Being an Australian, one reaction I often get from non-Australians is amazement that anyone can live in a country so full of deadly wildlife. But really, as long as you knock your shoes out every morning, and don't go poking in holes in the ground, and wear long pants with thick socks and heavy boots, and don't swim north of the Tropic of Capricorn in the wet season, and don't swim at all in the Northern Territory, and keep a forked stick handy, and an antivenine kit, and stay within a 10 minute helicopter flight of a hospital, you're perfectly safe. Most of the time.
Australia has, without a doubt, some of the strangest animals around. We have poisonous toads that didn't do the job, roos, koalas, a host of not-so-cute and incredibly deadly creatures, and some of the world's only egg-laying mammals. Aren't we lucky?
Of course, living in Australia doesn't automatically mean you'll die just by stepping in 100 yards of Oceania. Its relatively just as safe as any other modern country, just with more caution and having to watch where you step in the sand.
Interesting note: Perhaps due to the beauty and strangeness of native Australian wildlife and plants, Australia has a very large population of environmental activists — the sane and pragmatic kind, not the PETA kind (mostly). The late Steve Irwin and his family are prominent environmentalists who use their shows and zoo to promote the protection of wildlife the world over. note Well yes, until he was stabbed to death by the very wildlife he was trying to save. But his death created an immense surge of pro-environmental activity that continues to this day.
See also: Yowies and Bunyips and Drop Bears, Oh My.
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Monotremes and Placental Mammals
Platypus.◊ Famous the world over for looking like a real Mix-and-Match Critter: a duck-like bill (with built-in electric field sensors, yet) used to look for shellfish and other prey in the mud, duck-like feet, a furred body resembling an otter's, and a tail like a beaver's. The real kicker is that it's only one of two (or five, counting individual echidna species) living mammals that lay eggs. The male of the species also has a spur on its hind legs that delivers a neurotoxin. Presumably used to assert dominance over other males during the breeding season, it won't kill a human but will cause excruciating pain that can last for a long time, and can recur up to a year later. The platypus also appears on the Australian 20 cent coin.
Incidentally, when news of the platypus first reached Europe scientists believed it was naught but an elaborate hoax created by taxidermists sewing parts from different animals together.
They also have ten sex chromosomes. (For reference, every other known form of life that has anything resembling sex chromosomes have between one and four of them, and most of the ones that have more than two are plants. Rare plants.)
Echidna.◊ The other monotremes (egg-laying mammals), one of which (short-beaked) is native to Australia, with the other three living on nearby New Guinea. They are sometimes called spiny anteaters for the long spines on their bodies and their primary source of food. They also have four-headed penises. One appears on the Australian 5 cent coin. note One echidna, that is.
Babies of both the platypus and echidna are known as "puggles". After hatching from their reptilian-like eggs, they feed on their mother's milk which simply oozes out of the skin like sweat rather then through nipples like other mammal groups.
In the event of ever finding yourself having to nurse a baby platypus or echidna, just spread the formula onto the palm of your hand and get the baby to "snuffle" it up. Your hand is now a monotreme boob.
Dingo.◊ A wolf, not a dog, dingoes still retain most characteristics present in wild Asian wolves, it is also highly unlikely that they were subjected to any significant form of domestication that would warrant labeling them as feral or wild dogs. Dingoes truly are Australia's own form of wolf. They are endangered from rural and hunting lobbies. Also, from a genetic viewpoint, endangered by feral dogs due to interbreeding.
Though technically a separate subspecies note Canis lupus dingo to the dog's Canis lupus familiaris, some jurisdictions do recognize dingoes as a breed; the Australian National Kennel Council lists them as hounds. It should be noted, though, that legality of ownership between states varies; some require a permit, others flat-out ban owning a dingo. Only New South Wales allows unregulated ownership.
It's worth noting that if you live in Sydney (or any of the nearby suburbs), every night you'll see thousands the flying foxes overhead, going to roost somewhere. They always move together but there are so many that the whole event usually lasts upwards of three hours, and it's a pretty phenomenal sight.
Australia is in fact home to a multitude ofrodents, many of which are found nowhere else. No one cares about them because they're boring placentals, but they account for a quarter of all the mammal species in Australia.
Australian rodents even form a real life example of Swarm of Rats.
No one mentioned the killer whales?
Well if we're talking cetaceans, Southern Ocean humpback whales migrate up the east coast to mate, give birth and generally escape the Antarctic winter. Whale watching is a major tourist industry in Northern NSW and most of coastal Queensland. An albino whale named Migaloo has become something of a minor celebrity in recent years. All of them are notorious for showing off when boatloads of tourists show up.
Dolphins occur more or less all around Australia but there are two places (Monkey Mia on the west coast and Tangalooma in Queensland) are famous for the dolphins coming right up to shore where they can be hand fed.
The dugong, a relative of manatees, is not exclusively Australian, but Australian waters are home to the largest surviving populations, and even those are vastly reduced from historical records.
Kangaroo. We all know what it looks like. A giant brown/red/grey (depends on location) marsupial with a massive tail, tiny arms and legs that, as Terry Pratchett accurately described, "could disembowel you with a kick". It also appears on the 50 cent coin with the emu. And no, males don't have pouches. And no, you can't ride in them. Even if you ask nicely. The males are often known as "boomers", and the females as "flyers". A group of kangaroos is called a "mob", but no one has ever thought to ask why...
It's possible they're called that because they've been known to lure dogs into water and then make them "sleep with the fishes".
Wallabies◊ and Wallaroos.◊ The smaller cousins of the kangaroo. Same basic body shape but smaller and some have a greater variety of colourations.
They're also delicious - kangaroo meat is known to make good steaks, quite similar in taste to beef. It's often touted as more environmentally friendly than beef as well (since kangaroos need much less water to grow than cows), although the PR downsides of eating a national animal are obvious. Although less to Australians than to most nationalities - kangaroo meat is stocked by the major supermarket chains throughout Austalia.
And their hopping mode of travel uses less energy per weight per distance than anything science has been able to devise, with minimal need for contrarian balancing motions, that can only be used by creatures with the kangaroo's specific anatomy and only on its specific habitat of flat wide open spaces.
Females have an unusual breeding system which manages to make this group of marsupials very successful. It has three vaginas, but only one would have a developing embryo at a time. The gestation period is very small, about 33 days or so. The baby enters the world as a tiny grub-like thing which then crawls from the birth canal to the pouch, where it then latches onto a nipple and continues to grow for another 4 months or so. Once it is big enough, it then comes out as a baby joey. The mother is also able to halt development of potential embryos if the pouch is occupied. This system enables a mother kangaroo to potentially have three babies at the same time in different stages of development: A joey hopping about outside, a joey developing in the pouch, and an embryo inside the uterus.
Something of an obscure urban legend is that all of the eucalyptus oil in their guts makes koalas walking bombs — let them get too near an open flame, and they'll explode in a powerful fireball.
Drop Bears.◊ They look similar to koalas, but don't be fooled. Normal koalas aren't this big, and don't have razor-sharp claws and teeth, or the lust for human flesh. Legend has it only the smearing of Vegemite behind one's ears can ward them off. Secretly a folk tale made up to make sure children look up and check for dead limbs before walking under gum trees; they have a nasty habit of falling off the tree and obliterating whatever is directly beneath them without any warning at all. Later adopted by Australia at large as our very own fictional beast to scare tourists withnote For some reason it rarely entered our heads that just bluntly describing the perfectly real Australian fauna often has the desired reaction anyway. The rise of the internet has since mostly ruined this particular bit of fun though.
Pratchett lampshaded this hilariously in The Last Continent, about a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Australia (when Death asks for a list of deadly wildlife in XXXX, he is promptly crushed under the ensuing mountain of books; when he then asks about the non-deadly wildlife in XXXX, he gets a single sheet of paper that reads, "Some of the sheep"). The natives, in contrast to reality, say that drop bears are just a folk tale. In true Discworldian logic they do exist, just fail to take into account that dropping arse-first onto a pointed hat is a bad idea. Of course, nobody believes the character who encountered them when he mentions it.
The strangest thing that is true about the koala is that its brain is far smaller then its cranial cavity, as if it somehow shrank during its evolution. Apparently its cerebrum (the part of the brain used for higher thinking) resembles two shriveled walnut halves on top of its brain stem. They neither touch each other or the walls of the skull.
Wombat.◊ The larger, ground-dwelling cousin of the koala. They're very shy and dig burrows—once again, watch out for the claws.
Most wombats are shy. The few that aren't are great for home security, as they love to chase after you and hack your legs off, and as noted they are very fast.
It should also be noted, these things are tough; hit a wombat with a car at 80km/h and chances are your car will be stuffed and the wombat will pick itself up, shake its head and waddle off. They are also surprisingly fast when need be, despite their roly-poly build.
Don't forget that they can actually be deadly. There are many cases of wombats being chased into their burrows by hunting dogs, only to turn around once the dog enters its lair and kill it by crushing it to death against the wall of its burrow. Yikes.
The wombat's main method of defense is to run into its burrow and plug the entrance up with its ass, which has tough, thick, skin to provide protection.
Tasmanian Devil.◊ Made famous by the Looney Tunes character of the same name, but the fictional one bears no relation save the name and prodigious noise they make. As their name suggests, restricted to the island of Tasmania. The current population is threatened by Devil facial tumour disease, essentially a contagious cancer.
Thylacine.◊ Also known as the Tasmanian (Tassie) tiger or Tasmanian wolf. Carnivorous marsupial that was hunted near to extinction in the early 20th Century and the last known specimen died in Hobart Zoo in 1936. While officially declared extinct there persist rumours of sightings in the mountains of central Tasmania and remains part of Australian folk lore because of it. They were notable for being able to open their jaws as wide as a snake's (about 120 degrees), which is just as disturbing as it sounds.
Although known as colloquially as the "Tasmanian tiger", thylacines were once found throughout the Australian mainland as well, but they were probably extinct two to three thousand years before European settlement. There are even Aboriginal rock paintings of them as far away as Kakadu in the NT◊; and they're one of the few extinct animals to have been captured on film.
Bilby.◊ Possibly the cutest Australian native animal. With their silky grey fur, long narrow muzzles and large ears, they're like the bunnies of Australia... at least, the bunnies we don't kill for being utterly destructive to nature. Conservation methods for them include selling chocolate bilbies◊ to raise money, and also a campaign to replace the Easter bunny with the Easter bilby (because to any Aussie patriot, bunny rabbits are evil).
Gliders◊ A group of nocturnal marsupials similar in shape to possums but with a flap of skin between their legs that allows them to glide from tree to tree. The feathertail glider appeared on the now discontinued 1 cent coin. They're possibly one of the only groups of animals on the mainland that can't kill you. Also possibly the cutest.
Emu.◊ The second largest bird in the world(next to the ostrich), they are greyish-brown and flightless with very tasty meat. They're not particularly aggressive unless you mess with their eggs or hatchlings, but they have been known to kill people who do mess with them with a single kick. And they appear on the Australian 50 cent coin, alongside the kangaroo. They also eat rocks. Very, very pretty eggs◊
Cassowary.◊ Very similar to the emu, except it dwells in rainforests instead of open plains, it has a casque (a hard, bony crest) and blue and red wattles on its head, and its feathers are black. It is also extremely, violently territorial, and their territory will usually be surrounded with signs warning you to stay the hell away. Much like the Kangaroo and Emu, known for being able to kick your stomach out through your nosenote Okay, slight exaggeration. But they have very powerful legs, and you probably have a very weak, fleshy tummy. Just don't ignore those signs, okay?.
Cassowaries have more dangerous kicks than emus or kangaroos, because one of their claws on their foot is especially sharp and can slit open throats and bellies with ease. Remember the velociraptors in Jurassic Park? Same thing.
Brolga.◊ Beautiful grey birds that live in the wetlands, known for the ethereal dancing that makes up part of their mating ritual. They have a red patch on the back of their head—one piece of Indigenous Australian lore says that this is because, during the Dreamtime, Emu murdered Brolga by bashing her head in with a rock. Figures.
Sulphur-crested cockatoo.◊ A large white parrot with a yellow crest, known for being extremely loud and being able to chew through pretty much everything. They're popular pets, and very long-lived, living for about 30 years in the wild on average, and 50-60 years in captivity (there have been records of cockatoos living up to ~100 years). They are also quite smart, to the dismay of farmers growing cereal crops; any method of scaring them away from a field will work...for a while, before they learn it isn't a real threat and go right back to eating the crops. They are protected and licenses are required to hunt them, however.
Galah.◊ Similar to a cockatoo, but much smaller and coloured in pink and grey. Also have a long lifespan, about the same as a sulphur-crested cockatoo. They hang around in big flocks and annoy the hell out of farmers by eating their seeds. Saying someone has been "a bit of a galah" or has made a "galah of themselves" means they've been conspicuously foolish. Prized by early settlers, who claimed it made the best parrot pie.
Rainbow lorikeet.◊ A small but noisy parrot, with feathers whose colours run through the entire spectrum. Native to the eastern seaboard, and considered a pest in Western Australia. By far the most well-known variant is the subspecies Trichoglossus haematodus moluccanus aka Swainson's Lorikeet (the ones with the yellow-and-orange chest, and the only form actually native to Australia); they make for popular pets, but are quite demanding. Wild lorikeets are very common in well-treed areas and make ridiculous amounts of noise (especially in the early morning), much to the annoyance of people who have just woken up or are trying to sleep after a night out. It is worth noting that they have a disproportionally powerful bite, many individuals who have tried to rescue injured birds from highways have had their fingers bitten to the bone. Some people have reported that the only humane way to get an angry lorry to let go once its bitten is to blast it with a garden hose.
Laughing kookaburra.◊ A type of kingfisher, mostly known for the way it sings at sunset and sunrise. One indigenous myth says that Kookaburra once swallowed the moon—to get him to spit it out, the other spirits made him laugh. Now he laughs whenever the moon rises. It serves as the official bird of New South Wales.
Lyrebird◊. Famous for their exquisite mimic talents (even able to copy chainsaws, fire alarms, screaming babies...the list goes on), the striking males dance and court several females, who build a nest and lay a single egg. She also has to incubate the egg and take care of the chick when it hatches, all on her own. It appears on the ten-cent coin.
Magpies◊. Possibly the most commonly seen native bird, the most highly-regarded songbird, and possibly the most vicious, they are distinctive with their black and white patterns. Many can attest to their aggressiveness during mating season, when swooping of those who stray too close to their nests is common. It's also the official bird of South Australia, under the name "piping shrike".note This is specifically the subspecies Cracticus tibicen telonocua, known for their prominent white back feathers.
Black Swans◊. Like regular swans but... black. Best known for its role in the field of falsifiability. The official bird of Western Australia, appearing on the states flag and having a river named after it (of course, it's just called the Swan River). Considered by many Australians to be the embodiment of pure evil, although still less aggressive than their white cousins (which also live in Australia).
We REALLY like our penguins. In Sydney, snipers have been deployed to protect them.
Budgerigars◊. (Budgies) Yes, the common caged pet originates from Australia, although feral populations have been seen in Florida. In the wild they can form flocks comprising millions of individual birds, and are surprisingly agile fliers, capable of outmaneuvering falcons. Their name comes from an Aboriginal word meaning "good food".
Silver Gull◊, simply called "seagulls" down here. Usually found near large bodies of water (beaches and harbours make for great seagull congregation spots) but sometimes found in inland towns. Very opportunistic and greedy; they can and will edge close to a group of people if they see food nearby. Throw a piece of food towards a group and they will fight like mad for it. Then watch as they scavenge around you, wanting more. Portrayed excellently in Finding Nemo.
One popular trick is to make a throwing motion without actually letting go of the food. They'll all look around frantically wondering where it went.
Cockatiel◊. The smallest of the cockatoo family Cacatuidae, they are also popular pets due to their calm and timid temperament (to the point where smaller birds like lovebirds and budgies easily bully them), and probably the easiest of all parrots to tame. Unlike most parrots, they are much better at mimicking sounds than actual speech.
Australian Raven◊. If you see a large black bird in Australia, it's probably this. Smaller and more slender than their Eurasian and American kin, they are known for their distinctive, drawn-out cry.note There are actually several similar-looking Corvus species in Australia; the cry is the easiest way to distinguish them. Juveniles have dark eyes, adults have whitish-grey eyes. Often scavenges around urban residences and buildings. Notable in that they've learned how to kill and eat cane toads without being poisoned- they flip 'em onto their backs, and then disembowel and eat them.
Asian Blue Quail◊. Of the ten subspecies listed, two are native to Australia. Also popular in aviculture due to being low maintenance and fast breeders. Small and round in shape, the ones you see down here are often a greyish-brown colour.
Spurwing Plover. These birds defend their nests against all intruders by calling loudly, spreading their wings, and then swooping fast and low, and where necessary striking at interlopers with their feet and attacking animals on the ground with a conspicuous yellow spur on the carpal joint of the wing. Contrary to the urban legend, the spur is not poisonous, but you still don't want to be hit by one. And they have a habit of swooping in at eye level. School-children make a game of running as close to the nest as possible and then trying to outrun the rather angry bird. This is discouraged.
Wedge-Tailed Eagle. Perhaps the only eagle in the world that makes the American Bald Eagle look like a pansy, the 'wedgie' is named for its distinctive wedge-shaped tail. Known for scavenging roadkill on some of the Outback's long, straight roadways, where these birds gorge on the easy meal and become so heavy they need to take off into the wind, which can set them up for head-on collisions with road-trains (think a semi-truck with upwards of a dozen trailers on it). The results are not pretty. They are the largest birds of prey in Australia, with wingspans approaching three bloody metres - large enough for them to fly off with newborn lambs and, so the urban legends say, the occasional unguarded child as well. The sheep-stealing trick means farmers have to shoot them to protect their flocks, so wedgies are currently just the wrong side of endangered. Which is a shame, because they are absolutely magnificent. Truly the kings of the Aussie sky.
Currawong◊. A medium-sized bird with subspecies in three colours (grey, black, and pied/black-and-white). The name comes from the sound the pied currawong makes. While they're mostly known as opportunistic plant- and carrion-eaters, they have been known to eat turkeys from farms. Known for being extremely intelligent and friendly. Early European settlers watched the currawongs to determine what was and wasn't safe for them to eat.
Butcher bird◊. A small grey and white bird seen all across Australia. Similar to currawongs, they are known for being intelligent and friendly, and it's a popular pastime among rural Australians to throw bits of meat into the air and watch the aerial acrobatics they pull trying to catch it. Also have a beautiful call. And have the unusual habit of hanging up any meat to dry before eating.
White-Winged Choughs◊ (pronounced "chuffs"). At first glance they simply appear to be small black birds that look suspiciously like undersized ravens. A closer look will reveal that they have eyes so red that the colour is noticeable from meters away and make a noise that sounds like a regular bird call remixed in hell. Choughs tend to live in large families because raising young is a group activity and more birds to protect them gives the chicks a better chance of survival. Which means that choughs have evolved the tactic of stealing fledgling choughs from other families and raising them as their own so that there will be more birds to raise next years chicks. Also, their eyes become swollen and even brighter red when they get excited.
Estuarine Crocodile◊, or salt-water crocodile. The largest reptile in the world. Not uniquely Australian by any means, but kind of notable for the sheer number of tourists that try to go swimming with them and end up getting eaten. Don't be fooled by the "salt water" name, they're just as happy in fresh water, thank you very much.
Freshwater Crocodile◊. Much smaller than salties and not nearly as territorial, but a bite from one is not something to be sneezed at.
Australian Death Adder (also, don't let the name and appearance fool you, it's not a viper, it's an elapid. The difference isn't significant when it bites you, of course, but the weirdness of a venomous snake that looks like an entire different family of venomous snakes is pretty Australian in itself.)
Western Brown Snake
The details of snakes' relative deadliness is really complicated, and so no one can really agree on anything, but suffice to say that messing with Aussie snakes can easily get you killed (although it doesn't actually happen very often, since most people know to go to the hospital — which is, incidentally, free). To elaborate a bit further, Australian snakes are considered the most venomous, meaning their venom is the most deadly to humans. However unlike other snakes that lay claim to the title of deadliest such as the black mamba or the king cobra, the Australian snakes (with the exception of some of the taipans) are much less aggressive and only attack when provoked. Combined with most of the nastier ones being either aquatic or located in areas with very low human populations, they're simply less likely to encounter people and so cause fewer deaths. Of course, if you do provoke them, you will get what is coming to you.
Frill-Necked Lizard◊ Little lizard with a large frill on its neck which it will expand out for display purposes. Featured on the discontinued 2 cent coin.
Bearded Dragon: Common desert lizard that earns its name for the spike-covered expandable throat-pouch it puffs up to display, though it also has smaller bristles all over its body (especially along its side) and will puff itself up to look bigger too. Calm, friendly and hardy, they're a fairly popular pet lizard.
Blue-Tongue Skink◊, aka. The Blue-tongued lizard. Named for...its blue tongue, flicked out as a warning to enemies. Often found lazing someplace warm, or in some brush somewhere. Non-poisonous, but the larger ones can give you a decent bite if you let them. Generally appreciated in gardens because they enjoy eating snails, slugs and other pests, but they don't mind dog food, mince or fallen fruit.
Shingleback A member of the blue-tongue's family and the bulkiest of them all, though you'd be hard-pressed to recognize the relationship, due to them being covered in bony armor plating that, in some species, makes them look a lot like a walking pine cone. Also known colloquially as sleepy lizards.
Monitor Lizards◊. The two best-known types are lace monitors (slightly smaller with black and yellow colouring, lives in coastal regions and forests, and what most people think of when they say "goanna") and perenties (a bit larger, mostly red-brown in colour, lives in the central deserts.) Essentially a lizard the size of a small(-ish) crocodile but lives on land. Related to Komodo dragons. Can grow over 2 metres in length, are very fast if necessary, and have been known to turn and attack humans if threatened. If bitten the wound is almost guaranteed to be infected, though recent studies suggest they may actually be venomous. Oh, and their tails are more weapon than ornament — most victims of goanna attacks are innocent bystanders who were watching and laughing...
Most goanna attacks are accidental. They try to escape by running up trees, but they are so short sighted they can't tell the difference between a laughing human and a tree.
Goannas can also outrun and devour rabbits, which makes us quite fond of them.
Thorny Devils◊, small ant-eating lizards covered in spines. Like the bearded and frilled dragons, these are among the few reptiles in Australia that can't kill you.
The most common and best recognized of the regular native amphibians is the green tree frog. Often found in toilets in rural areas, hopefully having eaten the spiders.
Unlike the cane toad, much nicer, much cuter, and much easier to harm. If found indoors, it's considered good form to pick them up and drop them gently in a nearby garden note They feel slimy and jump like mad, but don't worry about handling them. They're harmless. Sprinkling them with a bit of water wouldn't hurt either, if it's dried out.
If you are going to touch a frog (in order to take it back outside, duh), like the normal procedures, wet your hands thoroughly, or get some wet gloves on for safe measure. These frogs don't like dry stuff.
The now-likely extinct gastric-brooding frog. None have been seen since 1985, the frog uses an unusual method to protect its eggs and the tadpoles that hatch from them: IT EATS THEM! The mother frog will eat the eggs as soon as they're laid and will carry her young in her stomach until they're frogs, at which point they climb out of her mouth! Scientists have recently concluded that the eggs and tadpoles were secreting a coating that counter-acted the stomach acids of their mother and would have been valuable in research on stomach ulcers.
Not to worry about the medical research thing though. We already got a Nobel Prize for discovering that stomach ulcers are caused by Helicobacter pylori and can be treated with a simple course of antibiotics. Hooray for Drs. Warren and Marshall.
Sydney Funnelweb Spider.◊ The deadliest spider in the world. This spider will actually chase you and try to bite you again. Also able to bite through a toenail.
The funnelweb was the inspiration to revert the Black Tiger from a tarantula in later Resident Evil games. They've also begun popping up in other states, with at least two sightings in Tasmania. They're harder than cane toads to kill as well, you'd better be armed like Chris or Jill should you encounter one.
Huntsman Spider. Generally not dangerous to healthy adults, but they hurt like hell, move extremely quickly, like to seek shelter (like in your house or car or letterbox) from the rain, and are, on average, the size of your hand.
Even though it's venom isn't dangerous, it manages to indirectly kill people by sleeping under the sun visors in their cars, falling onto the driver's laps and distracting them.
Whistling Spider, named for its ability to hiss. It's also known as a bird-eating spider. It has a medically significant bite, capable of killing a dog in half an hour and sending an adult human into nauseous vomiting fits for up to six hours at a time. Bearded dragonseat them, fangs and all.
Cone Shell◊ The reason why many kids don't go swimming without proper foot wear. The stinger has the ability to pierce through a thick layer protective clothing. Its stinger is also used like a freaking harpoon! There is no antivenin.note And even if there WERE one, they wouldn't be able to administer it fast enough anyway.
On the bright side, its venom is being studied for medical properties. As in, nonaddictive painkillers thousands of times more potent than morphine.
Blue-Ringed Octopus.◊ A small and somewhat adorable octopus that can change colour to camouflage itself. When threatened, pretty iridescent blue markings appear. Extremely venomous, and has killed several people.
The blue-ringed octopus and the cone fish have the same type of venom; it paralyses you and stops your breathing, letting you quietly suffocate. If you get bitten by one, your only hope is that someone realises what's happened and commences CPR and rescue breathing; you will need to either be hooked up to advanced life support or given continuous CPR for the next twenty-four hours. After that time, with a lot of luck, the venom will have left your body without doing any permanent damage.
Sharing the waters with the blue-ringed octopus is another adorable and possibly venomous cephalopod, Sepioloidea Lineolata, or The striped pyjama squid.
Box Jellyfish.◊ The reason no one ever swims north of the Tropic of Capricorn in the summer. Can look almost transparent in the water, and people only tend to notice the sting once the venom has been pumped into their system. High risk of being deadly if not treated...really really quickly. Otherwise just hurts like holy hellfire. If you ever see a beach with bottles of purple liquid lying about, there's a chance of meeting box jellyfish—the stuff in the bottles is vinegar, which can neutralise the worst of the sting if administered right away. (The purple dye was because when they just had normal vinegar, people kept taking it away to put on their fish and chips.)
There was a story (uncertain if it's true) that a teenager went into the ocean on a dare and got stung. Even after the ambulance arrived and he had been sedated, he was still screaming in agony.
Irukandji Jellyfish◊, which is about the size of the little fingernail of an adult human, and has very few known deaths (meaning that 1000WaysToDie story about the girl who kept trolling everyone while on the beach in Australia, only to die after she swallows an irukandji jellyfish with no one to help her because they think she's pranking them has some truth to it). It does, however, cause Irukandji Syndrome, which is the most painful thing to ever happen. Ever. Also meant to be so fragile that you can't keep it in a tank; it'll die if it runs into the glass.
Up north they have a saying, "A box jellyfish will kill you. Irukandji will make you wish you were dead."
Great WhiteShark◊: One of the biggest and most well-known sharks in the world, just waiting for you to go swimming at Bondi Beach.
Bull Shark◊: Smaller than the tiger shark but even more aggressive than the great white. Worse yet, you won't see them coming since they prefer the murky waters and are at home enough in fresh water enough to head up rivers.
Whale Shark◊: The largest living shark, but luckily enough it feeds on plankton. Popular dive attractions off the West Australian Coast though they do appear rarely off the east coast. Known for being actually pretty friendly.
Lion's Mane Jellyfish: The world's largest species of jellyfish, its tentacles can grow up to a whopping 120 feet. Their stings are painful but thankfully not fatal. They act as a floating oasis of sorts for species like the medusafish and harvestfish, providing both food and protection from predators, and are also a common food source for the leatherback sea turtle.
Portuguese Man o' War◊, aka bluebottle. A composite of four different types of highly specialized organisms. Not jellyfish, despite a very distant relation (they're in the same phylum, Cnidaria, but not the same class). Dead specimens often wash up on beaches during the summer and are responsible for most stings - they hurt like hell, but usually don't get any worse (bar an allergic reaction; only one fatality has been recorded, in 1987 - and that was in Florida), and the pain generally subsides after an hour or so. If you get stung, prod the bluebottle off with a stick or something similar (never bare-handed) and douse the affected area in saltwater.
The Australian government recently instigated a cull of 650,000 of the roughly 2 million-strong camel population. The world thought this was barbaric, probably because they didn't have enough camels.
So another solution to these unwanted camels is selling them to countries that do want them. Such as Saudi Arabia. Yes, we sell camels to the Middle East, doncha love this country?
Notable also because Australia is now the only country with a sizable wild population of dromedary camels, despite them not being non-indigenous. Also, possibly adding to our perceived barbarism is the movement to have camel become a staple of our national cuisine. It isn't working all that well. Which is unfortunate because it's delicious.
We're not kidding. The things are a noxious pest, destroying much of the above unique wildlife, and we've tried everything from continent-spanning fences to germ warfare to kill them off. Apparently they eventually grew immune to the introduced rabbit virus; scientists are currently making a new one. Some breeding programs for dingoes involve teaching them to favour eating rabbits above native species.
To give you an idea of how prolific rabbits are, and how much they breed, the current infestation of rabbits started with the release of twelve rabbits in 1859. Within ten years hunters could shoot or trap over two million of the buggers annually without having any noticeable effect. When they first used the aforementioned germ warfare in 1950, the population was around 600 million. In less than a hundred years, 12 became half a billion. Gives "breeding like rabbits" a new meaning...
The Australian hatred for rabbits was well-known as early as The Fifties; the Arthur C. Clarke short story "What Goes Up" (collected in Tales from the White Hart) has some Australian scientists try a dangerous experiment with rabbits as test subjects before having a human handle it. The narrator of the story (an Englishman in a London pub) comments that "as scientists, they'd be pleased if their subjects got back alive; and as Australians they'd be just as happy if they got back dead...(You know, of course, how Australians feel about rabbits)."
In some areas camphor laurel (a fragrant tree from China) grows rampant and competes heavily with native trees. It is also very toxic for the native birds. But at least it can be used for everything from furniture to firewood to power for a sugar mill.
In these same areas another weed called lantana grows with the same consequences, but is much harder to kill/use as it is in fact a very gangly bush that grows large. Actually cultivated as a beautiful garden plant in Victoria, proving that Australia can be even more badass then itself. So at least it's being controlled in some way.
The blackberry, oh GOD the blackberry. Tell any Victorian farmer that it is a beautiful plant that should be protected, farmed and loved, and he will either viciously insult you, your mother, and your grandmother or kick your ass (it is a good idea to wear a suit of armor, as you WILL need it).
Of course, if you're dealing with blackberry brambles you should probably be wearing a suit of armor anyway, but at least they're edible.
Same goes for the prickly pear, or at least it used to. Ever since the introduction of the cactoblastus moth, whose grubs parasitise them, they're become more or less part of the landscape; lone cacti scattered across the countryside. Quite a step down from the days when they could grow in tightly-woven forests that could spread for miles without an inch of space. The sad thing is, the success with the cactoblastus may have been what gave people the idea to bring in cane toads in the first place...
European Carp. Known as "The rabbits of the waterways" - so that's "rabbits" again, sort of.
Tiger Pear. How does a foot-high, tough-as-koala-shit cactus that grows inch-long barbed spines that can penetrate a truck tyre[sic] grab you? Seriously, check out the photos, then imagine treading on one. The barbs means they don't come out, either.
The cane toad.◊ Easily one of, if not themost hated creatures in Australia, particularly by Queenslanders. First introduced to try and destroy the cane beetles devastating sugar cane crops. Somehow, those introducing them didn't notice that the beetles lived up high and Cane Toads can't climb. Remember that Simpsons episode where they go to Australia and Bart leaves his frog at the airport, only for it to hop away and devastate the Australian crops and countryside in the time it took for the show's story to finish? Yeah, that's more or less real.
One advert a while back features cane toads being used as golf balls by drunken Queenslanders, hitting them over the New South Wales border fence, and promptly being chased off by border patrol. It was a beer ad, mind.
People who aren't drunk use cricket bats. They're also good for hockey practice.
Other methods include blowing them up with air pumpsnote may cause memories of Shrek blowing up the toad in the movie of the same name for non-Australians reading this article or tourists who get to see the activity, feeding them paracetamol (apparently it swells their insides) and running them over with any vehicle to hand.
Also, squirting them with Dettol (a strong antiseptic), which poisons them pretty quickly.
Don't forget blowing them up with smuggled firecrackers in their mouths.
It's practically a national duty to swerve to run over as many of them as you can rather than dodge.
It's also a fun summer activity for anybody under the age of about 15, 'toading' (the activity in their breeding season of killing absolutely as many as you can in a time limit. Not as hilariously cruel, but definitely more pragmatic) is practically a national children's pastime. Common weapons include: Cricket bats, golf clubs, broom handles with nails in them, cans of deodorant with cigarette lighters, tubs of salt, gumboots, bricks, other toads...
The RSCPA recommends that people humanely kill them by capturing them and placing them in the freezer, but no sane Australian is going to do that.
Worse, these things are very difficult to kill. They make cockroaches look delicate. You can run these things over on a ride-on mower, have them go under the front wheels, have them get CAUGHT IN THE BLADES, have them go under the back wheels because you could and the thing will just sit there like, "Oh I'm sorry. Was that supposed to kill me?"
As one can see from the above, Australians detest them, possibly more than rabbits, since rabbits are very much on the loser's end of the food chain, and can be eaten by everything under the sun, including humans. They're fairly harmless as individuals, non-aggressive and easy to kill, so because of their speed they even make fun target practice. With cane toads, the eggs, tadpoles and adults are all poisonous. Some of the native crows have learnt to flip them over and eat their non-toxic guts. Sadly, not enough. Cane Toads are fairly slow, so they aren't even much good for wasting bullets on target practice either. Don't even touch them with your bare skin.
Interesting note: 102 cane toads were originally introduced into Australia. It's now estimated that there are over 200 million in Australia.
Eucalyptus trees (genus Eucalyptus), or gum trees to the lay person, is an amazingly strong hardwood. So strong, in fact, it can be used to shatter cinderblocks. They can even survive bush fires - bush fires even play a role in the reproductive cycle of some species! - unless theyexplode.
They're also responsible for how fast fires can spread. On hot days they release eucalyptus oil into the air that makes things appear blue from a distance (this is how the Blue Mountains west of Sydney got their name). It's also highly flammable in such a form and can ignite from radiant heat alone and makes it easy for it to jump fire breaks.
While all eucalypts are related there is a truly ridiculous variety of them. Some of the varieties are names for where they grow (the snow gum which is the variety that can withstand the snowfields of Victoria, Southern New South Wales and Tasmania) or their appearance (the pale ghost gum), but many are named after the properties of their bark. Ironbarks and stringybarks to name but two and even these aren't single species but groups of several similar types.
Note also that some varieties have the habit of dropping substantial branches off during the dry season. These branches will crush the roof of a car or just out and out kill you. Even the trees in Australia are dangerous.
Macadamias (genus Macadamia). Nut-bearing trees that are commercially cultivated. The nuts are popular but their shells are notoriously tough and if you plan to crack them on your own, you're going to need a hammer.
Golden Wattle. A type of Acacia and the floral emblem of Australia with little, fuzzy yellow buds that flower in late winter.
Bottlebrushes (genus Callistemon). A whole group of plants with flowers that come in the shape of bottle brushes, hence the name. Bees and nectar-feeding birds love them; a common sight in summer wherever they grow is a flock of wild lorikeets climbing all over the bush to sip the nectar (and, on occasion, getting roaringly drunk because the nectar has fermented into an intoxicant, which sees them falling headlong out of the bush, waddling in dizzy circles and slamming into windows when trying to fly. This also happens with some types of fruit).
Grasstrees (genus Xanthorrhoea). A group of slow growing trees with long slender leaves that look like grass and many have a long spike growing from the middle that contains seed buds. Like gum trees they not only can survive bushfires but actually require fire to open their seed pods.
Often called "black boys" for the very black trunk of the tree. Now considered racist towards the indigenous peoples, the name is only used in casual conversation, and then only rarely.
Kingia australis looks similar to the degree it was once considered the 'female form' of grasstrees. However, the plants are completely unrelated and differ in the construction of their 'trunks'.
Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis). Considered a Lazarus taxon (oldest known fossil from the genus is about 200 million years old, and it disappeared from the fossil record about 30 million years ago, before its rediscovery in 1994) and originally restricted to a small canyon in New South Wales but now being cultivated in a wide variety of locations. It is not a true pine (genus Pinus), though it is a conifer and hence distantly related. The only known population of wild Wollemia (consisting of about 100 trees) is in the Blue Mountains, in three closely located groups, with the exact locations kept a secret.
Triodia, aka Spinifex (not to be confused with the genus Spinifex) is a grass tipped with hard silicate arrowheads that break off in your skin. In any other country, the fact that the grass wants to hurt you would be near the top of the weirdness pile.