Surviving Australia

Australian Museum

If you think Australian wildlife is just about dingoes, koalas and kangaroos then be prepared to be challenged in this fascinating exhibition that unveils some very surprising animal secrets.

Giant Short-faced Kangaroo, Anne Musser, From the collection of: Australian Museum

Giant Short-faced Kangaroo, Procoptodon goliah

The Giant Short-faced Kangaroo was the largest known kangaroo ever to have lived. Some say they were well over two metres tall and weighed in at over 200 kilograms. There is some evidence that, rather than hop, this monster preferred to walk on two feet. In New South Wales, Aboriginal people still recount stories of a large, long-armed, aggressive kangaroo that would attack people.

Weedy Seadragon, John Turnbull, From the collection of: Australian Museum

Weedy Seadragon, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus

Weedy Seadragons get their name from the interesting weed-like appendages on their bodies. They also have a long pipe-like snout with a small mouth at the end. They can be green or brown, with red and orange colours, depending on what surroundings they’re trying to blend in with. These fish aren’t very good swimmers, which explains why they often get stranded on the beach. They’re great at camouflage.

Red Land Crab, John Tann, From the collection of: Australian Museum

Red Land Crab, Gecarcoide natalis

During the breeding season, adult Red Land Crabs leave the forests and people’s backyards and head for the nearest beach. This turns Christmas Island into a massive sea of red, creating one of the natural world’s most amazing and unforgettable sights. Red Land Crabs, on the same routes they use every year, clamber down cliffs and stream over roads as they head to and from the sea. Don’t worry about the high Red Land Crab death toll on Christmas Island’s roads because special crab crossings and tunnels have been built by the locals who want to save as many of these reckless travellers as they can.

Lord Howe Island Woodhen, John Game, From the collection of: Australian Museum

Lord Howe Island Woodhen, Hypotaenidia sylvestris

The Lord Howe Island Woodhen has an amazing story of survival to tell. In 1980 it was estimated that only 15 birds were still alive. Early explorers easily caught them and ate these flightless birds as they were apparently quite tasty. But this was nothing compared to the slaughter that followed the introduction of pigs and cats. After successful breeding and other conservation programs, the birds now number roughly 220, about the island’s limit. They have been brought back from the brink of extinction.

Little Penguin, M Kuhn, From the collection of: Australian Museum

Little Penguin, Eudyptula minor

Little Penguins live in burrows in the ground and, if not at sea, stay inside for protection against heat and predators. The most famous colony of these little birds is on Phillip Island in Victoria where about 32,000 live. You can see them up close at the nightly Penguin Parade.

Emperor Gum Moth, Opodiphthera eucalypti, Donald Hobern, From the collection of: Australian Museum

Emperor Gum Moth, Opodiphthera eucalypti

Emperor Gum Moths are large and striking in appearance. Their bodies are multi-coloured but primarily pale reddish-brown. Caterpillars form hard grey woven silk cocoons from which the moths emerge. The possible wingspan of the adult moth is an impressive 6.5 cm.

Green Tree Frog, G Little, From the collection of: Australian Museum

Green Tree Frog, Litoria caerulea

Green Tree Frog skin secretes antibacterial and antiviral properties that one day may prove useful in medicine. Several peptides from these secretions have been shown to destroy the HIV virus, for example.

Stalk-eyed Signal Flies, Stuart Humphries, From the collection of: Australian Museum

Stalk-eyed Signal Flies, Achias spp.

These flies have their eyes on stalks, which serve some very useful purposes. First, the eyes give the fly superior vision, even enabling the owner to peep around corners. Second, the stalk can be used as a weapon to push competitors away and, third, the longer the stalk and the more wide-set the eyes, the stronger the signal to female flies that this male is big and strong and genetically a good catch.

Diprotodon optatum, Anne Musser, From the collection of: Australian Museum

Diprotodon optatum

The Diprotodon, an ancient hippo-sized, wombat-like mammal, are the largest marsupials ever found –anywhere. And they are Australia’s very own. They date back to the Pleistocene Epoch. They may have been the ‘bunyips’ of Aboriginal Dreamtime legend as some tribes make this connection having seen the fossils.

Crest-tailed Mulgara, Babs-Bert-Wells, From the collection of: Australian Museum

Crest-tailed Mulgara, Dasycercus cristicauda

Mulgaras don’t drink. But they do have highly developed kidneys that excrete very concentrated urine to preserve water. They are hydrated by the food they eat instead. Their dry pellets of poo have the same function – not a drop of precious fluid is wasted.

Greater Bilby, Howard Hughes, From the collection of: Australian Museum

Greater Bilby, Macrotis lagotis

Bilbies are special in many ways. For example, with their very long ears, they are sometimes called Australia’s answer to the Easter Bunny and their tasty chocolate likenesses can be found in stores at Easter time. This was an attempt to boost their popularity and help get support for their survival.

Also making them special is the fact that, generally speaking, Bilbies don’t drink. Water is not crucial to their diet as they are able to obtain enough moisture from their food. This is what makes their survival in arid regions so successful.

Platypus, G Millen, From the collection of: Australian Museum

Platypus, Ornithorhynchus anatinus

When first discovered, the unusual look of the Platypus caused considerable confusion and doubt amongst European scientists, many of whom believed that the animal was a fake. This is because they are monotremes: a combination of a mammal and an egg-layer. To the people of NSW they have an even greater significance as the animal emblem of their State.

Powerful Thylacine, Harry Burrell, From the collection of: Australian Museum

Thylacine, Thylacinus potens

Thylacines were dog-like marsupial carnivores whose last representative, the Tasmanian 'Tiger', tragically became extinct last century. This animal was one of the largest carnivorous mammals ever to live in Australia.

There is a famous, grainy 1932 film of the last Thylacine in a Tasmanian zoo. It died in 1936 but some specimens were preserved and remain in the Australian Museum collection.

Mountain Pygmy Possum, G A Hoye, From the collection of: Australian Museum

Mountain Pygmy Possum, Burramys parvus

The Mountain Pygmy Possum is one of a kind. Nowhere else in the world can you find a marsupial that hibernates for the winter. This period can last for up to seven months. They store food to keep themselves fed during short times of wakefulness. During hibernation, the possums can reduce their body temperature to two degrees centigrade. These possums are also the only Australian mammal adapted to live exclusively in the alpine zone.

Rufous Bettong, G A Hoye, From the collection of: Australian Museum

Rufous Bettong, Aepyprymnus rufescens

Rufous Bettongs are special because they are the largest of the rat kangaroos and the most widespread. They are survivors among so many others, like the Burrowing Bettong, that have become extinct, as farmland, urban spread and introduced predators have overtaken their habitat.

Discover Australian wildlife and some very surprising animal secrets.
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