This article was originally published in Examiner.com on April 10, 2009.
If you love animals and want to see some unusual ones, Australia is the place to visit, and there’s no better time than right now: Airfares start at $265 (each way) from San Francisco or LA. One of only 12 “megadiverse” countries that together account for 75% of the world’s total biodiversity, Australia is home to more than 1,000,000 plant and animal species, many of which are found nowhere else on earth.
Here are just a few:
- A platypus has the bill and webbed feet of a duck, a fur-covered body, a flat, beaverlike tail, eyes on the top of its head, and venomous spurs on its hind legs. When the first one was sent to England for identification, scientists were sure it was a hoax.
- Full-grown wombats can weigh up to a whopping 80 pounds! They are territorial animals, but will share their burrows with visitors.
- Lyrebirds can mimic almost any sound — including other animals, whistles, car alarms and even chainsaws.
- Kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos, and pademelons are adapted to live in many environments: deserts, wet rainforests, rocky mountainous areas, and even trees.
- Koalas could be the world’s fussiest eaters: they munch only on leaves of a few varieties of eucalyptus trees, and also eat a little dirt, probably for the nutritive minerals contained in the dirt.
- Opossum-like sugar gliders can cover distances of more than 300 feet in a single leap, gliding on a thin sheet of skin between their forepaws and ankles.
- Dingos have only lived in Australia for around 3,500 years. Scientists think they were brought to the continent by Asian sailors.
- Echidnas have spines, eat termites, and are monotremes (egg-laying mammals). In the winter, they form “mating trains” where up to eight males will follow a female around for about a month.
- Quokkas look like wallabies and are a little bit larger than a house cat. They have long, brown fur, small faces, fuzzy ears, and a hairless tails. Quokkas are able to reuse (eat) part of their own waste, if they can´t find any food or water.
- Emus are the world’s second-largest bird, and can run at speeds of up to 35 miles/hour.
There’s never been a better time to see these wonderful creatures; if you can swing it, start planning your trip Down Under today!
© 2009 Laurie McAndish King
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