If you thought Australia was all about cricket, kangaroos and beer, you may have given in to some severe travellers’ myths. Not only does Australia have superb wine and cuisine, but its wildlife refuses to stick to long-established conventions. So ditch the animal kingdom rulebook and travel with Ayesha Nair as she takes you on a myth-busting trip through Australia’s wild side.
Myth: Kangaroos are crazy about the ground beneath their feet
Busted by: The Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroo
The Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroo is a wildlife Ninja, with a ‘black mask’ around the face and a band of fur running along the forehead. They are agile and have a stocky body, a long tail for balance and longer forearms than kangaroos that inhabit the ground. Like the name suggests, they live in trees and can swing easily from one to the other. On ground level however, they seem to adopt the gait of a drunken sailor. These kangaroos can ‘walk’ with their hind feet and do not have to jump like ground kangaroos; they can also move backwards. Lumholtz’s kangaroos eat fruits and leaves found high up on trees left untouched by other animals. So if you’re ever picnicking out in the Australian bush and your fruit salad disappears, you’ll know where to find it!
Give yourself a heads up as you enter the rainforests of the Atherton Tableland in Queensland where you can find them swinging from tree to tree.
Interesting to know: The Lumholtz’s tree kangaroo seems to lead a life most teenagers would be envious of. They sleep for about an hour each night and because of the low-on-energy diet, they wake often to eat.
Myth:Lizards hatch out of eggs
Busted by: The Blue Tongued Lizard
No points for guessing where the Blue Tongued lizard got its name. Unlike other lizard species that lay eggs, ‘Blue Tongues’ are born live. With a large head and a short body supported on very short legs, this cute (yes, you read that right!), thick-tailed lizard is very popular as a pet. The blue tongue inside a very pink mouth, works as a way to ward off predators. But they are mild and can easily be held.
Blue tongues can be spotted all across Australia – South East, South West and the Australian savannahs. You’ll find them where tall grass grows, including at your friendly neighbourhood garden party.
Interesting to know: A Blue Tongue is quite the Casanova. Males wander, while females live in territorial clusters.
Myth:Mammals aren’t poisonous
Busted by: The Platypus
European naturalists who first came across the platypus thought it was a hoax. The platypus, which looks like a factory mix-up, has the bill of a duck, the tail of a beaver and the feet of an otter. It is semi-aquatic and along with the echidna, is one of the rare mammals that lay eggs. But that’s not all, the male platypus is also venomous – a definite rarity in the mammal kingdom! A sharp, hollow spur on the inside of the ankles of both hind legs delivers the venom and is mostly used against fellow male platypus.
The platypus lives near freshwater and can be seen in aquariums at David Fleay Wildlife Park in Gold Coast, Queensland; Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and Walkabout Creek Wildlife Centre in Brisbane amongst other wildlife sanctuaries.
Interesting to know: The new born platypus, born with no fur, is known as a puggle. Since the female platypus does not have teats the milk oozes out on the fur that the new born laps up.
Myth: The only defence a lizard has is its tail
Busted by: The Frilled Neck Lizard and the Thorny Devil
Remember the cute looking dinosaur in Jurassic Park who innocently peeps from behind a tree only to reveal a deadly frill around its neck? It was based on the Frilled Neck lizard of Australia. Neatly tucked away into the back of its head, the frill fans out to deter predators or to attract mates. When the lizard opens its mouth wide, the brightly coloured frill that’s connected to the mouth, opens.
Despite a heavy duty name like ‘Thorny Devil’ this lizard is all bluff! Unlike other species that drop their tail in defence, the Thorny Devil relies on its appearance. Covered in threatening-looking spikes (which are not even made of bone!), the lizard on sensing danger, raises one leg and freezes. If attacked, it drops its head between its legs exposing a knob on the back of its head that acts as a decoy. Normally pale yellow to red, it can change colour to a dark olive in colder months.
The Frilled Neck lizard is seen in the trees of northern Queensland and the Northern Territory where it is humid, while the Thorny Devil prefers sandy regions and calls the Australian Outback and the south western coast, home. But don’t go staring into your binoculars because they’re very tough to spot.
Interesting to know: The Thorny Devil eats only ants and that too, one at a time. Talk about patience!
The frilled neck lizard has a taste for beetles and termites but its Sunday special is butterflies.
Myth: All of Australia’s animals are indigenous
Busted by: The Australian Camel
In 1840 the first camel arrived in Australia from the Canary Islands. Twenty years later a few more arrived and soon their number increased to 12,000. Most were the one hump variety that came from India and Palestine. Used for transportation in the dry regions, they were left to roam free once motorized transport became the norm.
Camels are found in the dry, arid regions of Australia like Western Queensland, Northern Territory and Northern South Australia.
Interesting to know: The European Red Fox was introduced intoAustralia for recreational hunting purposes. Others imports include the wild dog, European rabbit and cane toad.
Myth: Birds eat insects, grains and other digestible food
Busted by: The Emu
The emu is the largest bird in Australia and makes up for its lack of flight by running at a cool 50kmph. While peacocks, penguins and chicken are strong advocates of the flightless bird, the emu has been its spokesperson. A sharp beak, bluish neck and large feathers covering their body, they stand at an impressive two meters. But Emus don’t just stop at eating plants, fruits and insects, their diet also consists of stones, pebbles and even broken pieces of glass, marbles and keys. Why? To aid them in digestion!
Emus can be found all across Australia with a considerable population in New South Wales. They prefer grasslands and open spaces. You might also find them running around near farms and wetlands.
Interesting to know: Close to 600 places including towns, lakes and mountains are named after the emu. There’s even a beer named after the bird! Who needs the power of flight when you have that sort of privilege, right?
Don’t have time to explore the countryside? Visit Melbourne’s very own Aquarium on the banks of Yarra River. At its centre is a world first 2,200,000-litre ’oceanarium in the round’ where the spectators become the spectacle to the marine life swimming around them. See it to believe it
Ayesha Nair's claim to travel fame is a bike ride she did from Mumbai to Kanyakumari and back. Since then she has been hooked on to all things travel, even being a hoarder of wheelie bags. Until she can afford to travel the world in 80 days on a private plane, she will live vicariously through these articles.
View all posts by Ayesha →
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