Australia’s Native Wildlife

Taking time to discover and observe native animals is a popular activity for many travellers around Australia. Whether you're visiting the tropical rainforests of the country's north, inland through the vast Outback, or enjoying the spectacular coastal destinations, there is a wealth of native wildlife to discover. In this article we give you an overview of the species of Fauna you are likely to encounter in the various regions throughout Australia, and where and how to find them. This article also included a list of National Parks, Wildlife Parks and Sanctuaries - must see destinations for nature enthusiasts.

Fauna of Australia

There are approximatley 700 000 indentified native species of Fauna found in Australia. As a percentage of the animal populations that inhabit the country, 83% of mammals, 90% of fish and insects, 89% of reptiles and 93% of amphibians are endemic (found only in Australia), the remainder of these populations are made up of introduced species (wild and domestic) as well as animals introduced for farming purposes.

As there are so many native animals to be found, Key Guides and Nature Reference Titles are essential research and reference tools which will to help you to identify where each species is found and what you’ve just seen run, fly or slither past!

Australia's Climate and Geography

So what are the factors that have led to such a high native animal population, and so many different species of fauna? The answer lies in the climate and geography of Australia.

The continent of Australia has been isolated from other land masses for 140 million years - this has led to a rich biodiversity including a huge population of native fauna species, many of which with characteristics found in no other animals in the world.

There is great variation to be found in both the climate and geography of the country. The interior of the continent has a semi-arid or desert climate and makes up a significant portion of the land mass. A temperate climate can be found in the south-east, a tropical climate in the northern most part of the country, and the south-west and north-east are classified as subtropical.

The Australian landscape varies greatly between climatic regions, with deserts, mountain ranges, valleys, wetlands and river systems, tropical rainforests, and sandy beaches all examples of the diverse geography found. The native animal species found in the various regions all have particular features which enable them to survive in their habitat.

There are also many spectacular marine destinations along the coast of Australia including the Great Barrier Reef, which at 2000 kilometres is the largest coral reef in the world, and Shark Bay, an extremely remote and unique marine eco system. These locations are home to an extraordinary number of native marine life species, and have both been added to the World Heritage List.


There are three sub-classes of mammals; placental mammals, whose embryonic young develop in a placenta before being born, marsupials who give birth to far less developed young which then either cling to the mother/or are carried in a pouch to fully develop, and monotremes which are egg laying mammals.


While placental mammals dominate the wildlife population elsewhere in the world, marsupials are by far the most common sub-class of mammals in Australia. Kangaroos, Wallabies, Possums, Koalas, Wombats and Tasmanian Devil are all well-known Australian Marsupials.

Kangaroos are perhaps the most well recognised of all Australian native animals. They belong to the Macropodiformes family which also includes Wallabies. The most distinctive features of this family are their large hind legs and short front legs, which with the help of their well muscled tails, creates their distinctive hopping movement. The Red Kangaroo, the largest of the family is also the largest marsupial in the world reaching a size of 2 metres tall and weight of around 85 kg when fully grown.

Possums are tree-living marsupials and belong to the Phalangeriformes family. Their size varies greatly between the various species, with a pygmy possum weighing only 7 grams, whereas a common ringtail possum can weigh the same as a housecat. Glider possums (including the sugar possum and squirrel gliders), are a fascinating type of possum which inhabit the forests of eastern Australia. These possums have a unique membrane structure stretching from the forelimb to the back limb, enabling them to glide through the air.

Koalas, another tree dwelling marsupial, belong to the Phascolarctidae family and are well known for their diet which consists entirely of eucalyptus leaves (they even derive their water requirements from theses leaves), and their bear-like appearance. The closest relative to the Koala is another well known native animal, the Wombat. Wombats, from the family Vombatidae are similar to Koalas but live on the ground and eat roots and grasses. They have teeth much like those of rodents and powerful claws used to dig burrows. While most marsupials have pouches at the front, the Wombat has a pouch at the back.

The Tasmanian devil is the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial, and belongs to the Dasyuridae family. It has long been perceived as one of the most vicious marsupials in the world, but this perception is undergoing a change, as Australians have come to realise the importance of the Tasmanian Devil to Tasmania’s eco system (as scavengers, they clear their territory of carcasses). Unfortunately, the species is now under threat of extinction due to Devil Facial Tumour Disease, which has been rapidly spreading throughout the Tasmanian Population.


The Platypus and Echidna, both native Australian animals, are the only monotremes in the world. The Platypus is a duck-billed, egg laying amphibian animal, and is considered one of the most unusual animals on earth due to its combination of unlikely attributes. The echidna, a species of anteater is another egg laying mammal with hairy spikes and a tubular snout with a tongue that is built to capture termites rapidly.

Placental Mammals

The population of Placental Mammals in Australia is entirely made up of bats, rodents and sea dwelling mammals.

The Grey Headed Flying Fox is one of the most common bats native to Australia, and is also the largest, with a wing-span of up to 1.3 metres, and a habitat that covers the highest population areas in Australia (following the coast from southern Queenlsand to western Victoria). This flying fox species is a member of the group of bats termed "Megabats" which use sight and smell to navigate. Microbats which use echolocation (commonly referred to as "sonar") are also present in Australia,

An important thing to remember about native Australian rodents is that they do not transmit diseases, unlike the various introduced European rodent species found around the country. A unique and well known native species is the Spinifex Hopping Mouse. These mice inhabit the semi-arid regions of Australia, and are well suited to their environment, living in burrows, with the ability to survive without drining water. These mice are mainly nocturnal, and are a species to look for when travelling in the Outback.

Although many marine species are migratory and therefore are not considered exclusively native species, there are many marine mammals that spend at least part, if not all of their lives in Australian coastal waters. An example of these is the Dugong, a large mammal which can be up to 4 metres long and weigh up to 900kg. They are the only species of herbivorous marine mammal, and live either alone or in small groups, and spend their whole lives at sea. Australia is home to the largest population of Dugongs in the world, found in the warmer waters surrounding the northern half of the country.

Birds of Australia

Of the 800 species of birds found in Australia, a large constituent of these are parrots which includes the various species of galahs and cockatoos that are predominant throughout the country. Australia is home to Southern Cassowary and the Emu, both flightless birds and to the Kookaburra known for its distinctive call – which sounds very much like an hysterical human laugh.

Along the coast there are thriving colonies of seabirds and migratory water birds, including the Australian Pelican and the Little Penguin, which abound in many coastal water bodies.

Reptiles and Frogs


Australia is home to the world's largest (reaching up to 7 metres and 1000kg) and most deadly reptile: the Saltwater Crocodile (also known as the Estuary Crocodile). These are abundant in the northern water bodies of the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland

There is also a very high population venomous snakes in this country, with more species of venomous as compared to non-venomous snakes. The Eastern Brown Snake, the Eastern Tiger Snake, and the Inland Taipan (also known as the Fierce Snake) are the most deadly snake species found in Australia. There are also many species of native pythons, which are non-venomous. Once of the most common species of pythons in Australia is the Carpet Python, which are found in the populated coastal regions of the country. Additionally sea snakes such as the Stokes' Sea Snake, which is also one of the most deadly sea snakes in the world, can be found in coastal waters.

Lizards are common throughout Australia and include Geckos such as the House Gecko, as well as Dragon Lizards such as the The Bearded Dragon, the Frill-Necked Lizard and the Thorny Devil. The Perentie, an Australian monitor lizard is one of the largest native species of lizards, measuring about 2 metres in length. The Blue-Tongued Lizard is also a unique native Australian lizard, well known for its blue tongue.

The coastal area of Australia is home to a variety of sea turtles including the Green Sea, Loggerhead, Hawksbill and the Leatherback Sea Turtles.


The most noted frog types in Australia are the tree frogs found in the rainforests of the tropical northern regions. The extremely colourful, endangered Corroboree Frog, and the Wood Frog, found only in Queensland are some of the more well-known examples of tree frogs.

There are also many species of frog which inhabit the arid regions of Australia such as the Desert Burrowing frog, which has adapted to the dry inland conditions by burrowing into the beds of sandy creeks and rivers when the water source starts to dry up, emerging once water levels rise.

Fish and Aquatic Life

Australia’s waterways are inhabited by more than 4400 types of fish, most of them considered as native animals of the country. The Queensland Lungfish is considered a very primitive form on the evolution scale, dating back to the period when Australia was part of Gondwana. In Western Australia, you will find the unique Salamander fish that survives dry weather by burrowing into the mud. There are lampreys, catfish, gudgeon and the famous native Barramundi, the Murray Cod and the Golden Perch. Freshwater sharks can be found only in the Northern Territory. The mosquito fish, Common Carp, Rainbow Trout and the Chinook Salmon have been recently introduced to the waterways, enriching the fauna.

Along the estuaries and coastal waters there are also approximately 166 species of sharks. The Bull Shark, Tiger Shark and the Great White Shark are some of the larger species of shark located in Australian waters.


90% of the insects and molluscs found are endemic to the country. There are beetles, weevils, moths, ants, bees, wasps, flies and mosquitoes in large numbers. There are 135 species of spider including the Sydney funnel web and redback spiders. You can find over 9 species of scorpions and a variety of terrestrial and aquatic worms. The giant Gippsland earthworm, the world’s largest earthworm can be found only in Gippsland, Victoria. It is claimed that they can reach a length of 3.7 metres.

The Great Barrier Reef is rich with colourful sponges, jellyfish, corals, sea anemones, molluscs, the blue ringed octopus, snails, sea urchins and rock lobsters, to name a few of the abundant fauna here. The waters are teeming with a variety of crabs, lobsters, shrimps and prawns. The Tasmanian giant crab, the world’s second largest crab is found in deep waters and can weigh up to 13 kgs.

Wildlife Sanctuaries, National Parks and Nature Reserves

One of the best ways to go about sight-seeing is to visit the wildlife sanctuaries of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. Popular sanctuaries handled by this organization are:

Faure Island
Mount Gibson
Mt Zero Taravale
Picanninny Plains

Some other sanctuaries where you can observe common Australian animals and native animals in natural settings are: Cleland Conservation Park, Flinders Chase National Park, Mornington Sancturary and don't forget about all of the National Parks and Nature Reserves that can be visited throughout Australia. Each sanctuary has its own charm and attraction. For example, the Bowra Sanctuary is known for the amazing birdlife. If you are into bird watching, you can spot the Chestnut breasted Quail Thrush, the Grey Falcon and the Hall’s Babbler here. The sanctuary is located in the heart of the Mulga Lands. Camping out and rising with the dawn to glimpse the birds can be a very rewarding and unique experience. You could also catch glimpses of other native Australian animals.

The Mornington Sanctuary is famed for being home to 33 species of mammals, 76 species of reptiles, frogs and 202 species of birds. It is located in the Central Kimberley area. The impressive King Leopold Range is close by and the closest town is Imintji on the Gibb River Road. There is a Wilderness camp and getting there involves an 8 hour drive from Kununurra so plan to spend at least a few days exploring the biodiversity here, observing common Australian animals and the rich fauna.

The Buckaringa sanctuary is in South Australia and covers 2000 hectares of the southern Flinders Ranges, with two gorges dissecting it. There are over 60 species of mammals and birds here with the yellow footed wallabies being in a majority.

If you like to have a closer look at the arboreal fauna and birds, then the Mt. Zero-Taravale sanctuary is one of the best places to visit. It is as yet not fully explored and offers rich opportunities for camping and observing various species in natural surroundings.

Most sanctuaries have some form of accommodation and guides to give you information on the common Australian animals and the native animals you can come across in these areas. There are opportunities for hiking and outdoor BBQ meals prepared over wood fires, and, if you are lucky, you can experience the ‘night life’ of nocturnal animals.

These are just a few examples of the richness of Australian fauna and wildlife that you could find worth exploring during your travels. You can choose to go on your own or join an arranged tour with a guide. Most sanctuaries have facilities for tourists and arrange wildlife hiking tours that are interesting, absorbing, and also quite safe.

Caring For Injured Wildlife

If you come across any injured wildlife, get in touch with your nearest wildlife carer as soon as possible. Australian Fauna Care has an online database to help you find the contact details of the nearest wildlife carer to your location, who will be able to advise you on the best course of action for your particular situation.

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Created: September 2011
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