The national symbol of Australia is the kangaroo, which is fair enough as there are more of these hopping marsupials in the country than there are people. Kangaroos can reach speeds of 43 miles per hour at full pelt, and are the only large animals to use hopping as their main method of movement. Newborn kangaroos are the size of a small bean—the tiny pink babies wiggle through their mother’s fur and into the pouch, where they’ll stay until they’re large enough to explore the outback on foot.
The platypus is such an odd-looking animal that, when it was discovered, scientists believed that they were being tricked by a cruel prankster who had sewn a duck’s bill on to a beaver’s body. Nowadays we know that this unique animal is the real deal, and it has become one of Australia’s most iconic creatures. Male platypuses are known for being some of the only poisonous mammals on Earth: spurs on the backs of their feet are capable of delivering an excruciating toxic sting. Platypuses are also some of the only monotremes, or mammals that lay eggs.
Best known for inspiring the bright orange Playstation character Crash Bandicoot, real bandicoots don’t look a whole lot like their pixellated posterboy. They’re mousy-brown, rat-like marsupials with long snouts, big ears, strong hind legs for jumping and pouches for their babies to live in. Due to their diminutive size, bandicoots are common prey for predators like dingoes and snakes.
Cute koalas in Eucalyptus trees help to soften Australia’s reputation as a land of deadly snakes and spiders, although these cuddly critters do have an aggressive side—the noises made by koalas are some of the most disturbing sounds in the animal kingdom. Commonly referred to as ‘koala bears’, these tree-dwelling mammals are actually in a completely different family to grizzlies and pandas. They’re marsupials, so spend the first six months of their lives tucked away in their mothers’ pouches just like kangaroos.
Sydney funnel-web spider
If you don’t like spiders, maybe skip this bit: Sydney funnel-webs are often considered the world’s most dangerous spiders. Their enormous fangs are larger than those of many snakes, and powerful enough to piece through fingernails or toenails. The potentially-lethal venom that the funnel-web’s fangs inject is so potent that it can alter the functions of every organ in the human body. Luckily there’s an anti-venom to combat their beastly bites, and nobody’s died from one since 1981.
It’s thought that dingoes descended from semi-domesticated dogs from Asia, having reverted to life in the wild after being introduced in Australia. Like other wild dogs, they are excellent hunters and considered apex predators in their habitats of desert, grassland and forest.
Wombats are closely related to koalas, although these pudgy fellas live in burrows rather than trees, which they dig using their sharp claws. They are nocturnal, emerging at night to feed on tough roots and grasses which put their sharp incisors to the test. One of the weirdest things about wombats is their cube-shaped poop; they use their geometric turds as a territorial signposts. Strewth.
The platypus’ lesser-known cousins, echidnas, are almost as unusual as their aquatic relatives. They are sometimes known as spiny anteaters, resembling porcupines with long, anteater-like snouts and sticky tongues used for collecting insects.
Only ostriches prevent emus from being the largest birds on Earth. They have two sets of eyelids, useful for keeping out dust while they run at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. With such powerful legs, a kick from the emu’s sharp-taloned foot is powerful enough to rip through steel fences and disembowel humans. In 1932, an ‘Emu War’ was waged in an attempt to curb the large number of wild emus eating crops and damaging farmland. Despite facing machine guns, most of the birds managed to escape.
Probably Australia’s most notorious man killers, saltwater crocodiles are the largest living reptiles on Earth and the most likely animals to eat humans. These truly fearsome animals aren’t just restricted to freshwater rivers and lakes: as their name suggests, ‘salties’ can be also be found far out at sea. So it’s not just sharks you have to worry about while swimming in the ocean—in fact, these crocs have been known to eat sharks, so it’s them you should be most afraid.
Australia is home to some of the most unique animals in the world: geographic isolation means it contains the majority of our planet’s marsupials, some of the only egg-laying mammals and a frightening variety of venomous species including snakes, spiders and jellyfish.
Those who are willing to brave the perils found down under will be rewarded with a whole load of fascinating creatures unlike anything else on Earth. To prove it, we’ve rounded up a few facts about some of Australia’s most amazing animals.