyal's Platypus, which is briliant.

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Echidna

The echidna is a primitive mammal, so it would be less adaptable than more advanced mammals, right? Wrong. No other native mammal in Australia has such a wide distribution as this spiny egg-laying mammal. Echidna is another of those scientific names that was thrown out when people checked and found it had already been used.

The beast started out with the name Myrmecophaga in 1792, but that was the name of a South American placental animal, so the French scientist Georges Cuvier suggested Echidna, the name of a serpent in Greek mythology. Sadly, this name had been used twenty years earlier for a moray eel, and so the animal ended up as Tachyglossus, except to Australians, who plumped for echidna, because they thought it related to echino- (Greek for spiny), but it doesn't.

You can find echidnas in rain forests, in deserts, in heaths and in woodland, even in the high country of the Australian Alps, above the snowline - and one has even been seen by skiers, just a few metres from the top of Mount Kosciuszko.

Studies have revealed that the echidnas do in fact show one primitive reaction: their body temperature is less steady than most other mammals, and while the normal nest and summer temperature is around 32 - 34 C, in the snow, it sometimes drops to 25 - 27 C. And if they are up high enough, they go though a winter cycle of torpor, where the body temperature drops down to about 10 C, even though this is their mating time. (Don't worry - they seem to wake up long enough to ensure that there will be a new generation!)

Despite its former common name, the echidna is no "native porcupine" or "native hedgehog", although it does have spines which account for these names as well as its other common name, the spiny ant-eater. But while it is spiny, the echidna eats termites. The trouble is, you see, that Australians call termites "white ants". So obviously the echidna is an ant-eater! The echidna is an egg-laying mammal, like the platypus, and they seem to be rare in the Sydney region these days.

They are fairly shy: if you do happen to see one, it will most probably dig into the ground, leaving just its spiny back exposed. Under the surface, it will be hanging onto the ground with its shovel-like feet. If you dig one out, it will roll up into a ball to protect its soft belly.

Echidnas might be good eating. There is an aboriginal engraving of one in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park which probably indicates that it was a valued food animal in times gone by.

Where to see echidnas: Taronga Zoo Nocturnal House, roadsides on Kangaroo Island, Budawang Ranges, Hunter Valley.

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The marsupials

We saw one quadruped about the size of a Rabbit, My Greyhound just got sight of him and instantly lamd himself against a stump which lay conceald in the long grass; we saw also the dung of a large animal that had fed on grass which much resembled that of a Stag; also the footsteps of an animal clawd like a dog or wolf and as large as the latter; and of a small animal whose feet were like those of a polecat or weesel.

- Sir Joseph Banks, The Endeavour Journal, May 1, 1770.

The mammals can be divided into three groups. The most "primitive" are the monotremes, though whether they are really primitive remains to be seen. If we are pushing mammals into a league table, the marsupials are the next most "primitive", although there is no real zoological justification for this.

People from Europe have long assumed that marsupials only survived in Australia because they were protected from the "more advanced" placental mammals found in the rest of the world. Going on the fossil evidence, it may be the other way around: feral kangaroos have now been reported from England and Germany, founded by zoo escapees, and just a couple of million years ago, north America was invaded by the possums, which seem to have done quite well in competition with the local placentals.

But most important of all, a fossil tooth found at Murgon in 1991 seems to indicate that there were placental mammals in Australia, way back when, and then they disappeared - it seems they could not compete with the marsupials!

Marsupials are the Australian animals that everybody talks about. The females have a marsupium, a pouch, in which the young live for the first months of their lives. Kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, possums and wombats are all marsupials.

But why do they have a pouch? The answer lies in Mum's plumbing. Without going into the gory details, female marsupials are so constructed that they cannot give birth to large babies, because the birth canal is unable to enlarge in the way that, say, a human birth canal can do. So the babies have to enter the world as very small and very immature things.

When they are "born", after a pregnancy of about a month, sometimes less, the young climb to the pouch, climb in, and attach themselves to a teat, inside the pouch. At the time of their birth, young marsupials are little more than a pair of legs for climbing and a mouth for sucking. All of the rest of their development happens in the pouch.

These are the marsupials I have selected to lay before you:

Bilbies, Kangaroos and Wallabies, Possums, Koalas, Wombats
POSSIBLES: (all meat-eaters)
Bandicoots
Numbat
Antechinus
Tasmanian Devil
Thylacine
Quoll

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Bilby

Also known as the rabbit-eared bandicoot (or Macrotis lagotis to the scientists), the bilby is a bit like a marsupial version of the rabbit. It is medium-sized, burrowing and nocturnal, with large ears designed for cooling. Unlike the rabbit, the female bilby has a pouch, and like the wombat pouch, this points backwards to stop it filling with dirt. The big difference between bilbies and rabbits is that the bilby is omnivorous, but even though it has a different diet, the bilby finds itself being out-competed by the rabbit.

In good times, a bilby may live entirely on seeds, but at other times, they will eat termites, insects and some insect larvae such as witchetty grubs. With the arrival of rabbits in Australia, bilbies found that continuous bad times had arrived, because the rabbits took the best pickings, and could outbreed the bilbies when the good times came. The other major disaster, from the bilby point of view, is that livestock arrived.

Some scientists have suggested that the ending of traditional aboriginal firestick farming may have played a part in the diappearance of the bilbies from much of their range. This seems unlikely, because some areas of the Gibson, Great Sandy, and Tanami Deserts are no longer burnt, but still carry bilbies.

Once, bilbies were found in 70% of Australia, just about anywhere south of the tropical woodlands and west of the Great Dividing Range, except that they were not found in the southwest of W.A. Now they occupy less than 20% of their original range, and that limited area is fragmented, which put the species under further threat.

Feral cats have also been accused of playing their part, as have foxes and even dingoes, but it seems the bilbies manage to hang on where there is an absence of rabbits and pastoral activity.

. The bilby website (previously ARFFA, now RFA, the Foundation for Rabbit-Free Australia, is at http://www.rfa.net.au/bilby.htm

Where to see bilbies: Taronga Zoo

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Koala

On the surface, koalas strike people as cute, cuddly, furry, sweet animals. In reality, they are somnolent, dull lumps of fur with sharp claws and a distressing habit of emptying their eucalyptus-oil-loaded bladders and bowels on people handling them.

The simplest explanation (though not necessarily the correct one) is that koalas fight a terrible battle with the poisons that are pumped out by most of the Eucalyptus trees. Inside their skulls, much of the space is filled with fluid, and the koalas spend most of their time, wedged in the fork of a tree, waiting for their digestive system to deal with the latest dose of poison.

Brains require a lot of energy, according to this theory, and movement requires a lot of energy, and koalas have no energy to spare, because every bit of energy they take on board as food carries its load of poison. So the koala you see in a zoo has a small brain, and moves as little as possible.

Many overseas visitors want to "cuddle a bear" - koalas are not bears, but we will come back to that later. The only problem is that koalas live in trees, and like other tree-climbers, they have sharp claws that they use to get a grip on the bark. So unless you have access to koala that is used to being handled, watch out!

"Koala" is probably an aboriginal name, or a corruption of one: variants reported include colah, colo, cullewine, kaola, koolah and koolewong, so maybe the truth is in there somewhere. Koalas were eaten by the aboriginal people, and this may explain why James Cook and his party did not see a koala. In fact, the first record of one being seen was in 1798, ten years after the First Fleet arrived, with the first specimen being taken in 1802. The first live specimen was captured in 1803. Together, these dates suggest that the population density of kolas was very low before 1788.

With the original predators, the aboriginal people, largely removed from the Sydney area by disease, Australian koala populations blew out during the 19th century, starting up a new trade in koala skins. In 1919, a season of six months resulted in more than a million "bear skins" being sold, taken by 10,000 licensed trappers. More than half a million were taken in a one-month season in 1927. After that, a public outcry led to the abandonment of the open seasons which had given these large yields.

Curiously, many skins were sold after this time as "wombat". Until the 1960s, zoologists regarded the koala as a close relative of the Australian possums, based on the arrangement of its teeth. This made little sense when you look at the pouch of the koala, which is backwards, like that of the wombats, and in the 1960s, studies on blood chemistry showed that the koala is in fact a wombat up a tree, or at least a wombat-cousin up a tree.

Adult koalas range from 4 to 13.5 kg (about 9 to 30 pounds), with males about 50% heavier than females in any area, with southern koalas generally being heavier than northern ones. (In Victoria, males average 11.8 kg, while females average 7.9 kg, while in Queensland, the figures are 6.5 and 5.1 kg. The fur also varies, being much thicker in the southern (and colder) areas than in Queensland.

The scientific name, Phascolarctos cinereus comes from the Greek phaskolos (pouch), arktos (bear) and the Latin word cinereus, meaning ash-coloured. That being said, the koala is only remotely like a bear, and the early colonists also referred to it as a sloth, and as a "monkey".

Like all the other marsupials, the female koala has a pouch which contains the teats, and in which the young develop from a very immature stage. A backward (downward) facing pouch may seem bizarre in a tree-dweller, but it usually seems to work, since the young are attached to a teat when they are very young, and able to cling when they are older. There was one case of a very elderly female at Taronga Zoo, whose pouch needed to be clipped shut to keep the young in. (In a wombat, of course, a backward-facing pouch stops dirt getting in when the wombat is burrowing, which suggests that a distant ancestor of the koala must also have been a burrower.

Koalas eat the leaves of certain Eucalyptus trees, and most Australians will tell you that there are very few of these. While zoo koalas are mainly fed E. viminalis (manna gum), E. camaldulensis (river red gum) and E. tereticornis (forest red gum), some two dozen Eucalyptus species are eaten by koalas, along with wattles (Acacia), box (Tristania), coast ti-tree (Leptospermum laevigatum), paperbark (Melaleuca) and even introduced plants like the apple tree and Monterey pine (Pinus radiata).

At the very least, this finding leaves open the question of why koalas have such a small brain, are so somnolent, and seem to mainly eat the leaves of gum trees when there are so many others open to them. For all we know, it may be as simple as gum trees allowing females more opportunity to escape the unwanted advances of males - they usually do this by retreating to the ends of the slenderest branches, where the heavier males cannot follow.

Where to see koalas: Taronga Zoo has an excellent enclosure which brings visitors up to treetop level, while they may be seen in the wild at Tidbinbilla near Canberra

Useful reference: The Koala: A Natural History, Anthony Lee and Roger Martin, UNSW Press, 1988, ISBN 0 86840 354 7

The Australian Koala Foundation is on the Web at http://www.savethekoala.com/, where they say that the AKF is "is politically neutral, unbiased and speaks solely for the koala".

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Kangaroos and wallabies

What is the difference between a kangaroo and a wallaby? The answer is: the length of the foot. Over ten inches (25 cm), and it's a kangaroo. Less than that, and it is a wallaby. Then there are the purists who see an intermediate group, the wallaroos. To make it easier, let's just call them all macropods, a name that means "big foot".

Kangaroos are now a matter for the Animal Liberationists to emote over. There are several macropods in short supply, and others which may be close to extinction, but none of the hunted species is in any way threatened. If people want to conserve things, maybe they should look around for something really in danger, like the several macropods whose habitats are threatened by logging interests.

Until people do learn better, though, be warned. If you are an overseas tourist, you may have trouble taking kangaroo products back home because of unjustified bans, organised by well-meaning and sincere people who have no idea what they are talking about. It would actually be far better for the whole Australian environment if Australians farmed an animal which is a natural part of the environment

Many of the stuffed koala souvenirs are actually made of kangaroo skin. If they are made overseas, the koalas are usually made of plastic. Most souvenir koalas are plastic.

Where to see kangaroos: Featherdale, Kalkari in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, Taronga Zoo.

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Wombat

This burrowing marsupial is a close relative of the koala. More to come

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Possum

to come

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Carnivorous marsupials

Most foreigners tend to think of marupials as gentle vegetarians like the kangaroos and koalas, but there are also about 70 meat eaters, including the kwolls (or quolls, Dasyurus sp.), otherwise referred to as "cats", the extinct Tasmanian tiger, the rather endangered Tasmanian Devil (but see also this link which has sound), and a number of smaller mouse-like marsupials. Key words for web searches: Dasyuromorphia, dunnart, numbat, bandicoot, "marsupial mole", kowari. mulgara, antechinus.

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Interesting invertebrates

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Cicadas

At close range, a Double Drummer cicada can generate 120 decibels of noise, close to the pain threshold. Cicadas are found all over the world, but unlike most Australian insects, whose names are known only in the confined world of the biologist, generations of Australian children have given common names to many of our 202 described species of cicadas. Some of these names make sense, but at least one is a puzzle, and the answer to that puzzle is revealed here for the first time.

The "Black Prince" is the most valued of all cicadas, because most Sydney children will cheerfully assert that the friendly suburban pharmacist will just as cheerfully part with a dollar for the wings of this species. While there is no call for the wings in any part of the pharmacopoeia, each generation needs to be separately disillusioned. Well, at least the Black Prince justifies its name, being a black cicada, Psaltoda plaga.

The real mystery is the "Yellow Monday", which generations of entomologists and etymologists have failed to solve. The cicada known today as the "Greengrocer" and once called the "Green Monday" is a green form of Cyclochila australasiae, and the Yellow Monday is just a yellow form of the same species. But where does the "Monday" come from, they ask.

This is speculation, but I believe the answer has lain, waiting to be found in the journals of an early New South Wales governor, Lachlan Macquarie, who refers to a lagoon near the Blue Mountains, now called "Yarramundi Lagoon" as Yellow Monday Lagoon. Reading between the lines, it is obvious that the name Yarramundi is an aboriginal one, corrupted by Macquarie to "Yellow Monday", and later reinstated on the lagoon, without anybody ever making the link to the mystery of the cicada's common name. The accepted pronunciation of "Yellow Monday" is actually "Yella-Mundie", supporting this explanation.

This should not surprise us all that much, for the common names are part of the language of Australian children, while accurate geographical place names are the preserve of formal adults, folk who would never dream of scrambling up a tree to catch a cicada to take into the classroom.

The other common names listed by Max Moulds (see below) are "Double Drummer" for Thopha saccata, Cherrynose (Macrotristria angularis), Floury Baker (Abricta curvicosta), Redeye (Psaltoda moerens), Bladder Cicada (Cystosoma saundersii) and Hairy Cicada (both Tettigarcta tomentosa and T. crinita).

Australian cicadas develop over one to several years before emerging as adults, and emerge on a warm night in late spring. Two grass species are known to have annual life cycles, most species seem to require at least two years for development, while the Greengrocer/Yellow Monday cicadas may take 6-7 years.

Once they have emerged, the nymphs climb a fence post, a tree, or a wall, and "hatch out" from the nymphal case before unfurling their wings and drying them. The wings, rolled up inside the nymphal case, then the "veins" in the wings have to be pumped full of fluid, and after that, the wings must be allowed to rest flat until they dry out. It is usually 2-3 days after that before the male begins singing.

Many birds eat cicadas, and so do spiders which build aerial webs, while a wasp with the rather obvious name of "cicada killer wasp" uses cicadas to stock the larder for its larvae. Ants, lizards, snakes frogs and cane toads all eat cicadas, and a few would even fall prey to young crocodiles in tropical streams.

Where to hear cicadas : Ha! Show me somewhere where you can't hear them!

Useful reference: Australian Cicadas, Max Moulds, Reed Book, 1990, ISBN 0 86840 139 0

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Feral Animals of Australia

Australia has long had a problem with feral animals. Some Englishmen in the nineteenth century set out to improve the Australian landscape by "acclimatising" all sorts of living things to our conditions. So it was that we got sparrows, starlings, rabbits and foxes loose in our bush. On top of that, cats and dogs walk out on their human owners, or are dumped in the bush, and a number of non-native rats and mice have been added as well.

These feral animals are closer to us than you may think. There are rabbits all over the Quarantine Station on North Head, and I recently spotted a fox within a kilometre of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, in Neutral Bay. When I told a friend of this, he told me that this must have been the fox that he saw, the same day, on the Bridge itself. "Which way was it headed?", I asked. "East to west, across six lanes of traffic", was his reply.

Feral animals are seen to best advantage under a motor vehicle.

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Feral cats

Your average domestic moggy, at a maximum of 6 kg (13 pounds), is a mere pussycat compared with a feral male cat, which can weigh as much as 8.2 kg (18 pounds). Feral cat skulls can be distinguished by mammalogists because of their larger size.

While feral cats do some good by eating rabbits and rats, cats also kill and eat possums, bandicoots, songbirds, skinks and invertebrates, as well as a number of smaller marsupials. A number of small marsupial species went extinct soon after Europeans arrived in an area, which points the finger directly at the cat, because a number of small species disappeared before aboriginal firestick farming had died out.

As well, all of the extinct species were i nthe 50-800 gram (about 2 - 30 ounces)range most favoured by cats as prey, and smaller species disappeared before larger ones.

In city areas, the much greater number of domesticated cats means that these are the major killers - even when owners have "belled" their cats, the animals are major killers. Some estimates put the losses in suburban bushland as high as 50% of all of the targeted animals in those areas. A well-fed domestic cat can kill as many as 50 vertebrates in a year, and 90% of domestic cats are killers.

In arid areas, feral cats have become established as major predators, and may even have wiped out one colony or Rufous Hare-wallabies. Feral cats seem also to have contributed to the decline in numbers of marsupial predators, both by out-competing them, and also by spreading diseases such as toxoplasmosis and sarcosporidiosis, two protozoan diseases.

Oddly enough, feral cats may have arrived in Australia before Europeans, with some people suggesting that they may have arrived on Dutch ships which ran aground on the Western Australian coast in the 17th century. Aboriginal accounts certainly suggest that the cats have been in that area for longer than white people.

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Camels

The first Australian camel was the sole survivor of a shipment sent from the Canary Islands, which arrived in Australia in 1840. Later, more camels were brought in. The Overland Telegraph line (1870-1872) and the Transcontinental Railway (1912-1917) would probably not have been built without the help of camels to haul in materials and supplies.

The camels of the Australian inland were driven by "Afghans", most of whom actually came from Baluchistan (now part of Pakistan) and Rajasthan (now part of India), and by 1920, there were some 20,000 camels being used to carry goods in Australia.

Strange as it may sound, Australia is no the only country in the world where there are camels in the wild. With the coming of motor transport, the camels were no longer needed, and many of them were released into the desert, where they have been ever since, except for those which are rounded up from time to time for export to Arabia.

The Australian "camel" is actually a single-humped dromedary, Camelus camelus dromedarius, not a two-humped Bactrian camel. They were shipped from Karachi, Bombay or Calcutta, and probably came originally from Rajasthan and Baluchistan, like their drivers.

Where to see camels: Central Australia, Taronga Zoo, and at all sorts of surprising places along the coasts of Australia offer camel rides along beaches. Watch out - the camel ride camels are NOT comfortable to ride. No camels are, unless you get used to them. I strongly recommend the Explore the Outback camel safaris: I have been on a four-day one, and I plan to go back again. You can look at some of my Central Australian pics if you wish.

Where to see camels: Taronga Zoo

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Rabbits

Rabbits began as wild animals around the Mediterranean, and tradition has it that they were taken by the Normans to Britain in the 12th century. Later, during the Black Death, some of the captive rabbits are supposed to have escaped and run wild, becoming an important food resource for poor people. Later, English immigrants brought rabbits with them to Australia.

In fact, the first rabbits arrived with the First Fleet, but these were silver-grey domestic rabbits, and while these spread across New South Wales, Victoria and parts of Tasmania, but these were not a major problem, unlike the wild rabbits which Thomas Austin brought to Geelong for sport in 1859.

The Geelong rabbits did well, and Austin's shooting parties in 1867 bagged 14,253 rabbits, 448 hawks, 23 wedge-tailed eagles, 622 native cats and 32 domestic cats (presumably feral cats). By 1868, the rabbits were spreading.

The rabbits spread by simple pressure of population, but they also spread when Austin sent breeding pairs to people in other parts of the colony, and travellers carried with them for release in rabbit-free areas, where the rabbits became good food. In other parts of the Pacific, islands were seeded with goats, rabbits and pigs to provide food for ship-wrecked sailors.

Rabbits reached New South Wales by 1880, and the Queensland border saw its first rabbits in 1886, turning whole districts into waste land, cropping the regrowth after a fire or a drought, and permanently changing huge tracts of land. In the process, they made it unsuitable for many of the original mammal inhabitants, causing a number of extinctions.

Rabbit-proof fences were built across large tracts of the continent, but these generally arrived too late, and only succeeded in stopping the rabbits on the two sides from interbreeding. Wombats burrowed under them, kangaroos and emus broke them down, drift sands provided ways over, the posts rotted out in swamps or burnt in fires, and the fences were not maintained.

Rabbits were not entirely a disaster: the present writer managed to keep himself reasonably fed on rabbits caught in traps and snares in the 1960s, and the skins of rabbits provided the rabbit fur that has made Australians their felt hats for four or five generations. In the 1930s, rabbits came back into one of their original uses, providing food source for the poor.

Rabbits are controlled in a number of ways. Warrens can be sealed off and smoked out, with dogs to run down any escapees, or the warrens can be "ripped", burying the inhabitants and smothering them. In some areas, baits are used, and in the past, the Myxoma virus has been used to cause myxomatosis. More recently, the calicivirus has been used, but while this has reduced rabbit numbers in many areas, they are expected to bounce back once they develop an immunity to the virus - something which experts consider inevitable.

Late in 1999, farmers in calici-affected areas of the state are engaged in a long campaign of ripping, baiting, shooting, trapping, dogging and gassing, to put off the inevitable for as long as possible. But as Mr. Austin should have realised, one breeding pair, in six months, can provide a population of 70 rabbits, because rabbits breed like, well, rabbits.

Where to see rabbits: North Head near Manly, Taronga Zoo, best of all, as road kill or strung up in a butcher's shop.

Useful reference: They All Ran Wild, by Eric C. Rolls, ISBN

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Cane toads

The Queensland cane toad, Bufo marinus has other names in other parts of the world. The most common name is "Great Mexican Toad".

Souvenir hunters of an odd mind (or looking for something unusual to take home for a friend with an odd mind) should try to locate a video called Cane Toads, an Unnatural History, generally available from the shop at the Australian Museum, or from one of the ABC shops like the one in the Queen Victoria Building.

Where to see cane toads: most of Queensland, northern coastal New South Wales, and they reached Darwin in 2006.

Useful reference: that video.


Other ferals in brief:

For a bgood overall account, see
feral.org.au.

Brumbies

Brumbies are feral horses, and they cause a great deal of damage in sensitive areas. People carry on about how noble and beautiful they are, but those are people who don't get close to the landscape, and people who haven't been stalked by a cranky stallion. I was out in the Tin Mines area, part of the Great Dividing Range in the Snowy Mountains, and I saw a group of three brumbies. As I moved in to get the closest possible photo, the stallion didn't back off, he started coming at me. Luckily, I remembered reading somewhere that picking up a stick was a good idea, so I did. The stallion either thought "I'm outa here!" or more probably "Oh no, not another idiot who reads books like that, he's no threat!", but either way, he pushed off.

Thanks to The Man From Snowy River, both the poem and the movie, these pestiment feral animals have become part of the Australian myth. To be honest, they are beautiful to look at, but the sphagnum bogs they trample are far from beautiful. They just don't belong.

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Donkeys

If you go on a camel safari, you will see lots of these, because donkeys seem to do well in the desert. They are not a major problem, but they are there. See this site for more.

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Feral pigs

These animals are severely dangerous to humans, but they also make a horrible mess of any place where they decide to root around (no, Bruce, I don't mean it that way)

See this site. The site is also worth poking around on.

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Feral goats

Goats can climb trees. I have seen one three metres (10 feet) up a gum tree, out near Bourke. I sneaked back to the car and got my camera, but it heard the click as I wound the camera on (this was in the says of film and stuff), and the goat took off. Believe me or not, I don't care, it happened. You can sometimes buy goat meat these days, but they breed faster than we can shoot or eat them. Good tucker! See this site.

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This file is http://members.ozemail.com.au/~macinnis/syd/animals.htm, first created on February 28, 2006. Last recorded revision (well I get lazy and forget sometimes!) was on September 3, 2009.

© The author of this work is Peter Macinnis. You are free to point at this page. Copies of this page or set of pages may be stored on PDAs or printed for personal use. You can't contact me at macinnis@ozemail.com.au, but if you add my first name to the front of that email address, you can -- this is a low-tech way of making it harder to harvest the e-mail address I actually read.
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