Byron Wildlife: Mammals

Byron Wildlife: Mammals

By Gary Opit

Platypus and Echidna

Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) Photo by Tom Driftwood

As with the plants, the Byron rainforests, eucalypt forests,heathlands, wetlands, creeks, rivers, coastal and estuary habitats possess incredibly ancient animals found only in Australia. The most ancient of all is the Duck-billed Platypus and the spiny ant-eating Echidna. Both are monotremesor egg-laying mammals that have been living in this rainforest for at least 130million years. They lived with the dinosaurs for 65 million years and survived the mass extinctions to remain a common inhabitant of waterways and bushland.Both have the ability to detect electrical impulses in the muscles of the small insects, worms, and shrimp that they feed on.


Byron Marsupials

 The Australian plants and animals evolved on the ancient southern continent, now known as Gondwana, that included Australia and South America and many closely related species now exist on both of these continents.Our pouched marsupials are related to a pygmy possum that lives in southern Chile in the same type of Antarctic Beech forest that grows on the highest mountains in north-eastern New South Wales and south-eastern Queensland.

Short eared possum (Trichosurus caninus) Photo by Wendy Bithell

In Byron dwell two species of brushtail possums, the Short-eared Brushtail Possum, close to a metre in length, that come in two fur colour forms, an all-black animal and a grey animal with a black tail prefer to feed on fruit and leaves within the rainforest and wet eucalypt forest. A similar species, the Common Brushtail Possum, is also grey with a black tail but has much larger ears and lives in drier eucalypt forest. Only half as large is the ringtail possum that is grey and brown with a white-tipped tail.

Sugar Glider (Petaurus breviceps) Photo by Joe MacDonald

Five species of gliding possum live in these forests, and all have a fur-covered gliding membrane that stretches between the front and hind legs. Leaping from the tree tops and spreading their limbs they can glide up to a hundred metres between the trees. Largest is the Greater Glider, over a metre long, that also comes in two fur colour forms, all white with a light grey back or the whole animal is clothed with sooty brown fur, and like the koala, they feed only on gum leaves.


Most distinctive is the Yellow-bellied Glider that calls with loud shrieks, long gurgles and whirring moaning calls while in flight as the family groups keep in contact during the night. They chew V-shaped channels into the tree bark and lap up the sap that dribbles out. Squirrel and Sugar Gliders are small and have calls that sound like croaking frogs and yapping puppies. The Feathertail Glider is only the size of a mouse.

Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) Photo by Wendy Bithell

Koalas live in the eucalypt trees surrounding the rainforest and feed primarily on the leaves of grey gums and tallowwoods. The male gives forth with loud grunting calls that often frighten people at night thinking that some dangerous animal is lurking nearby. The name koala is an Aboriginal word for “does not drink” because they get their water from the moisture inside the gum leaves. If they were active during the day, with our hot sunny weather,they would perspire and need to drink water, so they move around their large territories of between 5 and 20 hectares during the night and rest in the branches during the day.

Eastern grey kangaroos (Macropus giganteus) Photo by Wendy Bithell

There are 55 different kinds of Kangaroos or Macropods (bigfeet) as they are known zoologically in Australia, ranging from the rabbit-sized Long-nosed Potoroo to the Great Grey kangaroo and both of thos especies live in the Byron locality. Male Great Grey Kangaroos measure up to 2.4m in length and stand at tall as a person. Feeding on grass they live in the open eucalypt forest. Large wallabies, the name for smaller species of kangaroos, such as the Pretty Face or Whiptail Wallaby, and the Red-necked Wallaby also live in the open eucalypt forest and the latter is often observed grazing the lawns of farms and houses. The rufous bettong is the smallest of our open forest macropods, feeds on underground fungi, tubers, seeds, insects, and plants and builds a woven stick and grass nest beneath dense vegetation. It carried its nest curled up in its tail when it decides to move its home. The long-nosed potoroo has similar feeding and nesting habits though it lives in the rainforest and in dense heathland.

Swamp Wallaby (Wallabia bicolor) Photo by Wendy Bithell

The Black-tailed Swamp Wallaby lives in thick damp vegetation including rainforest, wet eucalypt forest, heathlands, wetlands,Banksia and Tuckeroo-dominated coastal literal rainforests and estuary habitats. Living within the rainforests are two species of miniature kangaroo,the Red-necked Pademelon, and the Red-legged Pademelon, measuring a metre in length, both feeding on grass and leaves.


All animals that run quickly tire but kangaroos absorb energy like a spring as they bound across the ground, so they are much more energy efficient. Each time they leap they automatically drag air into their lungs and each time they hit the ground the air is forced out, so they use little energy while they are moving. The mother decides when to give birth and can keep the embryo within the womb until our regular droughts break and there is plenty of fresh grass available or when the last “joey” has left the pouch.


Unlike a deer or antelope, she does not leave the young to be eaten by carnivores when hunted but takes her baby with her as she races away. When she bends to eat the grass, the joey can feed without leaving the pouch. The mother can also provide two different kinds of milk at the same time, a high fat milk for the new born young and a low fat milk for the out of pouch young who continues to supplement his grass diet with mother’s milk.


Related to Tasmanian tigers and devils is the Spotted-tailed Quoll that has white spots across its rufous-brown fur, grows to 1.3 m long and primarily hunts possums, rodents, and birds. Long-nosed and Northern Brindled Bandicoots have elongated snouts, backwards-facing pouches, are related to the rabbit-eared Bilby that lives in sandy arid areas, and they all dig invertebrates out of the soil. Smallest of the carnivorous marsupials are the mouse-sized Brown Antechinus, Common Dunnart and Common Planigale that hunt invertebrates.

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