When people think of Australian animals, kangaroos and koalas likely come to mind. But there are so many other unique animals that call the Land Down Under home. Because of Australia's remote location, many species were able to evolve with no influence or interference from the rest of the world. Almost 80% of Australia’s wildlife is entirely unique to the continent. Here are five animals you probably didn’t know live in Australia.
These adorable marsupials are about the size of a house cat and live primarily in Western Australia, especially on Rottnest Island. Because the small critter always appears to be sporting a big smile, the quokka has been dubbed the happiest animal in the world, with quokka selfies becoming popular among tourists.
Quokkas are members of the kangaroo family and move in a similar way. They use their long tails for balance as they hop around on their hind legs. They eat leaves, bark, and grass and can survive for long periods without food or water. Because they have no natural predators, they roam freely and typically aren't afraid of humans. They are known for wandering into campsites or buildings in search of tasty treats.
These sea mammals look a lot like manatees in the Atlantic, but are unique to the South Pacific. There are two easy ways to tell them apart: Dugongs have elongated, trunk-like snouts for eating sea grass off the ocean floor, and pointed tails resembling those of dolphins or whales, while manatees have stubby noses and paddle-shaped tails like beavers.
Dugongs enjoy warm water and typically stay near the equator their entire lives. More than half of the world’s dugongs live in the waters off of Australia. Unlike manatees, they only live in salt water. Adult dugongs can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh over 1,000 pounds. Dugongs and manatees are the only herbivorous marine mammals in the world.
Imagine a squirrel trying on a zebra-print jacket — that’s a numbat. Numbats are small marsupials that primarily live in Western Australia. They used to be widespread across the continent but are now considered endangered. Although they look like squirrels, numbats are slow-moving, which make them easy prey for predators — even house cats.
Numbats are insectivores and mainly eat termites. An adult numbat will eat up to 20,000 termites per day. Most animals that eat termites are large and have strong arms to break through the termites’ concrete-like nests. Numbats aren’t large or strong, so they have to wait for the termites to be active in order to get a meal. When the termites are awake, so are the numbats.
Tree kangaroos are native to the mountains of Queensland and, as their name suggests, spend their lives among the trees. Much like the land kangaroo we all know and love, tree kangaroos use their powerful hind legs to hop from branch to branch, using their heavy tails for balance. Not much is known about tree kangaroos in the wild as they are very mysterious creatures and prefer a solitary life. There is still a lot to learn about the species.
Lyrebird? More like liar-bird. Lyrebirds are masters of mimicry and can imitate many of the forest sounds they hear around them, ranging from other birds’ songs to camera shutters and even chainsaws. Male lyrebirds attempt to create the most complicated song possible in hopes of attracting a mate to come look at their fancy plumage.
Because their imitations are so good, they sometimes accidentally fool other bird species who fly over to take a look. These fascinating birds can be found in rainforests throughout Australia. While they can fly, they prefer to remain on the ground.