Australia is home to a great diversity of, and many unique animals. Most native Australians are not found anywhere beyond its territories. I guess that’s not surprising since it is the world largest island or smallest continent country with vast expanses of ocean between it and other continents.
Australia is home to almost 70% of the world’s marsupials. Other marsupials are found in the Americas, mostly South America. Kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, possums, wombats, Tasmanian devils, numbats, bilbies, and quolls are among the species of marsupials found in Australia.
Marsupials are mammals that give birth to live young before they are fully developed. The young, usually referred to as joeys, continue to develop in the mother’s pouch for a number of months, suckling on their mother’s milk.
There is another group of even more unusual mammals: the monotremes. Monotremes are egg-laying mammals. The platypus and the echidna, the only existing species of monotremes, are unique to Australia.
When Europeans first saw a platypus, they thought it was a hoax with its bill like a duck’s, tail like a beaver’s, and feet like an otter’s. It has fur like other mammals but, unlike other mammals, it lays eggs.
The platypus lives in burrows on the banks of freshwater streams and small rivers in eastern Australia, including Tasmania. It spends much of its time foraging in the muddy river beds for crayfish, worms and insect larvae.
Female platypus usually lay two eggs. When the young hatch, the mother releases milk from pores in her skin. The milk pools on her abdomen and is lapped up by the young for about three to four months. There is no special baby name for baby platypus. They are simply called ‘baby platypus’.
The male platypus, with a poisonous spur on its hind foot, is one of only a few venomous mammals.
Platypus predators include crocodiles, eagles, dingoes, and introduced animals such as foxes and feral cats.
Echidnas, the oldest surviving mammals, live all over Australia in many different habitats. They usually live alone and are not territorial. Although it is rare to see an echidna in the wild, they are considered common. They generally hide away under vegetation, in logs, or in the burrows of other animals.
Echidnas eat termites and ants, and sometimes the larvae of other insects. They use their long snouts to forage in leaf litter, rotting logs, or ant mounds in search of food. Their long tongues are covered in sticky saliva for catching prey.
Echidnas are covered with spines along the head, back and tail. The spines are sharp and used for defence against predators.
Female echidnas usually lay one egg at a time. When the young, called a “puggle”, hatches, it makes its way to the mother’s pouch area to suckle milk. When the puggle starts to develop spines, at about 50 days, it is removed from the pouch. The mother continues to suckle it until it is about six to seven months old, at which time she deposits it at the entrance to the burrow, then walks away and abandons it.
Predators include goannas, Tasmanian devils, dingoes, eagles, and introduced animals such as foxes and feral cats. When threatened an echidna may run away or curl up in a ball.
Although all have spines, echidnas are not related to either hedgehogs or porcupines.
Here is a great article about these amazing echidnas.
If you are looking for books about Australian animals, check out the Steve Parish Storybook Collection by Rebecca Johnson, featured in last month’s Author Spotlight, which includes stories about both monotremes, many marsupials, and other fabulous creatures.
Monotremes and marsupials feature in the readilearn stories Bullfrog’s Billabong and Little Koala’s Party and their suite of resources.
I was prompted to think about the diversity and uniqueness of these Australian animals, especially the echidna, by this week’s flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications. She challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a prickly story. I thought there was no better opportunity to share with you some of our amazing creatures, particularly since just last week I was lucky enough to see an echidna in the wild for the very first time.
The uniqueness and diversity of Australian animals reflects our own individual uniqueness and the diversity among us. We have much to learn about accepting difference, appreciating diversity, and acknowledging the unique characteristics each individual contributes to the enrichment of our collective humanity. Together we stand. Divided we fall.
Here is my response. I hope you enjoy it.
She bristled, warning platypus to stop. He didn’t.
“Feeling a little prickly, are we?”
Kookaburra, oblivious, laughed at the “joke”.
She smarted. Couldn’t he see the hurt in his words? Like a spur in her side, that last barb, really stung. Mocking difference pushed them apart.
The bush quietened. Not a breath of wind. Not a leaf’s rustle. Not a bird’s chirrup. Were all waiting for the victor to be decided?
Suddenly, out of the undergrowth, rushed a devil, hungry for blood.
Platypus turned to echidna. She contemplated leaving him. But stayed. Spur and spines together: a powerful defence.
Author’s note: Tasmanian devils have been known to eat echidnas, spines and all!
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.