Australia has around one million native species of plants and animals. Because of its geographic isolation, over 80 percent of them are unique to that country. Most of the plants and animals have their origins in the ancient super continent Gondwana that broke up around 140 million years ago. One well-known species is the koala, a small, bear-like marsupial that lives in the eucalyptus trees of eastern Australia and on islands located off the southern and eastern coasts. Over 600 varieties of eucalypts grow in Australia, but koalas only eat around 50 of them and they prefer just 10. In addition to the eucalypts, there are several other plants and animals that share the koala’s habitat.
The Wollemi pine is a tree that’s been around for 65 million years. In 1994 this species was found growing in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, an area where koalas can also be found. The New South Wales government won’t release the exact location of this tree because it's concerned about illegal collecting, vandalism and disease.
Another tree that grows in the distribution area of koalas is the cycad palm. Cycad palms are very primitive trees that resemble palms, although they aren’t related to them. Cycad palms date back 240 million years and are known as living fossils.
Golden wattle blossoms are the national flower of Australia and can be found in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. This bush has bright yellow flowers and grows well in a wide range of soils.
Grevillea plants are the most popular cultivated flower in Australia, according to the Australian Culture Department. The over 300 species come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Many of them attract birds and insects.
Wild dogs called dingoes will attack koalas that are on the ground. Since healthy adults are capable of defending themselves, dingoes tend to go after old or sick koalas. Red foxes are also a danger to koalas. Red foxes aren’t native to Australia but were imported by early settlers. Other predators include marsupial cats called quolls, large lizards called goannas, and green pythons.
Several birds share the koala’s habitat including wedge-tailed eagles, emus and barking owls. Wedge-tailed eagles are one of the largest eagles in the world and they sometimes attack young koalas. Emus are flightless birds that stand around 6 feet tall. They have hairy, gray feathers and live in small groups. Barking owls hunt koalas at night; they were named for their call, which sounds like a barking dog.
Kangaroos are large marsupials that move around by hopping on their hind legs. They live in large packs and eat grasses and other plants. Wombats are burrowing marsupials that spend most of their time underground. Wombats eat grass, roots, plants and moss. One of the strangest creatures to live in Australia is the platypus. Platypuses are egg-laying mammals. They have a duck-shaped bill and webbed feet. They live in burrows by a river and can stay underwater for as long as 15 minutes.
- Koala image by HeikeKl from Fotolia.com