Kangaroos have lived at Mungo for millions of years.

Kangaroos have lived at Mungo for millions of years.

The earliest kangaroo-like animals – Nambaroo gillespieae – were ranging around northwest Queensland 25 million years ago. Another couple of kangaroos Balbaroo fangaroo and Cookeroo hortusensis have been found as 15-23 million year old fossils at Riversleigh in Queensland.

Mungo, in south-western New South Wales, is also a rich source of fossils. The site is famous for human history, but it is also significant for megafauna fossils.

Procoptodon goliah, the largest kangaroo to have ever lived, has been found in Mungo sediments. This slow giant was 2.2m tall and weighed around 200 kg. It had huge long arms and large curved claws for grasping tree branches to get to the leaves it ate.

Procoptodon goliah Australian Geographic
Procoptodon goliah (far right) Australian Geographic/Image credit Peter Schouten

Some Aboriginal People in NSW have oral history of a huge kangaroo with long arms that was dangerous to people. It is possible that Procoptodon lived with Aboriginal People for as long as 30,000 years. Read more here

Procoptodon goliah Australian Geographic
Procoptodon goliah and other megafauna at Mungo/Australian Geographic/Image credit: Laurie Beirne

A large extinct wallaby, Protemnodon, has also been found at Mungo. Fossils of Sthenurus – a large browsing kangaroo – have also been found close by.

Protemnodon anak & P. tumbuna/Nature/Peter Schouten
Protemnodon anak & P. tumbuna/Nature/Image credit Peter Schouten

Two large extinct macropods (I can’t find their exact species yet) also lived at Mungo. They may have been Macropus pearsoni – who had a large range extending from Cape York and the Darling Downs in Qld to Lake Kanunka in the far north of SA ; and Macropus titan – who ranged from Wellington Caves, NSW, Naracoorte Caves, SA to near Melbourne VIC – who looked like a much larger Eastern Grey Kangaroo.

How did Procoptodon and Protemnodon die out? It is one of the great debates that has raged in Australia for decades. Mungo may have provided the answer.

Griffith University researchers searched for megafauna fossils in areas that also showed continuous occupation by Aboriginal People. Mungo was the perfect location, with a known timeline of Aboriginal occupation going back 50,000 years. They found megafauna surviving 33,000 years ago – at least 17,000 years after the arrival of Aboriginal People.

As this article in The Conversation shows, the theory that Aboriginal People wiped out the megafauna is not supported by science.

Learn more about Aboriginal History and megafauna at Mungo on our 4 day private Mungo Outback Journey

Read about our Aboriginal Guide’s in-depth knowledge of Mungo plants

 

 

LINKS:

https://australianmuseum.net.au/procoptodon-goliah

http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/blogs/austropalaeo/2015/12/fossil-factfile-procoptodon

https://goo.gl/images/AgZmnn

http://theconversation.com/aboriginal-australians-co-existed-with-the-megafauna-for-at-least-17-000-years-70589

https://goo.gl/images/R56qTw

https://goo.gl/images/fA41dN

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About Channel-billed Cuckoos and other cuckoos of the Top End

About Channel-billed Cuckoos and other cuckoos of the Top End

Cuckoos are unpopular with other birds. They have a habit of sneaking into other birds houses, chucking out the kids and depositing cuckoo children in their place. The unwilling surrogate parents find themselves feeding a voracious cuckoo child, at great personal expense.

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You would think the surrogate parents would realise that the cuckoo child wasn’t theirs, but it doesn’t work that way. Any egg that hatches in their nest is their child. It is hard-wired in birds.

They have their revenge though – bird species that are often host parents of cuckoo children bear a grudge against any and every cuckoo they see. As a result cuckoos are unpopular with other birds. Adult cuckoos are often harassed by the birds they parasitise. Read about one study on this behaviour conducted near Melbourne.

This might be why cuckoos have a tendency to sit still in a tree, well hidden. They don’t fly around making themselves noticeable. The Channel-billed Cuckoo is a perfect example.

We must have walked and driven past dozens of these enormous birds in the Top End before seeing the first one properly. Read about how excited we were to see the first one properly here. Seriously, they are 58-65cm long from beak to tail!

Every year around August they fly over from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. They hit the Northern Territory and Queensland Top End first, then over November and December end up as far south as Sydney and even East Gippsland, Victoria and the suburbs of Melbourne. Read more about them here.

They come to breed, and to do that they stop being unobtrusive. Their loud and wonderful calls ring out through the sub-tropical forests they love. Visit this page to listen.

The Top End has other lovely cuckoos too – including the huge and gorgeous Pheasant Coucal that seems to prefer running around on the ground to flying.

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Their call is magnificent – something like a troupe of monkeys crossed with water dripping into a resonant drum. Listen here on Birdlife Australia Unlike other cuckoos, the Pheasant Coucal does build its own nest and raise its own children.

We also see, when we’re lucky, the tiny Little Bronze-cuckoo. This bird has a soothing, cicada-like hum that makes you think of summer and lazy afternoons. Listen and see great pictures on Graeme Chapman’s site.

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The 6 day Wild Top End wildlife tour runs every August – which we think is the best time to be there. Its not too hot, most of the migrant birds have arrived, and its dry enough to get into the great places to see these Top End cuckoos and other wonderful birds.

Janine Duffy, Wildlife Guide. 

 

 

About Saltwater Crocodiles

About Saltwater Crocodiles

Saltwater Crocodiles are the world’s largest reptile.  The largest individuals can exceed 7 metres (10metres has even been suggested) and weigh over 1 tonne.  They can live over 100 years.

About saltwater crocodiles

“Salties” live in Australia’s wild Top End (the northern parts of the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia), and throughout south-east Asia.  The Mary River in the Northern Territory has the largest density of crocodiles of any waterway in the world.

Read more about the crocodiles of the Mary River here: Crocodiles are beautiful

Australia has another species of crocodile too – the Freshwater Crocodile.

identify freshwater crocodiles from saltwater crocodiles

This is how to identify a freshwater crocodile from a saltwater crocodile. You can tell them apart usually from their size (freshies rarely grow as large as salties).  But if you see a big one – like this one in the picture below – you’ll see that freshwater crocs have a slimmer snout than saltwater crocs, and behind the eyes there is a triangular growth that is large and pronounced in salties, and low and flat in freshies.   Salties have rows of pointed scutes*(2) (osteoderms) on their head and back, freshies have flatter scutes. Compare the two pics below:

how to identify a freshwater crocodile

how to tell a saltwater crocodile from a freshwater crocodile

Crocodiles are the most intelligent of reptiles, with an extraordinary ability to learn quickly.  They are famous for picking up on the habits of their prey: fishermen in Arnhemland are warned not to use the same fishing spot too regularly.  They have also been recorded using tools* (1), an attribute shared with primates, dolphins, elephants and crows, and considered one of the signs of high intelligence.

Mother crocodiles tend and guard their nest for the whole time the eggs are growing.  She will even splash water over the nest to cool it on hot days.  After the eggs hatch and the babies start calling, she breaks open the nest and assists them to disperse by carrying them gently in her mouth. She will even help open eggs that are struggling to hatch.

You can see them on Echidna Walkabout’s 6 day Wild Top End wildlife tour Australia which runs every August.

 

*1 https://www.livescience.com/41898-alligators-crocodiles-use-tools.html

*2 Scutes: special non-overlapping scale-like structures that clad a crocodile’s body.  Scutes have a bony structure.  They are shed in small pieces, not as one continuous skin like snakes’ scales.

The Pre-Menstrual Drop Bear: 5 Amazing Facts about Koala Sex

The Pre-Menstrual Drop Bear: 5 Amazing Facts about Koala Sex

The angelic face and innocent eyes of a koala hide a mischievous sprite, with one of the most interesting sex lives in the animal kingdom, worthy of a national Wild Koala Day, May 3, in their honour.

Fact #1. Female koalas have 3 vaginas

I’m sorry, what? The little devils….”

The animal world has many shocking secrets, and not all bodies are made the same. Under all that fluff and chubby cuteness, there’s a lot of woman!

  • How: She still has a single opening to the exterior, but just inside the vagina branches into three.
  • Why: Its part of her marsupial heritage. The plumbing runs through the middle of the baby factory, preventing the three branches from fusing into one.*1.

femaleKOALAReproductiveAnatomytext(OMG Imagine inventing a sex toy for koala girls.)

Fact #2. Male koalas have a forked penis

Watching a male koala become aroused is like a scene from an alien horror movie. Not only does his penis have two heads, it is pink, very large and prominently-veined.

The greater shock is that most marsupials have forked penises. Possums, wombats, sugar gliders, bilbies. But most have slender, elegant appendages. Koalas are unusual is that they are well-endowed in both girth and length.

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  • How: the two heads don’t stick out far and can be retracted.
  • Why: No-one really knows. Maybe it helps sperm enter two of the three branches of the vagina?

You want to see a close-up of that, don’t you?

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Fact #3. Koala sex is voice-activated

Its not a guy’s looks, wealth or power that turns on a lady koala, its his voice. The deepest bass and baritone notes are a koala lady’s aphrodisiac.*2

Barry White, Louis Armstrong, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave would have done well as koalas.

Male koalas broadcast their availability in breeding season – October to March. Their voice travels far, and clucky females make their travel plans to the deepest voice in the land. Listen:

  • How: low sounds are usually produced by large bodies, so a deep voice is an indicator of a large, strong male that will father strong offspring. In fact, koalas produce a deeper sound than their body should be able to, due to special organs in their throat. *2
  • Why: Low notes travel further, so these males have a wider audience.

Fact #4. Koalas ovulate only after they have sex

Koalas don’t waste anything, not even eggs!  They are ‘induced ovulators’: an egg is released after sex and fertilised by stored sperm. *3

Induced ovulation is not uncommon in the animal world. Cats, rabbits and camels do it too.

Koala girls don’t have a period or monthly oestrus cycle.  They do it all in a rush, once a year, when sex is had and pregnancy is likely.

Imagine all that tension bottled up into one insane week per year.

The first Drop Bear (*4) was just a pre-menstrual female koala in a bad mood.

  • How: Hormones released in response to sex cause the ovary to release an egg, which is fertilised by stored sperm.
  • Why: It is suggested that it is good for animals with large home ranges who might have trouble finding each other at the right time. The female may also be able to choose not to ovulate, if the male didn’t treat her right. See next point.

Fact #5. The girls are in charge

The best way to explain this is through an analogy:

All year a lady koala will sit in her house as a happy single mother in her trackies, eating, watching TV and playing with her kid. But then October comes around, the weather improves, and the males start to sing to her. It awakens something. For another month she stays in her trackies watching TV, but she starts to think about doing her hair and going to the gym. By December she is fit and fine and ready for the town.

She packs her bags and goes on a little sex holiday. She can walk many kilometres. She goes straight to the house of the male she wants, sets herself up in the spare room and waits. She has no fear of being rejected – koalas are born gorgeous, and they know it.

The male eventually figures out she is there (he has a lot of spare rooms) and goes to her. He stands propped against the door (tree). Now he’s got her, he’s not letting her go.

Later that night he goes in the door (up the tree), singing. If she likes him, she won’t fight him – much. If she doesn’t like him she becomes vicious, slashing at his face with razor sharp claws.

I’ve watched several females fight off larger males. Lady koalas are not to be messed with.

Watch this rare footage of koalas mating in the wild:

When she’s finished with him, she goes home to her TV and her trackies, and soon to be baby.

Koalas are just so damn interesting! Can you ever look at them the same way again?

This is why Wild Koala Day is so important. The how and why of all this behaviour is best seen in wild koala populations, which are declining at shocking rates all over Australia. To keep them, we are going to have to act on protecting forest. Now.

So on May 3, Wild Koala Day:

PLANT a tree

PROTECT a forest

PHONE a politician

References:

*1. Johnson, S & Holt, W.  “The Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus): A Case Study in the Development of Reproductive Technology in a Marsupial” in Reproductive Sciences in Animal Conservation, (2014) Chapter 9 p. 175

*2. Charlton B (2011) quoted in Nature.com

*3. Ellis, W & Bercovitch, F. 2011 “Body size and sexual selection in the koala” in Behavioural Ecology & Sociobiology Vol 65 (2011) p. 1230

*4. Drop Bear: a fictitious predatory koala that drops onto unsuspecting tourists from above. see Wikipedia

Built for the birds – Welcome Swallows and the Mungo Woolshed.

Built for the birds – Welcome Swallows and the Mungo Woolshed.

Mungo in late November is hot. By 11.30am walking outside is unattractive, no matter how captivating the big mob of Emus look in the heat shimmer. The historic rough-sawn bulk of the Mungo Woolshed promises relief, so I duck inside.

Emus at Mungo National Park

Just above my head, a Welcome Swallow dismisses me with a glance. Elegant and haughty, swallows are creatures of the air, not of the land. Humans, it seems, are nothing more to them than builders of convenient eaves for swallow nest sites.

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I scan the large room. No wonder the swallow seemed calm. The woolshed is full of swallows. I see thirty on the ceiling braces of one alcove. Each rafter holds a swallow, and every few minutes a soft blue blur reveals another swallow entering.

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Welcome Swallows are high speed aerial acrobats. They fly endlessly without tiring, sometimes completing figures-of-eight around your legs as you walk across a park. Mostly when you see them flying they are hunting – the small insects they prey on are invisible to our eyes, but the swallow’s acrobatic manoevres are the hunter in pursuit.

But the middle of the day in The Outback is hot. Even the insects seek shade (have you ever walked into an Outback dunny* on a hot day to find it full of flies? They get hot too!) Perhaps the swallows find it hard to hunt in very high temperatures and take a siesta in the woolshed.

The Mungo Woolshed may have been built for humans to make money from wool, but it has another purpose now. Its the Mungo Swallow-shed.

Visit the wildlife and heritage of Mungo National Park with us on our 3 day Mungo Outback Journey

 

*dunny: an outhouse toilet.

5 Amazing Facts about Koala Joeys

1. Baby koalas are called Joeys. All marsupial babies are called joeys – kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, tasmanian devils, possums & bilbys. The meaning/origin is unknown – it’s possibly just a diminutive used at that time for any small animal. Joey as a baby marsupial was first recorded in use in 1839.

The use of the word joey may have started with the word being applied for a British fourpenny coin. Politician Joseph Hume promoted the use of the fourpenny, thus the coin developed the slang name joey after him.

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2. The first time you see a koala joey it is already 6 months old. Koala joeys are born as tiny naked creatures that don’t look anything like a koala. They move straight into the pouch, and remain unseen until they emerge at around 6 months old.

Actual emergence takes time. The joey first pokes his head out of the pouch at 5.5 months, and fully emerges at 6 to 7 months. By 8 to 9 months the joey becomes too large to get into the pouch, and spends all his time on his mother’s belly or back.

3. Koalas invented pro-biotics. Koala joeys eat ‘pap’ – a special substance produced by their mother that looks like poo and acts like a probiotic. It contains gut flora that the joey needs to process eucalyptus leaves. The mother koala produces it from her caecum (a special chamber in her large intestine) and delivers it from her cloaca, so though it looks a bit like poo, its not.

Pap is absolutely essential to a koala’s health. Wildlife Carers with orphaned koala joeys will frequently ask the wildlife care community for a postal delivery of pap from a koala mother – any koala mother will do, the closer the better but any is better than none. Imagine receiving that package of squishy green slurry in the mail!

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4. Koala joeys are born out of their mother’s central vagina. Female koalas have three vaginas.

Why? Its complicated, and deserves a complete blog on the subject. Suffice to say that the two lateral (side) vaginae are for the passage of sperm to the uteri, and the median (central) vagina is for birth.

5. Koala joeys are born high in a tree. There is no danger of them falling to the ground – they are so tiny they get trapped in their mother’s fur. At birth a koala joey weighs only 1 gram – as much as a single sultana/raisin – and is only 2cm long.

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It’s Koala Joey Season in the state of Victoria right now. All over the state wild koalas can be seen with joeys – hotspots are The You Yangs near Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road and Raymond Island, East Gippsland.

Echidna Walkabout runs the following tours to see koalas in the wild – with a high chance of seeing koala joeys each year from September to November:

Wildlife Journey 4 days

Great Ocean Road 3 days

Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD 1 day

For more information contact:

Janine Duffy

janine@echidnawalkabout.com.au

T: +61 (0)3 9646 8249

Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours & Koala Clancy Foundation

http://www.echidnawalkabout.com.au http://koalaclancyfoundation.org.au

Once seen, never forgotten. Koala of the Month: Cruiz

Its easy to assume that wild koalas have small, reliable home ranges. After all, you don’t see them moving about much do you?CRUIZ260913mrWMlowrestext

If we’ve learnt one thing over 17 years of wild koala research, its that koalas move! A lot!

We first met Cruiz in November 2008 in the Turntable region of the You Yangs. He looked big, strong and healthy. We assumed he was mature – at least 4 or 5 years old. It was exciting to have a new male on the block.

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But then he disappeared. Sadly, we filed his photos and nose pattern diagram under the “Koalas once seen, never to be seen again” file.

You should never give up on a koala, though. Out of the blue in December 2011 he re-appeared in the turntable area. He’s back, we thought. “Don’t be hasty” he thought.

We didn’t see Cruiz once in 2012. Not once. Back into The File he went.

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Cruiz in 2013

So when he showed up three times in 2013 and three times in 2014, we had learnt our lesson. We didn’t get excited. Maybe he’s a nomad. Maybe he’s in protracted negotiations with dominant male Anzac, and other residents Vincent, Zack, Kenny and Rocky.

But 2015 was a good year for Cruiz. Already we have seen him 12 times. He’s been all over the place – turntable, branding yard 2 km to the east, Branch Rd. If we simply join the dots of all his locations this year, his home range would be around 117 hectares!

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Interestingly, too, he isn’t migrating steadily from one area to another – he is regularly traversing that entire area. One day he’ll be in Branding Yard, a week later he’ll be back in Turntable.

He’s not young either – we estimate he is at least 12 years old. That’s a really good age for a wild male these days.

Every single wild koala is different. Cruiz is a special fellow.

If you come on our Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD one day tour, or our 3 day Great Ocean Road tour, you might meet him!