What are Some Species Endemic to Australia?
There are thousands of species endemic to Australia (found nowhere else). This can be attributed to the geographical isolation of the continent -- it is the most isolated of the continents, and was only discovered by non-natives in 1606. Until the construction of the Suez Canal, Australia was the only continent not to be connected by land to other continents. Australia has been isolated from other continents since it split from Antarctica about 40 million years ago.
The most famous species endemic to Australia are the marsupial fauna. Marsupials are mammals with a different lineage and anatomical differences from placental mammals, including a lower body temperature, early birth, lack of placenta, and different sexual organs. They include herbivores, like the koala, wombat, rat kangaroo, wallaby, and the famous kangaroo, the omnivorous bandicoot, Sugar Glider, marsupial mole, and assorted wallabies, the carnivorous quoll, Kowari, numbat, mulgara, antechinus, and many others. Altogether, 224 marsupial species are endemic to Australia. Marsupials have entirely displaced placentals within Australia.
Other species endemic to Australia are the monotremes, unusual mammals in their own category. They have a metabolism even slower than marsupials, though they have all the standard mammalian traits like hair and the ability to milk their young. Monotremes include four echnidna species and the platypus, considered one of the most unusual members of the animal kingdom. The platypus is described as duck-billed, beaver-tailed, and otter-footed. It has a venomous spur on its hind leg, and lays eggs, one of the only mammals to do so. Monotremes were poorly understood for many years, considered "more primitive" mammals. They split evolutionarily from other mammals about 150 million years ago, all the way back in the Age of Dinosaurs.
There are numerous other species endemic to Australia, although the marsupials and monotremes are the most famous. In Australia, about 83% of mammals are endemic, 89% of reptiles, 90% of fish and insects, and 93% of amphibians. The famous emu, a flightless bird related to the ostrich, makes its home there, and it is found on the coat of arms of Australia. Endemic parrots species are numerous on the continent. The Saltwater Crocodile, the largest of all living crocodile species, is found in Northern Australia, but can also be found in Southeast Asia. The Freshwater Crocodile, a much smaller species, is endemic to Northern Australia.
Are most of these endemic species in Australia on the endangered species list? What is the species abundance and distribution like in Australia compared to other places on the planet?
The continent seems like it would be such an alien world. Australia has some of the most deadly and unique animals that it must have taken a harsh environment for these species to evolve this way.
@ValleyFiah- Dingoes are not marsupials. They were introduced from what is now Thailand a few thousand years ago. They are a type of wild dog that is very similar to the Asian gray wolf. Dingoes reproduce normally, and do not carry their young in a pouch.
Dingoes are currently classified as native to Australia since they were introduced thousands of years ago. They have adapted to the Australian Environment and the local ecosystem has adapted to their presence.
When it comes to talking about endemic species though, they are considered alien species. They have not been around long enough, or in large enough numbers to have an impact on the evolution of other species. To the best of my knowledge, the number of species on the list of Australia's extinct animals attributed to the dingo is only two or three.
Wow…what a great article! I never knew how there were so many endemic plants and animals in Australia. I was very surprised to learn there were so many marsupials and that they had replaced placental mammals on the island. The only other place I knew that had so many endemic species was Hawaii, but I do not think the island chain has as many as Australia.
I do have a few questions. Are dingoes marsupials, or are they just feral dogs that were introduced after the continent was colonized? I know that sometimes species will evolve in parallel, and I was not sure if this was one of those cases. Additionally, are all monotremes egg layers? Do they all look as bizarre as the platypus?
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