The region, especially Australia, is known for its unusual wildlife.
There are three main categories of mammals in the world, with different reproductive cycles. Placentals, which include most mammals as well as humans, have a long gestation period. The only placentals that were in Australasia before human arrival are bats and rodents.
Instead, the marsupials dominate the continent. The egg-laying monotremes can also be found in Australasia.
In marsupials, the embryo leaves the mother's uterus, and crawls into the pouch to continue growth. While marsupials are also extant to the Americas, they are incredibly diverse in Australia, occupying ecological niches of placental mammals on other continents. The common explanation for this diversity in Australia combined with the relative dominance of placental mammals elsewhere is the geographic isolation of Australia that kept most placental mammals away; the fossil record in South America shows a similar diversity of marsupials until a connection with North America was established, leading to a placental mammals taking over.
Kangaroos are a non-taxonomic category of marsupials standing upright on strong hind legs; smaller kangaroos are called wallabies. The red kangaroo, Macropus rufus, is the largest marsupial, and an iconic species.
The koala, Phascolarctos cinereus, is a tree-living bear-like marsupial. The bandicoot is a small marsupial that looks similar to rats.
The largest extant carnivorous marsupial is the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), which is highly endangered and, as the name suggests, only survives in the wild on the island of Tasmania. Tasmania was also previously home to a larger carnivorous marsupial known as the thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian tiger or Tasmanian wolf, though it was hunted to extinction by the 1930's. Both carnivorous marsupials formerly inhabited the Australian mainland, though they were driven to extinction with the introduction of dingoes from Asia by the Aboriginal people.
Monotremes are an order of mammals sometimes described as the "missing link" between mammals and reptiles. They are only found in Australasia, and include the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) and four species of echidnas.
Some invasive animals in Australia are the dromedary, the dingo (a feral dog), and the rabbit.
Australian waters have a vivant population of whales, while the southern waters are also known for being a habitat for the Great White Shark. The southern waters of Australia are home to the Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea), while the New Zealand fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) inhabits the southern parts of both Australia and New Zealand.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef, while the Ningaloo Reef off the northern coast of Western Australia is another very large reef largely unspoilt by tourism compared to the Great Barrier Reef. The waters off the coast of South Australia are home to the leafy sea dragon (Phycodurus eques), a seahorse which looks very much like a seaweed, thus allowing it to camouflage well and making it difficult to spot.
- See also: Birdwatching
The emu, Dromaius novaehollandiae, is the world's second-largest bird behind the ostrich, and one of the animals on Australia's coat-of-arms. Another large, flightless bird that can be found in the tropical rainforests of northern Australia is the cassowary, which though very aggressive and dangerous, is also endangered, thus making it highly unlikely that you will run into one. New Zealand's national bird is a small flightless bird known as the kiwi. Both Australia and New Zealand are home to the little penguin, also known in Australia as the fairy penguin (Eudyptula minor), the world's smallest species of penguin.
Australia is also home to several species of parrots, including the sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita) and the rainbow lorikeet (Trichoglossus moluccanus).
While many species are spread across the land (or the ocean), some national parks and other places stand out for their beauty and diversity of species.
- 1 Great Barrier Reef (Off the Queensland coast). The largest biological formation in the world
- 2 Kakadu National Park.
- 3 Watarrka National Park.
- 4 Kangaroo Island.
- 5 Lake Eyre National Park (South Australia).
- 6 Broome Bird Observatory (Broome, Western Australia). The Broome area boasts a list of around 300 bird species, the most famous being the migratory waders that visit Roebuck Bay over the summer and then depart for Siberia to breed during the southern hemisphere winter.
Australia is infamous for its venomous and man-eating animals, and is home to more poisonous species than any other continent. Visitors to cities are unlikely to encounter these, and most animal-inflicted injuries come from mundane pests, such as bees and wasps, as well as horse riding. In the sea, jellyfish are the most prevalent danger; while sharks and crocodiles prey on people, they are only active in a few geographic areas.
Animal collisions with kangaroos and other animals are a danger in the outback.