The heart of Australia's ecological identity is the marsupial.
A number of conditions have contributed to Australia being blessed with some of the most intriguing land mammals within the animal kingdom. The continent has experienced over 50 million years of geographic isolation, tectonic stability and was largely shielded from the effects of dramatic global climate change as it drifted away from other major land masses. Under these circumstances, the unique fauna that originated in Gondwana, adapted and established successful populations that other parts of the world could not sustain. About 84 per cent of Australia’s mammals occur nowhere else.
There is no greater illustration of this evolutionary process than Australia's collection of marsupials. Over half of Australia’s land mammals are marsupials, which give birth to their young and then carry them in a pouch until the infant is old enough to survive on its own. Of even more biological interest, are Australia’s two monotremes (Echidna and Platypus) as they are the only mammals that lay eggs and suckle their young. Although most of us associate Australia with a handful of land mammals, in reality the offering is exponentially richer with over 270 species found across the three mammal sub-classes of monotremes, marsupials and placentals.
Winter: Jun-Aug, Kangaroo Island
Winter is the season that the island’s subspecies of the Short-beaked Echidna breeds. Echidnas are solitary except for breeding time when females have a lovely perfume (pheromone) which attracts up to 10 males (3 -5 more commonly) which follow the female in a procession which lasts for days on end.
The island’s echidnas are one of five sub-species across Australia and are renowned for their fast tongue and long spines covering the upper surface of the body compared with their mainland cousins. Amazingly their tongues protrude 18 cm from the tip of the snout and flick in and out over 100 times per minute.
The cooler conditions are ideal for spotting Kangaroo Island Kangaroos, often being spotted grazing in open pasture adjacent to woodlands.
Summer: Dec-Feb, Kangaroo Island
During the warm conditions in Summer, Kangaroo Island Kangaroos switch to being more active in cooler mornings and later in the day. Mild days see them out in the sun but hot days have them seeking deep shade to keep cool. Compared to their Western Grey cousins on the Australian mainland, Kangaroo Island Kangaroos are shorter, stockier, have luxurious chocolate brown fur with black tips (ears/feet/paws/tail).
Koala are active across the island as it is breeding season, with the deep and echoing calls from males being audible across the eucalypt forests.
Spring: Sep-Nov, Kangaroo Island
Spring is the time when kangaroo and wallaby joeys are seen emerging from the pouch for the first time, with individuals being totally independent by Autumn. Kangaroo Island Kangaroos are quite sociable and move as a mob with female young staying with mum to help out with younger joeys.
Koala mating begins to occur from September onwards until March, with females starting to breed at 3-4 years of age. Males are very territorial and will guard their small harem of females from rivals. Although Common Brushtail Possums usually have their joeys in Autumn, they are also known to breed in Spring. After the cooler conditions of winter, Short-beaked Echidnas will feast upon eat large amounts insects and larvae during Spring.
Autumn: Mar-May, Kangaroo Island
In Autumn, young Tammar Wallabies are weaned off their mothers and form their own social groups. Normally timid and unapproachable, there are several places on the island where repeated visits with consistent quiet presence has lead to a level of tolerance, usually only seen through artificial feeding. This allows for excellent photographic and behavioral observation opportunities.
This is also an excellent time to see Kangaroo Island Kangaroo joeys following their mothers around, having left the pouches permanently. Short-beaked Echidnas on the island begin to enter periods of hibernation towards the end of Autumn because of their falling low body temperature.
Common Brushtail Possums usually have one joey at a time in Autumn. After birth, joeys spend around 120 days suckling in their mother’s pouch and can be seen riding on their mother’s back until they are fully weaned.
Spring: Sep-Nov, Kakadu & Arnhem Land
As water dries up, the concentration of Agile Wallabies around creeks and billabongs increases significantly, putting them at greater risk of being ambushed by Saltwater Crocodiles and Dingoes. This common macropod of the area typically feeds on leaf matter, roots and buds of burnt speargrasses over these months, as they wait for the wet season to begin. A highlight for visitors is seeing males fighting as box using their paws and legs, balancing on their tails.
Antilopone Wallaroos also gather in greater numbers around the Savanna woodlands and grasslands whilst higher in the escarpments, the adorable Wilkins’ Rock Wallaby nibbles on the ripening fruits of the Screw Pine from September onwards.
A number of nocturnal animals can be seen at dusk at this time including the Northern Brown Bandicoot, Brush-tailed Phascogale and Northern Quoll. The Northern Quoll feeds primarily on invertebrates, but also consumes fleshy fruit, small mammals, birds, lizards, snakes, and frogs. Almost one-third of all Australian bats are found in Kakadu with opportunities to see numerous species flying at dusk to catch insects, including the Black Flying Fox, Little Red Flying Fox, Ghost Bat and Blossom Bat.
Autumn: Mar-May, Kakadu & Arnhem Land
The end of the wet season heralds the arrival of Black Wallaroo joeys, with families taking shelter in the picturesque rocky escarpments. It is the smallest of the Wallaroos as well as the most distinctive, with its striking black silhouette. Antilopine Wallaroos are more commonly seen in larger mobs in the Savanna woodlands, with breeding reaching a peak at this time.
Dingos sightings are more prevalent across Kakadu and Arnhem Land after the wet season, where they commonly prey on Agile Wallabies and other small mammals. Rock Ringtail Possums and Little Red Flying Foxes also give birth to young around April and can be seen at dusk along with the Northern Brown Bandicoot and Brush-tailed Phascogale.
Northern Quolls typically breed from mid-May onwards, where incredibly males die shortly after mating from exhaustion, leaving the females to raise the young alone. Numbers are increasing in the area due to a reintroduction program, however, the species has been significantly effected by preying on the poisonous introduced Cane Toad.
Winter: Jun-Aug, Kakadu & Arnhem Land
The pretty Agile Wallaby is the most abundant macropod in the tropics, with its range growing across the floodplains and creek beds at this time due to the lower availability of food and fresh water. Dingos can also be heard howling into the evening, with young males often solitary and nomadic versus breeding adults that often form a settled pack.
The Wilkins’ Rock-Wallaby is a popular sighting amongst the rocky hills and escarpments with it’s distinct grey, brown and white markings on its head and sides. Black Wallaroos are seen across the rocky habitats whilst their cousin, the Antilopine Wallaroo sticks to more heavily timbered regions in the Savanna.
Colonies of Ghost Bats with their large protruding ears can be seen around caves and rocky outcrops situated in Arnhemland, whilst the Black Flying Fox, Little Red Flying Fox and Blossom Bat congregate in large groups following the ripening of fruit and the blossoming pollens of eucalypts, melaleuca paperbarks and banksias.
Winter: Jun-Aug, Tasmania
Eastern-barred and Southern-brown Bandicoots young are born between late May and December, with females having the ability to produce 3-4 litters of up to four young. Breeding also occurs in early winter for Eastern and Spotted-tail Quolls with females giving birth to up to 30 young, however, with only six teats, there is a high mortality rate.
The cooler conditions are ideal for spotting a range of marsupials including Common Wombats, Long-nosed Potoroos, Forester Kangaroos, Bennett’s Wallabies and Tasmanian Pademelons. Tasmanian Devils start to emerge from their dens towards the latter part of winter, with imps (baby devils) often seen on their backs. The devils emerge from or return to their dens at twilight or in the last hours of darkness in the morning.
Autumn: Mar-May, Tasmania
Macropod joeys such as Forester Kangaroos, Bennett’s Wallabies, Tasmanian Pademelons, Tasmanian Bettongs and Long-nosed Potoroos are typically weaned off their mothers around this time and follow their mothers around. The Long-nosed Potoroo feeds upon seeds, roots, bulbs, insects, but prefers underground fungi which is dug up using their strong forepaws.
Tasmanian Devils usually breed in March, with their young born in April after a 21 day gestation. Two or three survive from each litter and are carried in the mother’s pouch for about four months. Common Brushtail and Ringtail Possums also typically give birth from April onwards, with a couple of young remaining in the pouch for about four months.
This time of year also provides opportunities to see Short-beaked Echidnas before they enter periods of hibernation and Common Wombats, that are abundant at various national parks including Narawntapu and Cradle Mountain.
Summer: Dec-Feb, Tasmania
The summer months are a peak time to see young carnivorous marsupials including Tasmanian Devils, Spotted-tailed and Eastern Quolls. Quolls are largely solitary animals and scavenge on insects and small mammals such as rabbits, mice and rats. They are found around various habitats, especially around Mt Field National Park.
December is the time to keep a lookout for baby Platypus and baby Ringtail Possums riding around on their mother’s back. Common Wombats avoid the heat of the day, coming out to graze in the mornings and afternoons when temperatures are lower. Although the wombat may breed at any time of the year, mating most often occurs during winter, so at this time, baby wombats can be seen in tow with their mothers.
Eastern-barred Bandicoots, Southern-brown Bandicoots, Long-nosed Potoroos, Forester Kangaroos, Bennett’s Wallabies, Tasmanian Pademelons and Tasmanian Bettongs are also commonly sighted with their young at this time.
Spring: Sep-Nov, Tasmania
Spring is the peak season for seeing a number of Tasmania’s baby marsupials as they leave the pouch for the first time including Forester Kangaroos, Bennett’s Wallabies, Tasmanian Pademelons, Common Brushtail and Ringtail Possums.
Long-nosed Potoroos and Tasmanian Bettongs have no specific breeding season, with animals capable of giving birth throughout the year, although there is a skew of young being born at the end of winter to early spring. The Tasmanian Bettong is only found in the eastern half of Tasmania and can be seen across the dry open eucalypt forests and grassy woodlands in late afternoons and early evening, being largely nocturnal.
The island’s population of Tasmanian Devils emerge from their dens with imps (baby devils) often seen on their backs towards the start of spring. Common Wombats are also abundant at this time.
Autumn: Mar-May, Maria Island
The island’s population of Tasmanian Devils typically breed in March, with their young born in April after a 21 day gestation. Two or three survive from each litter and are carried in the mother’s pouch for about four months. Found only in Tasmania, they are the world’s largest marsupial carnivore and are successfully breeding across the island after being introduced in 2013.
Common Wombats are abundant across the island, with each individual having an established range in which it lives and feeds. At this time of year, it is typical to see this amazing burrowers grazing during the day in the open pastures. Interestingly, Tasmanian Devils are know to use wombat burrows around this time, as den sites for their young.
The Tasmanian Pademelon feeds on a wide variety of plants, from herbs, green shoots and grass, to some nectar-bearing flowers whilst the grasslands provide fantastic daytime viewing of Forester Kangaroos, Red-necked Wallabies and occasionally, the Short-beaked Echidna.
Summer: Dec-Feb, Maria Island
Maria Island is one of the hotspots in Australia to view Common Wombat that can be seen year round including summer. Growing to 20-30kg, Tasmania has it’s own subspecies, with this adept burrowing mammal seen in significant concentrations around all the former farming pastures on Maria, especially at Darlington at Return Point.
There are two wallabies found on Maria Island. The Bennett’s Wallaby has slightly different adaptations compared with its mainland cousin, the Red-necked Wallaby, with longer, darker and shaggier fur. Breeding typically commences late in the summer between February and April. Tasmanian Pademelons can also be spotted in or close to pockets of dense undergrowth.
December to February is also a great time to see young Tasmanian Devils as they become more independent from their parents. Found only in Tasmania, they are the world’s largest marsupial carnivore. In 2013 a group of 28 healthy devils were released on to the island as an ‘island insurance’ breeding program safeguard from the facial tumour disease currently affecting 90% of the population. They have now successfully bred to around 100 animals.
Spring: Sep-Nov, Maria Island
The Spring time is a peak season for seeing the numerous baby marsupials as they leave the pouch or dens to become more independent. Forester Kangaroos are easy to spot on the airstrip and pastures at Darlington, where gregarious groups of up to ten individuals commonly graze.
Tasmanian Pademelons and Bennett’s Wallabies also venture into the clearings in the late afternoon and evening, but prefer to reside in the thick undergrowth by day. The Tasmanian Pademelon will feed on a wide variety of plants, from herbs, green shoots and grass, to some nectar-bearing flowers.
The island’s population of Tasmanian Devils emerge from their dens with imps (baby devils) often seen on their backs towards the start of Spring. The devils emerge from or return to their dens at twilight or in the last hours of darkness in the morning. Imps are born in April and remain in pouch for 15 weeks and are completely weaned at 40 weeks. Common Wombats are also abundant at this time, with individuals being territorial and solitary with an established range for feeding.
Summer: Dec-Feb, You Yangs & Great Ocean Road
Australia’s most endearing resident, the Koala, is most active in summer breeding season, with males singing during the day and right throughout the night. At this time females will migrate short distances (usually only a few kilometres) to the home range of the male of their choice, with mating occurring in the treetops, usually at night.
Eastern Grey Kangaroos are particularly active in the mornings and late afternoons in the warmer months, with mating typically occuring from September to March. Eastern Greys will eat all kinds of ground vegetation, especially during drought conditions, with their home-range typically expanding during the summer due to the dry conditions.
Swamp Wallabies prefer denser vegetation of wet eucalypt forests or heaths along the Great Ocean Road and have a beautiful dark brown or almost black fur. During the day they can be seen resting and feeding on shrubs, ferns and a variety of grasses. Red-necked Wallabies, distinct with their rusty coloured neck and rump, can also be seen amongst the eucalypt forests and tend to be more solitary than kangaroos.
Autumn: Mar-May, You Yangs & Great Ocean Road
Most Eastern Grey Kangaroo joeys (babies) are born in spring, so by autumn they are 5 to 7 months old and starting to peek out of their mother's pouch. They will live in the pouch for up to one year. Autumn viewing of joeys is particularly exciting, as the new babies discover the world outside, learn to hop, play and graze.
Whilst less common than the Eastern Greys, Swamp Wallabies and Red-necked Wallabies can be seen amongst the timbered forests across the region. Unlike other Macropods, Red-necked Wallaby joeys do not stay by their mother’s side in the first months out of the pouch and will hide and feed near cover whilst their mother feeds in the open spaces.
Common Brushtail Possums may be seen around dusk and early evening, with mating taking place during this time. The courtship period is around 30 days for this species, with males following females with repeated calls. Common Ringtail Possums are smaller than Common Brushtails, with the males taking an active role in caring for the young, carrying them on his back.
Spring: Sep-Nov, You Yangs & Great Ocean Road
Baby Koalas (joeys) are usually born in January or February and by spring they are seven months old and ready to come out of the pouch for the first time. At first the joeys are very small and will cling endearingly to their mother's belly, nursing regularly. Later in spring the joeys are bigger and quite curious, and will ride on their mother’s back, surely one of the most adorable sights in Australia’s wildlife calendar.
Common Brushtail and Common Ringtail Possums may be seen around dusk and early evening, with young possums typically emerging from the pouch of their mothers at this time. Young Common Brushtail possums ride on their mother’s back until they are seven to nine months old, whilst for Common Ringtail Possums, it is the father that does the heavy lifting.
Spring: Sep-Nov, East Gippsland
The Common Wombat is a resident of the lush East Gippsland forests. Known for their remarkable digging and excavation prowess, they have very specific requirements before they come out of their underground burrows, with the temperature above ground required to be lower than 20 degrees Celsius. Cool nights in Spring are the best times to see them.
Echidnas are also active at this time, with November being the peak viewing time to see these intriguing animals across East Gippsland. Cool nights and mild sunny days make for perfect conditions for viewing echidnas in the daytime, as they are an animal that cannot tolerate high temperatures. They hibernate in winter and usually breed in spring. Females lay a single egg into a simple pouch in the abdomen about four weeks after mating.
Summer: Dec-Feb, East Gippsland
Grey-headed Flying Foxes are large fruit-eating bats that roost in camps of thousands of individuals during the day, which provides great viewing of their diverse social interactions. They fly out to feeding grounds at night. Most of their babies are born in spring, and by summer the juveniles are quite noticeable, clinging under their mothers arm. When they are tiny their mother carries them on her nightly flight, but after three weeks of age they are left in the roost with all the other youngsters. By January the young can fly and will forage with their mother.
Swamp Wallabies prefer denser vegetation of wet eucalypt forests or heaths in the region and have a beautiful dark brown or almost black fur. Their gait differs from other wallabies, with the Swamp Wallaby carrying its head low and tail out straight.
The warm evenings also provide the opportunity to see Yellow-bellied and Greater Gliders in the mature eucalypt forests. These remarkable creatures have a membrane of skin from their wrists or elbows to their ankles, enabling them to glide up to 100 between trees, as they search for insects and nectar to feed upon.
Winter: Jun-Aug, Flinders Ranges
Winter is an ideal time to see the rare Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby, as they bask in the sunlight across the rocky outcrops across the Elder Range, Wilpena Pound and Brachina Gorge. These are arguably the most beautiful Macropod in Australia with their striped black, orange and yellow tail. Short-beaked Echidnas can be seen at any time of day and found in a diverse array of vegetation types, as long as food (primarily ants) are available. They are a solitary species most of the year except at this time when breeding occurs.
Brush-tailed Possums are nocturnal species and have recently reintroduced to Wilpena Pound. They can be seen in pairs during the mating season which usually occur around June. Another successful reintroduction to the area is the Western Quoll. These carnivorous marsupials are also nocturnal species, usually feeding on small invertebrates however will supplement this diet with small lizards, amphibians and occasionally leaves and seeds. They are seasonal breeders with births usually peaking around June and July, where 4-6 young are delivered. With the cooler conditions, Western Grey Kangaroos, Common Wallaroos and Red Kangaroos are abundant, grazing during the day.
Spring: Sep-Nov, Flinders Ranges
With spring, the arid landscape comes alive with wildflowers of red, yellow, white and purple. Short-beaked Echidnas can be seen waddling through the all kinds of habitats, searching for a feed of ants. Four species of kangaroo can be seen in the area, with Red Kangaroos, Western Grey Kangaroos, Common Wallaroos feeding on shoots and vegetation that has grown with the winter rain.
Red Kangaroos will breed all year round, however spring and summer tend to be times when most joeys are born. The females have the unique ability to delay birth of their baby until their previous Joey has left the pouch in a process called embryonic diapause.
Autumn: Mar-May, Flinders Ranges
Western Grey Kangaroos are abundant especially early morning or late evening, and are normally close to pockets of water. Breeding occurs for the Western Greys year round with peaks from September to March. Unlike their Red Kangaroo cousins, they can not delay the birth of joeys according to the prevailing weather conditions.
Arguably, the most beautiful Macropod in Australia is the Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby with its striped black, orange and yellow tail. They have definitive territories in remote parts of the Elder Range and edge of Wilpena Pound, Colonies generally consist of a number of breeding females with their offspring and a dominant male.
Dingoes are elusive species in this area and avoid human contact. Most active at dawn and dusk in the warmer months, they primarily stalk Kangaroos and Wallabies. They normally breed at this time with gestation last approximately 60-65 days. They can be often heard howling, especially when out at the walking camps.
Summer: Dec-Feb, Flinders Ranges
Australia’s largest macropod, the Red Kangaroo can be seen gracefully bounding across the arid landscapes at dusk and dawn. Although a nomadic species, Arkaba's conservation work has seen a huge increase in numbers and they are common all year round. Red Kangaroo will breed all year round, however spring and summer tend to be times when most young are born. The females have the unique ability to delay birth of their baby until their previous Joey has left the pouch in a process called embryonic diapause.
The Common Wallaroo and Western Grey Kangaroo also escape the heat of the day and are a common sight at dusk and dawn. In the middle of the day, Common Walloroos will shelter in rock caves and under crevices. They are a very robust species, obtaining majority of water from food eaten. Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby are regular sightings in pockets of the Flinders Ranges National Park, as they come down off the scree slopes in search of water.