Australia’s geography is truly unique. Unlike most large island nations, Australia lies thousands of miles from the nearest mainland country. While Australia is fairly close to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, the level of historic travel between these countries was low enough that plants, animals and people didn’t have much of a chance to migrate.
As a result, the Australian ecosystem grew up in isolation for thousands of years, leading to some truly unique creatures like the kangaroo, the echidna and the platypus. However, these three animals are all iconic and fairly well known, and Australia is home to dozens of truly cool and bizarre animals that you may not have heard of. It’s also worth noting that these animals are not found all over Australia, and there’s a good chance that you might not see them unless you go out specifically looking for them. That said, it’s time for them to share a little of the limelight – here are the top 5 coolest animals in Australia that you may not have heard of.
The cassowary (Cassuarius spp.)
The cassowary is also known as the Australian Velociraptor, and once you see what it looks like it’s easy to see why. This blue-necked flightless bird is part of the ratite group – the same group as ostriches, though they aren’t that closely related. While they look like 6ft black and electric blue ostriches for the most part, they have a casque on their head which makes them really stand out from other large birds. If you see a cassowary on your travels through Australia beware – not only can they run 50mph and jump up to 5ft in the air, their claws are dagger-sharp and they have been known to kick when threatened.
The wallaby (There are several genus of wallaby, including g. Macropus)
Wallabies are particularly interesting when it comes to Australian wildlife. While we all know what a cat is, what a fox is and what an elephant is, the best anyone can do to define a wallaby is that it’s a marsupial that’s a fair bit smaller than a kangaroo or a wallaroo. Because of their size, they were once hunted by dogs, foxes and even house cats, though thanks to conservation efforts this distinctly Australian animal is making a comeback. There are at least 20 different wallaby species in Australia to look out for, including the dwarf wallaby which weighs in at around 1.6kg, just 46cm from nose to tail.
The bilby (There are several genus of bilby, including g. Macrotis)
The bilby, or rabbit-bandicoot, is an animal you probably won’t see unless you go looking for it – this desert-dwelling Aussie version of the Easter Bunny lives far out from Australia’s most populous cities. Interestingly, bilbies have adapted to Australia’s heat by only coming out at night and obtaining all of the water they need from their food, avoiding the need to search for watering holes. One of the most interesting facts about the bilby is that they’re only pregnant for around 12-14 days before they give birth, giving the bilby the shortest gestation period of all known mammals.
The box jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri)
Not all of Australia’s cool animals live on the land – some of the coolest (and most dangerous) of Australia’s animals live just off the coast. The box jellyfish, for example, is one of the coolest looking jellyfish you will ever see – just make sure that you don’t get too close. Of the 81 recorded jellyfish-related deaths since 1883, the box jellyfish was responsible for 79 of them. The other two were caused by the Irukandji jellyfish, which like the box jellyfish are most commonly found in Australia’s coastal waters. The problem with box jellyfish is that they have tentacles which are almost invisible at times, which can fire millions of nematocysts (harpoon-like stingers) at once, injecting a lot of venom.
The blue-ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena spp.)
The blue-ringed octopus, though originally native to Australia, can be found as far north as Japan. These highly dangerous Octopodidae are fairly easy to spot, with iridescent blue rings covering their body – when agitated these rings appear to pulsate, which is another good reminder to stay away – though they normally hunt small crabs and fish, they carry enough of the same neurotoxin as a fugu fish to kill around 26 adult humans. While they are fascinating to look at, the blue-ringed octopus is an animal you probably want to give a wide berth.