13 Unique Australian Animals

by Deb on June 17, 2010

Something for both Australians and others, I’ve avoided most of the obvious ones and put in a few that are a bit more obscure, including many of my favourites.  It’s sometimes hard to remember how truly unique our animals are.

  1. Numbats – The state animal of Western Australia.  Marsupials like most Australian mammals, they are ant-eaters with a very long and flexible tongue to reach into ant nests.
  2. Numbat

  3. Black Swan – The state  bird of WA and on the flag.  Three guesses where I’m originally from.  They are smaller than the European species and don’t migrate because the weather in the South-west is so mild.  I love the beautiful ruffled feathers on their backs.
  4. Black On Blue

  5. Redback – Isn’t she gorgeous?  They are a type of black widow with the distinctive shape but a bright red stripe on the female’s back.  They are not generally deadly with medical assistance but their bite is extremely painful. (Look in the comments for an interesting discussion on redbacks and whether or not they are native.)
  6. Redback

  7. Perentie – The largest Australian lizard, a type of monitor, they live in the arid inland and western areas.  They can grow up to 2.5m long and weigh 20kg.  Like other large monitors they are mildly venomous – not enough to kill, but they do cause swelling and disrupt blood clotting.  They are important to Australian Aboriginal people both spiritually and as a food animal, they’re delicious.
  8. Perentie at Sydney Wildlife World 2

  9. Budgerigars – or budgies, now one of the world’s most popular pet birds.  These green ones are the original colour and large flocks can still be seen throughout the arid regions, but they have now been bred in all sorts of different colours including blue, purple and white.  A small type of parrot, they are friendly and talkative.
  10. Bull ant – that ruler is in centimetres!  These ants are around an inch long, I recently saw one for the first time and it was enormous.  Those pincers are very sharp and very painful, luckily they are solitary, can you imagine a whole nest?Bull Ant
  11. Archer fish – while it may appear fairly boring, archer fish are very interesting to biologists.  They are found in a lot of northern waters and there appear to be several species.  The name comes from their hunting technique – they get close to the surface and spit water at insects, bringing them down where they can eat them.
  12. Trigger/Archer fish

  13. Thorny devil – what a cutie!  This is probably my all time favourite animal, they’re quirky and beautifully adapted to the desert.  The thorns are part of how they drink, tiny droplets of dew condense on them then run along grooves in their skin to the mouth, but they are also great at discouraging predators.  The lump on the back of the neck is a false head – when they are threatened they bend their real head forward between their legs.
  14. Thorny Devil (Moloch horridus)

  15. Cassowary – technically not uniquely Australian they are found in New Guinea too.  But biologically New Guinea is part of Australia, so it counts.  They are closely related to emus and ostriches but live in the rainforests of north Queensland.  The helmet or casque helps them push through the dense vegetation.  They have a very long claw on one of their toes and defend themselves with quite a dangerous kick.  The females are larger and dominant and the males tend the eggs.
  16. cassowary

  17. Sugar glider – Awww.  There are several species of wrist-winged gliders in Australia and New Guinea, they are a type of small nocturnal possum. The wings are large flaps of skin between their fingers and toes and they can glide 50-150m in the right conditions.  The tail acts as a rudder.
  18. Olive python – The Rainbow Serpent is one of the most widespread Dreaming spirits, it usually brings rain and has created waterholes and rivers.  Olive pythons are a large northern snake that swim and like water, and in the light you can see a rainbow sheen sheen along their scales.  Maybe wishful thinking, but it certainly seems a good candidate for inspiring the spirit.
  19. Mudskipper – that’s a fish sitting in that tree.  Not uniquely Australian they’re actually spread around the world, especially in mangroves and tidal flats, but certainly unique.  When out of water they ‘skip’ on their pectoral fins and take in oxygen through their skin and the mucosa of their mouth and throat.  This only works when they are wet, so they live mainly in humid, tropical environments.  They are carnivorous predators and are quite comfortable on land.  I think they’re fascinating.
  20. IMG_8300

  21. Barramundi – extremely tasty!  Fish often have far more interesting life cycles than us boring mammals, and barramundi are a well known example.  They spend most of their time in freshwater rivers, but head to estuaries or tidal areas to spawn – the eggs need brackish water to develop.  If they are cut off from freshwater they can also be entirely marine (Apparently they’re found throughout a lot of Asia, as you’d expect from a sea creature).  Young fish mature first as males, then turn into females – they are serial hermaphrodites.  For this reason most areas have both upper and lower size limits – taking the small fish would take too many males, but fishing the largest would remove too many females.  There are generally strict limits on the ones in the middle.

That’s just a few of the Australian animals we don’t hear about as often as kangaroos and koalas.  Do you have a favourite obscure animal?

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Catherine June 17, 2010 at 10:51 am

There are so many to choose from. Since you have said barramundi, I vote for quolls, mainly because of their wonderful name and endangered status. Unless mudcrabs are native to Australia, in which case I change my vote.
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Deb June 17, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I like the word quoll too. Mudcrabs were serious contenders and I should have put a crustacean in, but the list was getting way too long!


Hear Mum Roar June 17, 2010 at 1:45 pm

They’re all just so beautiful! Although I’m so glad I’ve never come face to face with the olive python!
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Deb June 17, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I love snakes, reptiles are my favourites. I used to volunteer in the reptile house all the time, Olive pythons are gorgeous.


Heather June 17, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Love the black swan, and the numbat is kind of cute, too! As promised last Thursday, I’ve posted on prairie plants this week.
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Deb June 17, 2010 at 4:17 pm

There are black swans in Perth that are really tame and you can feed them. I’m impressed doing 158 TTs! That’s 3 years worth.


Marita June 17, 2010 at 4:01 pm


:: freaks out ::

:: counts to 10 ::

:: rapidly scrolls past picture ::

:: jumps 10 feet in air at picture of ant ::

:: returns to seat when she realises it is ant picture not another spider ::

Ummm fav Aussie Animal?

The Drop Bear 😀

and the Blue tongue lizard.


Deb June 17, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Heh heh. I freaked when I saw one of those ants a few weeks ago, thought it couldn’t possibly be an ant! The things we used to call bull ants when I was a kid weren’t like that!


jenny June 17, 2010 at 6:43 pm

I’m quite partial to the thorny devil myself 🙂 I have a lizard crazy 11 year old living in my house and it has kinda rubbed off on me.
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Deb June 17, 2010 at 11:09 pm

Reptiles are definitely my favourites. I’m slowly building myself up to getting a snake as a pet, doing the research on keeping them.


amandab June 17, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Princess loves the cassowary, it is a definitely a favourite in our house.

Redbacks are all over our yard, which is why we haven’t done anything out there as yet.

And bullant bites are horrid! 🙁

My favourite is the wombat, kind of common and boring, I know. “Hunwick’s Egg” by Mem Fox makes me kind of like bilbies though, and from memory has a beautiful thorny devil pic too
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Deb June 17, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Ouch! If you’ve been bitten by something that size I feel for you!

Wombats are quite cute, I don’t think of them as common because they are only in the Eastern states. Aren’t we parochial – eastern states, north or south of the river, now I live in the NT it’s ‘Down South!’


Hootin' Anni June 17, 2010 at 8:21 pm

Wow….this was all so amazing!!! And I learned something new reading it all….you rock the blog world with this one. Excellent.

Come join me and read my Thursday post of you can. It’s HERE
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Deb June 17, 2010 at 11:12 pm

Thanks 😀


Kimberly Menozzi June 17, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Awww… Budgies! I love budgies! 🙂 Ours was named Charlie – and he was the natural green color, too.

I like the sugar glider, too. So cute! 🙂

Happy TT!


Deb June 17, 2010 at 11:13 pm

We’ve just got pet budgies, they’re all very mixed. The big girl loves them and is trying to teach them to talk!


Harriet June 17, 2010 at 10:28 pm

There was a story on the news about a guy who put his hand into a bag of grapes and one of those spiders was in there.

Have a great Thursday!


Robert Williams June 17, 2010 at 11:00 pm

I’m sure the RedBack is actually an Import.
But for Australian animals there is always the Potoroo, the Antechinus, and the Urban Boguns


Deb June 17, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Of course, who could overlook the bogans! Almost as good as drop bears and hoop snakes.

The redback is listed as native, widows are certainly found all over the world. But I do remember reading something a few years ago that pointed out they were mostly found in urban settings and were quite rare in the bush, it was speculating that they may have been introduced. But I don’t know from where, does anyone know if there are redbacks found anywhere else?

ETA I just checked Wikipedia, it says they may have been spread around Australia by settlers in the 19th century. But it’s closely related to the New Zealand version, so if it’s been introduced it’s not from too far away.


Robert Williams June 17, 2010 at 11:39 pm

I thought they where the same as the US black widow spiders. Also there are no Aboridginal stories about them (So I’m told)


Deb June 18, 2010 at 9:35 am

They’re closely related – the US spider is Latrodectus mactans, the redback is Latrodectus hasselti – however it appears that L. mactans has been redefined several times with other species together or separate, currently they are separate. There are several related species on Pacific islands and New Zealand, I’d love to know how well these have been studied and if they could be the same.

They weren’t recorded until 1870, which is quite late if they were as common as they are today, and were found in Queensland seaports. Plus Qld and the NT have a long history of contact with other islands, particularly Indonesia, so they could have come in on sailing ships or with non-Europeans, like dingoes and cats. (Cats have been introduced twice.)

The lack of Dreaming stories is interesting but complicated. We’ve lost so many stories, and a lot that are still around cannot be recorded because they are secret, sacred knowledge. But it would be unusual if that included all stories about redbacks. Also many Aboriginal people have a very dry sense of humour. I know of at least one person who came to a community to ‘record their stories’ and was fed a pile of BS. So our knowledge of Dreaming stories is pretty spotty and inaccurate. There are some Aboriginal sounding names for the redback – Murra-ngura spider, Kapara spider and the Kanna-jeri spider – but they could be new names or misunderstandings of Aboriginal words.

Looking further afield, accidentally introduced species that do well generally spread to other countries too. There is a small colony of redbacks in NZ and some in Japan. In NZ they could be contained by the native species, but in Japan they have no competitors and you would expect them to spread very quickly, which they don’t appear to have done. So they aren’t really acting like a typical introduced species.

And just because a species does well out of invasion doesn’t mean it isn’t native – galahs are a classic example. European agriculture has allowed them to drastically increase their numbers and range, but they’re most definitely native! So redbacks could have been a small part of the bush ecosystem, as they are today, but adapted very well to urban settings.

It sounds like it’s a definite maybe 🙂 There are arguments both ways, it would be fascinating to test them genetically but I don’t think that will happen soon. They have definitely spread and increased thanks to European settlement, but it could have been as a native or immigrant. Thanks for a fascinating little research project.


Jill Conyers June 18, 2010 at 12:11 am

Cool T13 and great images.


Janet June 18, 2010 at 1:00 am

love the numbats & super gliders!


Kristine June 21, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Hi Deb, My husband had a great experience with a olive python. When we lived in Newman, we saw some Mardu men walking through town with an olive python around their necks. My husband went over to have a chat and they offered him a hold. He thought it was already dead and got quite a shock when the end near him swung around to have a look at what was going on.


Adesi June 22, 2010 at 2:57 am

anything but reptiles 🙁 please

check mine at http://bit.ly/bNGC3a


Lynn June 25, 2010 at 5:17 am

What a cool list! I personally wouldn’t want to see the redback or bull ant in person though ….
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