Australia is one of the few continents in the world where all three groups of mammals – monotremes, marsupials and placentals – can be found. This means we’re home to a lot of unusual animals that do some unusual things.
Do quokkas throw their babies at predators to escape?
The circulation of a meme earlier this year reporting quokkas ‘toss their babies’ at predators in order to escape made people question the actions of these angelic creatures.
Surely the most photogenic animal in the southern hemisphere can’t be heartless enough to sacrifice their children, I hear you say. Well, unfortunately, it’s true.
They do sacrifice their babies, but not by ‘tossing’ them.
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“The pouch is really muscular so the mum will relax it and the bub will fall out,” says conservation biologist Professor Matthew Hayward from the University of Newcastle.
“The youngsters flail around on the ground and hiss and make noise and the mum gets away.”
It’s the “ultimate survival strategy” that’s only really available to marsupials, according to kangaroo ecologist and behavioural expert Professor Graeme Coulson from the University of Melbourne.
“The mother is interested in her own survival and her future reproduction,” says Prof. Coulson.
But before you judge quokkas too harshly, you should know they’re not alone in this action.
“Macropods in general, that’s their strategy to get away from predators,” says Prof. Hayward.
“Woylies and boodies, potoroos do it – they all throw their young, and the mother gets to live another day.”
Are daddy-long-legs one of the most venomous spiders in the world?
You’ve probably heard a version of this: daddy-long-legs are so venomous but luckily their fangs aren’t long enough to penetrate human skin.
You might also have seen the countless forum questions from panic-stricken parents asking for advice after their child fancied a treat and shoved a daddy-long-legs into their mouths instead of asking for a juice box.
But babies swallowing these creatures doesn’t prove they’re not venomous.
Luckily, unlike poison, venom molecules are too large to be absorbed through the skin and need to be injected into the bloodstream or lymphatic system to have an effect.
Although a cut in the mouth or upper digestive tract could allow envenomation to occur through swallowing, typically when venom is swallowed it’s broken down by stomach acids.
Daddy-long-legs do contain venom, in fact, their venom is so potent it’s capable of taking down arachnids far bigger than themselves.
Fortunately, daddy-long-legs are spider killers and are not venomous to people. According to the Queensland Museum’s arachnid expert, Dr Robert Raven, they even kill the fearsome funnel-web.
“Some of the most venomous spiders in Australia can be killed by daddy-long-legs – by their venom,” says Dr Raven.
“They can use those massive long legs to bite spiders over and over, while bouncing back out of reach [of the victim].”
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Maybe there’s a simple reason behind the myth though.
“From my understanding, a boy scout leader in Cairns started a rumour [that daddy-long-legs were deadly] on April Fools’ Day and it got loose,” says Dr Raven.
Are emu parents single dads?
Some males in the animal world are merely egg fertilisers, engaging in zero interaction with their offspring, others are cruel and will kill their own young (or the young of an overthrown dominant male).
Emus, on the other hand, are one of nature’s super dads.
It seems to start out just like any other relationship: their eyes connect across the bushland, they meet, they mate, and soon after the female is laying five to 15 dark green eggs.
An emu pairing lasts, on average, only five months before the female takes her leave to start the whole charade over again.
The dad patiently sits on the eggs for around 55 days, losing weight due to being unable to forage, until they hatch.
Once hatched, the young emus will stay with the father for up to six months where he will show them how to forage and survive.
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Many kangaroos and wallabies can pause their pregnancy
Many macropods have the ability to freeze the development of an embryo until the previous joey is able to leave the pouch. This is known as embryonic diapause and will occur in times of drought and in areas with poor food sources.
Whilst this concept may seem bizarre, scientists have long acknowledged more than 130 species that can do it, from macropods to seals to armadillos.
Each animal can pause for different lengths of time; the break can last anywhere from a few days to 11 months.
Interestingly for us Aussies, more than one-third of the animals that pause their pregnancy are native to Australia.
Do freshwater crocodiles attack people?
Most Australians and travellers here know the golden rule: don’t swim where there are saltwater crocodiles.
But does this apply to their freshwater cousins? Many residents of the northern third of Australia won’t let the presence of freshies stop them from enjoying a beautiful waterhole. Especially in the middle of summer.
A common misconception is that freshwater crocs don’t attack people. And while it’s true that they have never been responsible for a recorded fatal attack in Australia, they are regularly involved in non-fatal encounters with people.
According to the global crocodile database CrocBITE, there have been 23 recorded freshwater crocodile attacks in Australia since 2000. This proves we can still fall victims to their territorial defences.
“We know one of the things the adult males will do is spend time aggressively defending an area or territory,” says senior research associate and CrocBITE project lead Dr Adam Britton from Charles Darwin University.
“You’ve got these territorial males that will come along and give a warning bite.”
Bite wounds from freshwater crocodile attacks on people show the crocodiles typically give a single bite before letting go – proof they’re not trying to kill us, according to Dr Britton.
What other unusual Australian animal facts do you know? Have you encountered any of these species in the wild? Share your stories in the comments section below.
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