There’s way more to the “Land Down Under” than Vegemite, the Sydney Opera House and surfing on Bondi Beach.
Despite being the planet’s Smallest continent, Australia is home to an incredible array of endemic record-breaking wildlife. What better way to celebrate Australia Day (26 January) than with our top pick of amazing Aussie animals...
...but before we dive into Australia's superlative wildlife, we'd like to congratulate one of the country's most-loved human stars – who happens to know a thing or two about Aussie animals: Bindi Irwin.
In 2019, she has surpassed 2 million fans on Instagram, extending her own record as the Most followed TV conservationist on Instagram. This week, Bindi spoke about her world record – as well as what it's like living at Australia Zoo – on Good Morning America (see video below).
To say this prickly character is a fussy eater is an understatement… In fact, thorny devils – aka molochs – only eat one thing: ants from the genus Iridomyrmex.
Admittedly, its record for Most restricted diet for a lizard has evolved more out of necessity than choice, with slim pickings on offer in the scorching deserts of Australia where they live.
Even water is hard to come by in these parts. But this “Lizard of Oz” has found a way to deal with that too. In between its formidable spikes – which are a very effective deterrent to any would-be predators – lies a network of microscopic channels in its skin, all leading to its mouth.
This feature enables the lizard to absorb water directly from damp sand and dewy morning air, getting a drink without ever having to seek out liquid H2O.
One of the country’s most iconic animals is the world’s Largest marsupial. (Marsupials are mammals that raise their young in a pouch.) Although a small number of marsupials live in the Americas, the lion’s share (two-thirds, in fact) of this family are Australian residents – the Highest concentration of marsupial species.
Red kangaroos reach around 2.5 m (8 ft 2 in) long from head to tail and large males can weigh up to 85 kg (187 lb).
Kangaroos are best known for their jumping ability. This form of locomotion is only possible thanks to a range of physical adaptations. Huge back feet and a muscular tail provide power at take-off and balance on landing, while elongated tendons in the back legs work like springs, storing and releasing energy with each hop.
The process is so efficient that the kangaroo doesn’t even have to exert any extra energy to breathe when tearing across the outback at full pelt; the bouncing motion naturally pulls down the animal’s diaphragm, automatically drawing air into its lungs.
If kangaroos are known for their boundless energy, at the other end of the scale is the koala – the Sleepiest marsupial.
These cuddly tree-dwellers can easily snooze for 18 hours in a day. It’s not so much that these creatures are lazy; they need these “power naps” in order to process the high-fibre eucalyptus leaves that form the bulk of their diet.
One of the best places in the country to see koalas up close is the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Queensland. The wildlife refuge has been open for over 100 years (it opened in 1927), which makes it the Oldest koala sanctuary.
Creatures don’t come much more bizarre than the platypus… With its duck-like bill, beaver-like tail and otter-like feet, it took scientists around 80 years to decide where this animal mash-up should sit taxonomically.
We now class it as a monotreme – a small group of mammals characterized by the fact that they lay eggs. Other than the platypus, the only other species in this group are four types of echidna – and all are endemic to Australasia.
The platypus, found in lakes and streams throughout eastern Australia and Tasmania, is the Lightest monotreme, weighing about the same as a wild rabbit. That's nothing compared to their young, though: on first hatching, platypus babies are about the size of a jelly bean!
Cassius, the saltwater crocodile
Australian saltwater croc Cassius, estimated to be over 100 years old, is one of the biggest attractions at Marineland Melanesia. The zoo is located on Green Island at the heart of the Great Barrier Reef – a record holder in its own right as the planet's Longest reef.
At 5.48 m (17 ft 11 in) long and weighing around a tonne (2,200 lb), Cassius is currently the Largest crocodile in captivity. There are reports of bigger specimens in the wild, but given that these are based on distant or partial sightings, it's extremely difficult to verify these.
The Largest crocodile in captivity ever was Lolong, who passed away in 2013. When measured at Bunawan Eco-Park and Research Centre in the Philippines in 2011, he was 6.17 m (20 ft 2 in).
For many of us, we’re more used to seeing cockatiels in people’s homes but in Australia – where they’re also known as “weiros” – these nomadic birds fly free.
They're most often found living in small flocks in open grassland areas. These petite parrots – the Smallest cockatoos – typically measure just over 30 cm (12 in) long, with their tail feathers accounting for half of their total body length.
You can tell a lot about how a cockatiel is feeling by looking at the crest on its head. Bolt upright feathers means it’s excited or on alert; midway means it’s relaxed; while flattened flush against the head indicates fear and/or anger.
You can find out about more record-breaking Australian wildlife such as the dino-like cassowary bird below – as well as read an exclusive interview with Bindi Irwin – in Guinness World Records: Wild Things, out now!
Thumbnail and header image credits: Alamy, Shutterstock