When you spend a lot of time in The Australian Bush, some odd little characters become a highlight. Here’s 7 of the cutest, odd, strangely appealing, weirdest Australian animals we really do see on wildlife tours.
And because we’re Downunder, we will start with Part 2: the really weird animals of Australia. Part 1: the ‘normal’ weird ones that Australians take for granted, like Emus, Echidnas, Flying-foxes & Platypus, will come soon.
#1. Goanna – Lace Monitor
“I’m mostly here to see the Big Ass Lizard” an American guest told us on the first day of a 4 day Wildlife Journey.
There is only one lizard he could mean. A Goanna. Actually Lace Monitor is their proper name, but we all call them Goannas.
Goannas are like normal lizards, in the way lions are like house cats. Not really.
Firstly, goannas are enormous. 2.5 metres (8 feet) from nose to tail – if you had one in your bed she’d have to lie diagonal, and even then bits would be hanging off the sides.
When a goanna is on the walking track, there’s no stepping around. She fills the track.
If a goanna smells a barbecue they can decide they want to join your party. They will prowl around the picnic table, tasting the air with their forked tongue. If you take your eyes off them for a moment, they are on the table making off with your hamburger. It takes some determination, shouting and clashing of metal crockery to dissuade them.
They are essentially gentle, but you wouldn’t want to have a disagreement with a Goanna. They are armed with very sharp claws and a bite that may contain venom. Komodo Dragon, the world’s largest lizard, is a type of Goanna.
Likelihood of seeing: High, November to March, Medium October & April
Other species of goanna (Sand Goanna and other monitors) can be seen at other stages of the Maximum Wildlife but likelihood is lower.
#2. Long-nosed Potoroo
In Australia we have kangaroo, wallaroo, wallaby, jackaroo, cockatoo, Kakadu, Barangaroo, Wanneroo, Goonoo Goonoo & Gunderoo, Illaroo and Wolloomooloo. So what do you call a kangaroo that is small and doesn’t hop much, but kinda potters around?
A potoroo of course.
Potoroos are very small and don’t hop much, they sort of bound. They are partly nocturnal, which is why we don’t have many photographs. Sometimes we see them in cloudy weather in the daytime, or in dense, dark rainforest.
Likelihood of seeing: Low, year round
Tours seen on: Maximum Wildlife 21 day, Wildlife Journey 4 day, Great Ocean Road 3 day
#3. Cape Barren Goose
Wild animals run or fly away from people, right? Not always!
Walking out to the Serendip billabong, a large open area that sometimes fills with water, we create a sensation. Gentle grey heads raise from grazing, far-seeing eyes check us out. Then, with poise, a family of Cape Barren Geese walk slowly towards us.
Cape Barren Geese are the fashionistas of south-eastern Australia. They are large, dove grey birds with a bright neon-green cere (a fleshy patch at the top of their beak). The edgy colour scheme is topped off with pink-stockinged legs and black ankle boots.
Why they come towards us is a mystery. They never get too close, and they are not aggressive or territorial. Maybe its just curiosity.
#4. Steel-blue Sawfly Larvae
Some people really don’t like creepy-crawlies, insects, bugs, worms etc. But even in this much-maligned group of animals there are some that transcend, and everyone thinks they are super cute.
So imagine – you’re walking past a gum-tree. It has a grey and yellow bulge on the branch, but it doesn’t really catch your eye. Then the bulge starts waving at you!
The bulge is dozens of Steel-blue Sawfly larvae, all packed together. When anyone gets close, they all raise and lower their tails – a threat display so adorable that it serves only to attract.
But the threat display doesn’t end there – it gets better. When really upset the larvae dribble Eau-de-eucalyptus at you. Its harmless, and smells really nice. I’ve been known to dab a bit on my wrists. Bush perfume!
Some years they are so numerous we have to be cautious not to run them over on the road as they proceed, like a slow, tail-waving train, towards the next gum tree.
Eucalyptus is their main food, and that is where they are usually found. They look a bit like caterpillars, but they are the larvae of a sawfly – an insect related to wasps, but without a sting.
After we see them each one forms a pupa in the leaf litter on the ground, and can stay there for up to 2 years before emerging as a sawfly adult!
Likelihood of seeing: Extremely high, early spring: August, September, October
Tours seen on: Maximum Wildlife 21 day, Great Ocean Road 3 day, Sunset Koalas & Kangaroos 1 day, Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD 1 day.
New discovery! An Australian Vulture!
One of my tour guests told me that as a kid they saw a picture of an Australian bird with a bare black head, knobby bill and crazy red eyes. There was no scale in the picture, so they thought it must be huge. Obviously they’d discovered a very rare Australian vulture.
Australia has no vultures. But we do have Friarbirds.
Like vultures, friarbirds have bare skin around their heads and necks. Sometimes it is a bit wrinkly. But unlike vultures, the bare skin of friarbirds is never covered with blood and muck and maggots from eating rotten meat.
Like vultures, friarbirds have strange, vicious-looking sharp beaks with knobs and plates (casques) in odd places. Unlike vultures, friarbird bills are used for plundering flowers, not carcasses. They are sharp to get deep inside long tubular flowers. The purpose of the casque on Helmeted and Silver-crowned Friarbirds is not known, but certainly makes them look interesting
Like vultures, friarbirds have crazy eyes. That’s because they eat a lot of sugar, and live in the Top End, where everyone is a bit crazy.
Likelihood of seeing: Extremely high, year round
Tours seen on: Maximum Wildlife 21 day, Wild Top End 6 day
#6. Golden Orb Weaver
Who hasn’t read Charlotte’s Web and wept for the spider?
Its hard not to love an animal when you see how they care for their family.
Golden Orb Weaver spider females create a huge golden web, usually at 2 metres above ground, in quiet undisturbed parts of the forest. We find the first of them in early Spring, when the weather starts to warm. They are slim-bodied and long-legged, the supermodels of the arachnid world.
Over the months their body rounds, like a pregnant supermodel. They grow and grow until you think they must have quadruplets in there. Then they grow some more.
Its not quadruplets – its milletuplets. Each female Golden Orb may have 300 to 3000 eggs in her abdomen.
By autumn their babies are ready to be born. Mama is so large and leggy she looks like a cherry hanging on a string. I worry that she will be found and plucked by a marauding bird, and her long, ungainly, patient pregnancy will be wasted.
She lays her 3000 eggs in a strong golden silk sac, and hides it very well under leaves. Because she knows she won’t be there to help her children when they hatch. Usually she dies after she gives birth.
Just like Charlotte…. sniff.
Likelihood of seeing: Medium (High if Guide knows you want to look for them), August to May.
Tours seen on: Maximum Wildlife 21 day, Great Ocean Road 3 day, Sunset Koalas & Kangaroos 1 day, Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD 1 day. y
# 7. Apostlebird
The white sand dunes of Mungo have an ancient history. For millenia humans have lived, loved and died here – and were the first on earth to be buried with ritual.
Knowing this, we often approach the natural cathedral that is Mungo with reverence and hushed silence.
So it comes as a surprise to hear wicked chuckling in the bushes.
Then a squeal. Followed by a cacophony of wicked chuckles. There is obviously an argument going on. Between siblings.
Apostlebirds live their whole lives together, in groups of 12 or so – hence the name. As in all families, siblings squabble. But they spend equal amounts of time snuggling.
Apostlebirds are lovely. You can’t help but smile when you see them.
Likelihood of seeing: Extremely high, year round
Tours seen on: Maximum Wildlife 21 day, 15 day or 7 day, Mungo Outback Journey 4 day
Not all Australian animals are cute and furry, but all of them are special and interesting. Travel with a Wildlife Guide who knows the details, not just about the famous creatures, but all about the weirdest animals of Australia too!
LINKS & REFERENCES:
About Golden Orb Weaver spiders: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_silk_orb-weaver
About the ancient human heritage of Mungo National Park: http://www.visitmungo.com.au/understand