What’s in The Bush? An overview of Aussie & New Zealand wildlife. Part 1: Mammals

So what’s wrong with this view?  Or rather, what’s right with it?

WhatsInTheBush

Now you’re Downunder, everything is upside down.

Our mammals lay eggs, our reptiles care for their babies, birds are flightless but mammals fly, and Orion does a headstand in the starry sky.

You’ll meet our mammals, birds and reptiles.  You’ll see how many of them live in female-dominated and matriarchal societies.  Many of them breed communally too.  Its all part of living Downunder!

So to begin – The continents in red & orange on the map above are our sisters.  We are the “Gondwana continents” and we are special.

The ‘Gondwana sisters’ have nearly all the special mammal families of the world.  These animals are found nowhere else.

Aussie has some of the biggest and most charismatic of them – kangaroos, koala, wombat, Tassie Devil, gliding possums, platypus, echidna, bilby, numbat and others.  Seriously, these animals, in fact their whole families, are found nowhere else on earth.  You have to go upside down to see them in the wild….

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This is a male Eastern Grey Kangaroo – the world’s largest marsupial.  They can grow to 7ft tall and weigh 90kg (200 pounds).  But don’t be fooled by his size and power.  It’s the girls who rule here.

These animals discovered the extended female-dominated family.  They were doing it long before humans came up with the idea.   To watch a mob of roos interact – the female majority all interested in each other’s welfare, getting along nicely most of the time with the occasional disagreement quickly solved by a slap.  In the background some males fight over breeding rights, but the females ignore them.

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Here’s a kangaroo family.  Two males (left and back) but don’t worry about them, as I said they don’t count.  It’s the two females in the centre that matter.

The girl in the middle, carrying a big pouch-baby – she is a Kangaroo Queen. She is the daughter, and grandaughter of Queens too.

One way a mob starts is this: a female is born who is super-intelligent, strong, adventurous and has a talent for mothering.  Her name is “Sunshine”

Sunshine, for whatever reason, strikes out to find a land of her own.  A male finds her and 35 days later she has her first child.  A daughter.  Its always a daughter.  She made sure of that.  (Yes, kangaroos can determine the sex of their offspring)

Sunshine teaches her daughter everything she knows, and that’s a lot – remember she’s the daughter of a Queen.  Her daughter stays close to her mum, because that’s what most kangaroo females do, for their whole lives. Sunshine has other daughters (there’s one in her pouch now), and her daughters have daughters.  They all stay together, loving and close – most of the time.

When Sunshine has a big enough family to keep watch for danger, and provide her with company when she’s old, she finally has a son.  Why does she wait so long?  Because her son will leave, and kangaroo mothers hate losing their children.  He has to leave.  He leaves when he gets to breeding age because there’s no sex here – all the females in his mob are his aunties, sisters & close cousins!!   And kangaroos just don’t do that!

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Also in the You Yangs mountains near Melbourne live these guys. This is Clancy, and you can read about him on his Facebook page.

Koalas are more cute than words can describe.  But like a lot of really cute people, appearances are deceiving.

You are looking at one of the toughest creatures on the planet.

I’d like to see any human tough guy climb a slippery gum tree, all the way to the top – 30m/100 ft in the air.  Then balancing with his feet only, reach out to grab leaves on branchlets far too fine to carry his weight.  Then eat them – yuk.  Fair dinkum, those leaves taste awful!  They’re the equivalent of the Atkins Diet without the protein… or fat.. or vegies….  There’s no such thing as a fat koala!!

So after Mr Tough Guy has eaten his Atkins leaves he has to sit there and digest.  It takes hours.  He’d like a sip of water, but he can’t have it. Meanwhile the sun has risen, and from a pleasant night-time temperature of 8 degrees C, the temperature rises to a sweltering 42 Celsius.    In one day.      He can’t come down from his tree – it’s unsafe on the ground, and he hasn’t got the energy.  So he has to sit it out.

Koalas and Polar Bears have the world’s most insulating fur.  The conditions they suffer are similar – koalas on the hot side, polar bears on the cold side.

I don’t think many humans would last long in Clancy’s shoes.

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Somehow, with all these challenges koalas have survived for 37 million years.

Once again, the ladies dominate.  She lives 1.5 times longer than him.  She chooses her mate.  She keeps her daughters close their whole lives, but her sons leave for other female-dominated communities.

But they face their biggest threat now – climate change is adding insult to the injury of habitat loss.  They are already the toughest, but there’s only so much a mammal can take.

Platypus
“Platypus” by Stefan Kraft – Selbst fotografiert am 20.9.2004 im Sydney Aquarium.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Platypus.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Platypus.jpg

Speaking of ancient mammals – this is one of the oldest in the whole world!!  Platypuses, and echidnas, come from a line that is 120 million years old!  That is older than some rocks I know!

Mating is initiated by the female, who swims alongside the male seductively until he gets the message.

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These spiny darlings – Echidnas – lay eggs, but they are still mammals.

Mammals have hair – even whales have some hair.  Mammals also feed their young on milk produced from glands.  So Echidna are still mammals, even though they lay eggs.

Their egg is leathery and hatches 10 days after laying. Mother echidna curls up in a ball and lays the egg straight into her pouch – amazing!

The baby, named a puggle, stays in the pouch after hatching, drinking milk from glands on the mothers belly.   But when he gets spines, he gets kicked out!  And fair enough too!

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In Aussie we also have a dazzling array of wallabies, rock-wallabies, bettongs, potoroos, wombats, and the cutest possums in the whole world!

But its not all about marsupials and monotremes down here – we also have fabulous placental mammals!  I’ll explain more about what that means in the second presentation: Sex in the Bush!

NZ and Aussie have lots of beautiful Seals, Sea Lions, Dolphins and Whales.  I recommend that you include a visit to the coast when you’re in our countries.

Next week I’ll post part 2 of this presentation: Birds!

What’s in The Bush was first delivered to around 400 guests on Olivia Cruising Australia & New Zealand 2015, on Holland America’s Oosterdam Cruise Ship.  The presentation was one hour, including questions.  I am available to give this presentation for groups – please contact janine@echidnawalkabout.com.au

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3 thoughts on “What’s in The Bush? An overview of Aussie & New Zealand wildlife. Part 1: Mammals

  1. I was on the Olivia cruise and got to hear this talk by Ms. Duffy. She is a fantastic speaker, well informed, and incredibly funny. If you get a chance, do not miss one of her talks.

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