Australia is one of the most wild and wonderful places in the world! From the desert bush inland to the sandy coastal beaches, this country and continent is breathtaking to behold. But with that sunny, warm environment comes some truly weird and dangerous wildlife. Known throughout the world for its high concentration of deadly creatures, this country is home to humongous crocodiles, slithering pythons, and aggressive Tasmanian devils, amongst other unique and fierce animals. The warm Pacific waters off of Australia’s coast hold many secrets of fascinating creatures in its depths. On land, the sandy desert dunes are home to reptiles, mammals, and birds that have developed some pretty out-there adaptations to survive in their environment. From crazy marine life to cute mammals to funky birds to creepy insects, Australia is home to some of the most diverse animals on the planet. Big and small, deadly and harmless, cuddly and scary, there is never a dull moment in the world of Australian fauna. Of course we all know about kangaroos and koalas, but what about the thousands of other interesting species that call this place home. From the fearsome to the fun, these creatures will make you say “What the heck, Mother Nature?!” Many of the creatures on this list are in danger of extinction for a number of reasons, so it is very rare to see them in the wild. Check out the list below to learn about 15 weird animals from the Land Down Under you probably never knew existed!
The echidna, also known as the spiny anteater, is a truly unique animal. Like the duck-billed platypus (which can also be found in Australia), it is a monotreme, meaning that they are like mammals in every way except that they lay eggs! One of the oldest living species, echidnas have adapted to survive and haven’t changed much since prehistoric times. These animals have very sensitive snouts that can actually feel vibrations put off from insects’ bodies. This. along with its keen sense of smell, helps echidnas find food in any environment. Though they don’t have teeth to chew their food, these animals use their long, sticky tongue to catch and swallow worms, ants, and termites. Their short legs and long, sharp claws are perfect for digging to find food as well as removing dirt that is lodged in between their spines. Echidnas are solitary animals that can be active during the day or night, depending on the time of year and their food sources.
In 2013, the blobfish was voted as the World’s Ugliest Animal and it is easy to see why. With its jelly-like body, blank stare, and big, sad frown, there are definitely prettier species of fish in the sea. But despite its gross appearance, the foot-long blobfish is harmless. This bottom feeder is found deep in the ocean waters off of Australia’s coast, where it spends most of its time eating whatever floats into its mouth (mostly small crustaceans). Its body is composed of mostly gelatinous tissue, which gives it the appearance of being made of Jell-o. This means it has almost no muscle mass, which is why the blobfish cannot actively hunt for food. It also means this fish cannot swim very fast, so it often gets accidentally scooped up when fishermen are trawling the ocean floor. In fact, scientists worry that this is such a problem that the blogfish could be going extinct.
13. Basking Shark
Second in size only to the whale shark, the basking shark is best known for its enormous mouth. They can reach a length of 40 feet long and weigh as much as 21 tons! Young basking sharks have long, curved snouts, but they straighten out in adulthood. They swim with their huge mouths open in order to catch food. Despite having a mouth big enough to swallow a car and 150 rows of sharp teeth, the basking shark eats tiny plankton using a filtration system in its gills, so they pose zero threat to humans. Their dark grey skin is covered in rough, sharp dermal denticles, which can injure people and other animals just by brushing against them. Unlike some shark species, these social animals like to live in pairs and can even be found in schools of up to 100 sharks. Because they are unfortunately hunted for their liver oil, skin, and fin meat, basking sharks are considered “vulnerable,” meaning they could face extinction in the foreseeable future.
Though it is technically a marsupial like Australia’s more famous animals the kangaroo and the koala, the quoll is often referred to as the “native cat” because of its cat-like features. Quolls are nocturnal creatures, climbing trees to hunt prey at night and snoozing in dens and burrows during the daytime. There are actually 6 different species of quolls, so they have a wide range of fur colors including brown, black, white, tan, and grey though they all share their signature white spots, bushy tail, and long snout. They range in size from the 5 kilogram Spotted-Tail Quoll, to the 1 kilogram Northern Quoll. Quolls look cute and cuddly but can be pretty aggressive! They feed on whatever meat they can get their paws on including small mammals, birds, and reptiles. These solitary animals spend much of their time hunting alone. From illegal hunting to habitat destruction to car accidents, quoll populations continue to decline due to human interference.
Have you ever seen a fish that can walk on land? Mudskippers, a general family that includes 6 species of tropical fish, can do just that. These weird creatures live primarily in mud flats and swamps and “skip” on land to find food. Though they look goofy, mudskippers are predators that feed on small crustaceans, worms, insects, and even smaller mudskippers! They are characterized by their elongated bodies, bulging, frog-like eyes, and pectoral fins that they use as “legs.” Mudskippers can move and retract their eyeballs, helping them see almost in a full circle while on land. These animals breathe through gills like other fish, but also get oxygen by absorbing it through their skin and the lining of their mouths. Some species bring extra oxygen to breathe into their underwater dens by gulping air from the surface, then blowing it into their burrow to create an air pocket.
10. Dumbo Octopus
With their floppy, ear-like fins, it is easy to see why Dumbo octopuses got their name. Referring to an entire genus of umbrella octopuses that live deep in the Pacific Ocean, the term “Dumbo octopus” was coined as a nod to everyone’s favorite animated elephant. Often known by their scientific name Grimpoteuthis, these creatures are characterized by the webbing between their arms and their small size (around 8 inches), as well as the 2 fins on their mantle. These cuties live a minimum of 13,000 feet below the surface in extremely cold waters, making them rare to encounter. Because they live so deep down, Dumbo octopuses are not usually threatened by human fishing or boating, and have very few predators. They use their “ears” to propel them forward and their 8 arms to steer as they hunt for food, mostly consuming invertebrates like snails and jellyfish that live just above the ocean floor. These just might be the most adorable sea creatures on Earth!
9. Feather-Horned Beetle
Have you ever seen an insect with big, bushy eyebrows? Meet Australia’s feather-horned beetle, known for its antennae that resemble feathers or fans. This beetle is still somewhat of a mystery to scientists because it is so rare. We do know that it is pretty tiny, maxing out in size at about 25 millimeters long. Like many animals, males of this species have larger, more elaborate antennae with over 20 segments which they use to attract a mate. There are actually 6 species of this type of beetle, all grey or black in color with easily recognizable white spots. Some scientists think feather-horned beetle larvae might be parasites of cicadas based on a similar insect found in North America. They live in the eucalyptus forests of south-eastern Australia, but little is known about their biology. It seems fitting that these creatures are so mysterious because they look like a creation straight out of a Tim Burton movie!
8. Thorny Devil
Also known as a thorny dragon, or its scientific name Moloch horridus, the thorny devil looks downright scary! It is characterized by the rigid, cone-shaped spikes all over its body. They live in Australia’s desert interior and use their orange, brown, and tan coloration to hide from predators amongst the sand. In fact, they can even change to darker colors in cold weather or when they are threatened. Despite their frightening appearance and name, thorny devils are not much of a threat. They feed only on ants, using their sticky tongues to slurp up any that pass by. These creatures have a weird way of walking, taking slow, jerky step, taking frequent stops, and rocking back and forth. Scientists believe this is a way to avoid attracting the attention of potential predators. Thorny devils also have a spiky appendage on their shoulders that resembles their head. When threatened, they tuck their head down between their front legs, leaving predators to bite at the “false head” instead.
7. Mantis Shrimp
While you would not normally think of shrimp as “beautiful,” the mantis shrimp’s vibrant colors could change your mind. Not only do they look colorful, but they see that way too. Humans can see a range of colors made up of just 3 types of color receptors. Mantis shrimp, on the other hand, have 16 different color receptors! No wonder their eyes are so buggy! They are also incredibly strong and deadly, striking with over 150 pounds of force. The two appendages on the front of their bodies move so fast that the water around them boils, creating a shockwave that will kill their prey even if their deadly blow does not. Most aquariums do not keep mantis shrimp because they would not only kill everything else in the tank, they can also break through the glass! Welcome to Australia, where even a 6-inch long sea creature wants to kill you.
6. Pink Underwing Moth Caterpillar
The pink underwing moth does not look like much, but its larvae, the caterpillar pictured above, is a sight to behold. It is sometimes known as the “skull caterpillar” due to the unique eyespots and other markings that look like human teeth. Only found in the eastern subtropical rainforests of Australia, this caterpillar uses the frightening markings to appear larger and more threatening to potential predators. The markings increase its chances of living to the adult moth stage when it can breed. When it first hatches, the larva is a dull brown color to resemble a dead leaf before it develps its defensive “skull” pattern. Though its markings are spooky, the chubby legs and squishy body of the pink underwing moth caterpillar makes it look pretty cute, too. This weird-looking creature eats only the vine of one specific shrub (the Carronia multisepalea), which also serves as its home and breeding grounds. Because of increasing habitat destruction and other disturbances caused by humans, this caterpillar is considered endangered and is becoming increasingly rare. With such a specialized diet and human interference, this animal is only known to be found in six locations.
5. Ghost Shark
Found deep in the ocean where the sun’s rays can no longer reach, you can find the ghost shark, also known as the chimaera. It is a close cousin to sharks and rays, but branched off into its own family nearly 400 million years ago. Though it has been around since the time of the dinosaurs, we still do not know much about this mysterious animal. Like many deep-sea creatures, the ghost shark has an array of weird features on its body. The stitch-like lines on their faces are actually sensory canals that allow the ghost shark to detect vibrations and tiny movements in the water, perfect for hunting prey. Unlike other sharks that have rows of sharp teeth, this creature grinds down its food using mineralized tooth plates. Weirdest of all, males males have retractable sex organs on their foreheads. Despite its creepy dead eyes and Frankenstein’s monster stitches, this creature is nothing to fear.
Also known as the rabbit-bandicoot, the bilby is a nocturnal marsupial that lives in the sandy deserts of Australia. Bilbies are recognizable by their soft blue-grey fur, large, rabbit-like ears, long snouts, and bushy black tails with white tips. These clever animals have developed many adaptations to help them survive in their environment. Sharp claws and strong front legs help them burrow and dig in the sand looking for insects, seeds, and fruit to eat. Sharp senses of hearing and smell alert them when danger is near and make searching for food easier. They also rarely need to drink water and get the moisture they need from the food they eat. Most interestingly, the female bilby’s pouch opens backwards so that the baby inside does not get covered in dirt when mom is burrowing. While they have back legs that look like those of a rabbit or kangaroo, bilbies don’t hop but do a galloping motion instead.
3. Turtle Frog
Found in the semi-arid environments of Western Australia, the turtle frog is named for its strange body shape. It looks like a turtle with the shell taken off! Unlike most frogs, this one has a head that is distinct from its body and small, not bulging, eyes. Another things that makes this frog unique is that it does not go through a tadpole stage. The female turtle frog lays eggs and the babies hatch as tiny, fully-formed frogs. So cute! For this reason, turtle frog eggs are some of the largest of all Australian frog species at 6 millimeters. This creature uses its short yet strong arms to burrow forward into the sandy soil of its environment like a turtle instead of backward like most frog species. Turtle frogs live underground, usually under termite colonies, for an easy food source. They can range in color from a light pinkish hue to dark brown.
2. Mole Cricket
The mole cricket is one of the most nightmarish insects alive on this Earth! They get their name from the tiny eyes and strong, shovel-like front legs they use for burrowing. While they are closely related to actual crickets, these creatures are different due to those front legs and a hardened thorax. A large number of mole cricket species exist around the world and many are considered pests. They damage fields and gardens by eating seeds and burrowing into the soil, disturbing plant roots. Male mole crickets have an unusually loud, deep song, amplified even more by their habit of singing at the opening of their specially-shaped burrows. It is so loud and low, many people think they are hearing a frog! These insects are not only creepy to look at but also not too pleasant to be around. If threatened, the mole cricket will shoot brown liquid out of its butt!
1. Tawny Frogmouth
If you have ever wondered what a depressed owl looks like (and who wouldn’t?), check out the tawny frogmouth. These fluffy, stocky birds are not actually owls at all, although they are nocturnal. Because their legs are weak, tawny frogmouths pounce on prey and capture them with their sharp hooked beaks. When threatened, these birds intimidate predators by opening the weirdly large, curved mouths for which they are named, showing off the bright yellow color inside. Though they can be found in a wide range of habitats, tawny frogmouths prefer to hang out on the lower branches of trees, where their mottled brown feathers act as camouflage. These creatures do not “hoot” but instead make a soft, low “oom-oom” sound. They get a little more vocal when danger is near, though, and hiss or buzz loudly to scare predators away. The cutest tawny frogmouth fact? They mate monogamously for life!
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