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Jessanne Collins
Jessanne Collins

11 Fascinating Animals to Visit on Kangaroo Island

Jessanne Collins
Jessanne Collins

When British explorers happened upon Kangaroo Island—a Puerto Rico-sized drop of land south of what today is the city of Adelaide—the animals took them by surprise. Unlike the wild ‘roos of the mainland, who knew to keep their distance, these creatures were utterly tame and approachable (so much so that the arriving crew reportedly slaughtered 31 for a giant kangaroo stew—gotta love those colonial instincts). The reason the animals were unaccustomed to humans (and tragically unfamiliar with their bad habits) was because no humans lived there. Aboriginals had once inhabited the island, but they’d abandoned it at least 2000 years prior, for reasons unknown.

After a couple of centuries of life alongside human settlers, the animals here are understandably a little more wary—but the humans, for their part, have gotten a lot more respectful. Which means that today, this one of the most incredible places to get up close and personal with some very interesting creatures out in the wild. The best way to meet them is to tour with a local company like Exceptional Kangaroo Island. Experienced guides are familiar with the animals and their habitats—so they can probably find you a tricky-to-spot echidna and point out where a koala is likely to be hiding in the crook of a tree—but they also ensure that you won’t bother the animals in the process. (And in lieu of kangaroo stew, they serve fantastic lunches that highlight the local produce.)

1. Kangaroos Kangaroos Kangaroos!

KI has it’s own subspecies of kangaroo (aptly called the Kangaroo Island, or Sooty, kangaroo). They’re shorter and stockier than their close relatives, the Western Gray, and chocolate brown in color. Like all ‘roos, they can hop very swiftly using both sets of paws and their tail—hopping is a highly efficient method of locomotion, because it “recycles” energy, like bouncing on a pogo stick. Tour companies have special access to areas of the national parks that are closed to the public, where you can see wild kangaroo populations which have been carefully acclimated to respectful visits from humans up close.

2. Cape Barren Geese

Fifty years ago, the Cape Barren goose was about to go extinct—but thanks to rehabilitation projects their population is healthy again. And yet, this light gray goose—which has a striking bright yellow bill—is one of the rarest in the world, making its home primarily along Australia’s southern coast.

3. Echidnas

They look something like a porcupine mixed with an anteater but aren’t related to either—the echidna is a monotreme, or egg-laying mammal, the only surviving relative of the platypus. There are lots of weird things about this creature, but one of the weirdest is that they don’t have a permanent pouch to stash their eggs in—they create a temporary pouch by contracting their abdominal muscles. (Both males and females can do it, so determining gender is difficult!) KI has its own subspecies—T. a. multiaculeatus—which basically means “fast tongue, very spiny!” They have a 9-inch tongue that can flick in and out 100 times in a minute, scooping up insects and larvae.

4. Black Swans

Black Swans live across the southern regions of Australia, moving nomadically between salt and freshwater wetlands. Preferring areas where eating and nesting materials are plentiful, they can also be seen in the spring in flooded pastures, like this one.

5. Sheep

Wool export has long been an integral part of the local economy; there are 400,000 sheep on the island today. This flock lives at the Stranraer Homestead, a functioning sheep station and utterly serene bed and breakfast, where lots of delicious sheep-derived haloumi cheese finds its way into the homecooked meals.

6. New Zealand Fur Seals

Despite its name, the New Zealand fur seal is a native of southern Australia. At a stunning rock formation called Admirals Arch in Flinders Chase National Park, you can find hundreds of them resting between fishing trips.

7. Australian Sea Lions

Found only on the south and west coasts of Australia, the Australian sea lion is recovering from threatened status. Females will spend up to three days swimming out to sea and feeding before returning to the beach where their pups await feeding time. Then they catch up on their rest!

8. Australian Pelican

The Australian Pelican is a medium-sized pelican, but it boasts the largest bill of any bird—the longest on record was 20 inches.

9. Tammar wallabies

The smallest of the wallabies, the rabbit-sized gray tammar can drink sea water!

10. Ligurian Bees

In the 1880s, Kangaroo Island settlers imported a dozen hives of of honey bees from Liguria, in northern Italy, to help with crop pollination and honey production. The forward-thinking beekeepers at the time had the foresight to have KI declared a bee sanctuary—limiting the import of other bee varieties—which today makes it the home of one of the only pure strains of bees anywhere in the world.

11. Koalas, of course!

The problem for koalas has never been underpopulation—in fact, the opposite has threatened this introduced species' survival on the island. Overpopulation once meant that a sadly common sight was a starving koala in a stripped-bare tree. In recent years, sterilization programs have helped get populations back to sustainable levels, so this is now a good place to spot a (well-fed) one in the wild.

All images courtesy of Jessanne Collins.

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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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iStock

Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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