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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Down Under Critters.


These animals are all featured in
one or more of my books.

All these animals are unique to Australia,
where I grew up. 
Many of them are
severely endangered.

** KANGAROOS -  What Makes the Big Hoppers Hop?
Hey, don't you wish you could do humongous hops like a kangaroo? You could too if you had powerful back legs and long back feet. But they can't walk backward, and they don't have thumbs: so you're even, mate! They DO have a long fourth toe with a wicked claw. This toe is the secret behind those huge hops - it helps push them forward! Their tail ( apart from making yummy kangaroo tail soup) helps them balance when hopping fast. If you like hamburgers and fried chicken, don't go dine with a kangaroo - strictly salad I'm afraid. 

Babies grow big in Mama's"marsupial" pouch. Kangaroo mamas must LOVE babies, because adult females are almost always pregnant. After that first Joey starts sucking on the teats in her pouch, Mama K's milk just keeps on flowing - an on-tap milk bar!  Kangaroos are silent types, but even they offer a few "love grunts" when romance is in the air. People yell and scream when they're scared, right? But kangaroos just lift that big back foot and thump the ground to warn of danger
Now here's something to make you hop up and down - almost 280 companies worldwide want to use a picture of the kangaroo as their trademark. 
HOP over for more Kangaroo Clues +  National Graphic Extras.

** NUTTY NOTES: A kangaroo is just a huge mouse with springs in its legs!

** KOALAS -  Are They REALLY Soft and Cuddly?
Don't you believe it, mate! Koalas are feisty little blokes who like to be left alone. For Koalas, eucalyptus gum trees are the only game in town! They sleep in them, climb in them, and eat the tender tip of the gum leaves. If your mom says you're lazy, you can tell her that you are no match for the koala. They spend 80% of their days sleeping - YAWN! They do move around in the gum trees after sunset, nibbling away for a few hours. If another koala sneaks onto their turf, a fight might break out, and both angry furballs will bark loudly at each other. The baby Joey is born, blind, hairless and less than an inch long. WOW! Then, he crawls into his mum's pouch and slurps milk from one of 2 teats. Baby K hides inside Mom's pouch for 6 months. If your family drives near a koala family, be careful not to run them over. Bush fires also can kill these cute fellows. They are built for climbing, not running. Koalas may look cuddly, but watch out for those CLAWS!  Read more fun Koala Facts.
** NUTTY NOTES: A koala is just a crabby old man 
     in a furry, gray suit.

**  PLATYPUSIs he made up of animal bits & pieces?

The platypus is shy. A loud noise will make them dive into the water. They are fussy home builders too- building mud burrows in the banks of only the finest freshwater lakes and streams. Platypus are weird! They like to swim underwater with their eyes and ears closed. Can you close YOUR ears? Pretty neat, eh? 

But they have to use their webbed feet to swim DOWNWARDS all the time, because their fur traps air, and this makes them buoyant. If they don't keep swimming DOWN, they pop back up to the surface, like a cork! BEWARE, male platypus come armed! A sharp, hollow, horny spur on the inside of both hind legs is always loaded. His venom gland shoots a powerful and painful toxin. This spur is a nifty defense against those determined to eat him.

Platypus eat by moonlight, 
and tasty aquatic insect larvae, freshwater shrimps and worms, are always on their menu. No need for knives and forks! Just a duck-like snout that dabs after goodies in the mud at the bottom of the water. AND they have a unique family history - real classy! They are 
Monotremes, because they lay eggs instead of giving birth, yet feed their kits milk that seeps into the fur on their tummies. 
Check out this site for fun Platypus Facts -- PLUS a Video.
NUTTY NOTES: A platypus is what you get when the throw leftovers together. A really unique creature!

*KOOKABURRAS - Are they really laughing at jokes?
Kookaburras are a noisy bunch of feathers that like to roost in the Aussie bush.  The Kookaburra's raucous laughing call wakes many Aussies who live near the bush country. If you want someone to sing sweetly in your choir, DON"T ask a kookaburra! This bird's chorus of crazy laughter will ruin any tune. 

They do people one good turn, though. Kookaburras think snakes are delicious, and mice are a real treat - UGH! Perhaps I shouldn't mention that they also drool over baby birds, and steal them whenever they can. Can you imagine living in a termite mound? NO? Well, kookaburras will settle for a termite mound if a hollow tree trunk is not for sale! Mum ad Dad Kooka look after the babies together - real family values, mate. And even feed them when they are teenagers, and leave the nest. Hear the kookaburra laugh and read more fun details here 
. . . . Plus a sound Video

ABORIGINAL LEGEND! . . . . . .The Australian aborigines have a legend about the Kookaburra. When the sun rose for the first time, the God Bayame, ordered Kookaburra 
to utter its loud, almost human laughter in order to
 wake up mankind. He didn't want them to miss the wonderful sunrise. Aborigines also believed that
any child who insults a kookaburra will grow
an extra slanting tooth.
NUTTY NOTES: Kookaburras see the whole world
as one big laughing matter.

** ECHIDNA: A very prickly customer!
The Echidna (also known as the Spiny Anteater) makes the platypus look like a party animal! It thinks being a primitive species of egg-laying mammal is an excuse to be a hermit. On top of this, it has the monotreme title, like the platypus. This, "Please don't knock, I refuse to answer," critter, has tough spines covering the top of its body. YIKES! I'll bet he's not on too many menus! 

The echidna is lonely for a l-o-n-g time - he can live for over 50 years. When attacked, the echidna quickly burrows into the ground or curls up in a ball. Mama E lays a single egg in the pouch on her belly. The egg has a leathery shell, and junior pops out in 10 days. Baby echidna is born blind and hairless. The milk for junior comes from a gland in mum's pouch. Hey, seems pouch milk-bars are popular with Aussie animals!  
Would you believe a baby echidna is called a  "PUGGLE?"  It's no surprise, that in a few weeks, when baby develops those nasty sharp spines, Mum kicks him out of her pouch. Echidnas scarf up ants, termites, insects and worms, with their fantastically long and sticky tongue. For extra fun facts click here.
**NUTTY NOTES: Echidnas are just 
footballs that grew spikes!

*EMU - This dad is a house husband!
What's the use of being a bird if you can't fly? Well, you'll have to ask an emu for that question. Emus are shaped like a giant feathered egg on legs - way tall, thin legs. Their long neck weaves about, as the eyes in their small head squint at you. The African ostrich and the South American rhea are their kissing cousins. 
Not flying can't matter too much, because they have survived in Australia for 80 million years. Emus like it HOT - deserts, forests, and on the plains. At 5 to 6 feet tall, they weigh up to 150 lb. No wonder they can't fly! Emus are super short distance racers -up to 60 kilometers an hour, with a stride of about 9 feet. WHEW! Talk about HUMONGOUS. Emus guzzle a lot of water, drinking 2 to 4 gallons daily. Who knew they were fun creatures, enjoying water play or a mud bath? And watch those muscular legs! One kick and you are over the moon! More fun emu facts

** NUTTY NOTES: Emu dads are househusbands - he raises the kids. Mum's super liberated, and she's outa there as soon as she lays her eggs.

** WILD AUSSIE BIRDS:  No record company offers them a singing contract.
Assorted Australian parrots, cockatoos and other wild birds are truly awesome. You need dark glasses so their colors won't dazzle you. If you took some of these wild Aussie parrots to McDonald's, they would eat from the garden menu: sweet nectar, fluffy pollen, and a side dish of fresh, live insects -  Visit this site to see vivid pictures of every species. FEATHERS RULE, mate! Click Here for bucket loads of tidbits about your Aussie feathered friends.

My mum used to live in a rooming house where the landlady had a sulfur crested cockatoo. This bird knew a lot of words and sentences and mimicked everyone very well. Each day, his owner hung him outside on the verandah in his cage. Sometimes she would call my mum, "Mrs. Lynch, are you there?" Mum would come out of her room, and they would chat a while. It wasn't long before that cockatoo could say those words in exactly the same voice as her owner. Soon, poor Mum couldn't tell whether it was the bird or its owner who was calling her. After that, the feathered mimic had to stay indoors for a while, to give Mum a rest.
** NUTTY NOTES: Aussie parrots are nothing but chickens with fabulous feathers!

** MARSUPIAL MOUSE -  A real meanie!
Marsupial mice are feisty, so don't go poking them. If you do, they'll tell you off with much hissing, nasty chattering, and lots of tail thrashing. These blokes come in shades of gray, brown and speckled. It's a wonder they don't trip over their tails, because they are as long as their bodies. They like to eat at restaurants that serve meat, meat, and more meat! Home is in a burrow in the hottest place they can find. You can keep your air-conditioning!

 This mousey is very territorial. He marks his home territory with secretions from a scent gland, and leaves droppings and urine in certain places. POO! What a smelly, messy home he must have. Mama Mouse carries up to six young on her teats for about eight weeks. She suckles them in a nest for a further eight weeks. These juniors ride on their mother's side or back. Whew! I'll bet her backaches. 

These mice are seriously weird. They don't drink water! All the moisture they need comes from the flesh and blood of the juicy small bugs, lizards, and other creepies they eat. YUCK! For more gross mousey doings. . . . . click here.
** NUTTY NOTES: Marsupial mice are just tiny kangaroos without the springs in their legs!

**FRILLNECK LIZARD - An ancient surprise package!
How would you like to be named Chlamydosaurus? Well, that's the Latin name the Australian Frillneck Lizard is stuck with it. Frilly spends 95% of his time hanging vertically on tree trunks. No, that's not weird, it's how he catches breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Caterpillars, massed swarms of bees, wasps and winged termites - YUM! They all end up in his tummy. He also likes to keep an eye on his territory, and any rival frillnecks that try to sneak some of his goodies. The big frilly only climbs out of his tree to eat. On the ground he often stands upright - just to keep an eye on things. They bask on tree trunks in the early morning and hide in the shade of the canopy in the heat of the day. 

Frillnecks never need glasses. WHY? Because their eyesight is so good. When they spot food they like, the frilled lizard runs and grabs it, then hurries back to his tree. the best hunting time for them is after a bushfire. WHY? The fire has cleared away the undergrowth and edible goodies are easier to spot - makes sense, right.

Frillies have the art of the bluff down cold. If threatened, they open their mouth wide and erect their frill. Frilly hopes the bright orange and red scales on the underside of the frill will scare you to death! To add to the bluff, he'll hiss, and jump around. But don't worry, he soon turns chicken and runs on his hind legs to the nearest tree and hides. Reproduction: A female frillneck lizard lays a clutch of 8 to 14 eggs. - whew! More Details:
**NUTTY NOTES: Frillneck Lizards are small dinosaurs that forgot they were supposed to be extinct.

** MAGPIE - Just a frustrated pop star!
Magpies have a beautiful "Warbling Carol"(caroling) that is heard across Australia in the bush, on farms and in Urban backyards. They call for partners, and also to warn other birds this is their territory The notes become shorter when distressed, and a young magpie's "begging for food" call is most insistent. Found right across Australia. They require open ground to feed, some trees to roost in. This describes a lot of Australias agriculture and bush landscapes. Australian Magpies have adapted well to the increase of man's Urban cities, and they can be found in urban parks and gardens.
**NUTTY NOTES: Magpies never heard a song they didn't like - especially those they create themselves.

**KINGFISHER -  Great fishermen. 
The Azure Kingfisher is found following Australia's coastline from the top of the Northern Territory all the way down the East coast, and including Tasmania. This Kingfisher frequents rivers and streams, billabongs, lagoons, etc, with overhanging low branches.

In typical kingfisher fashion, the Azure scans the water from a low perch and dives quickly, causing a splash, and then darts back to its perch. The prey will be turned around in its long beak and swallowed head first. They prefer small crustaceans such as crabs and yabbies, but do eat fish as well. More Details:
** NUTTY NOTES: Kingfishers never need bait to catch
their dinner.

 ** TASMANIAN DEVIL - Temper! Temper!
The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) is a carnivorous marsupial of the family Dasyuridae. Found wild only on the Australian island state of Tasmania. The size of a small dog, it became the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world, following the extinction of the thylacine in 1936. It is characterized by its stocky and muscular build, black fur, pungent odor, extremely loud and disturbing screech, keen sense of smell, and ferocity when feeding. It hunts prey and scavenges carrion, as well as eating household waste from your garbage can - YIKES! Although it is usually solitary, it sometimes eats with other devils, and it defecates in a communal location. Despite its rotund appearance, the devil is capable of surprising speed and endurance. More Detals.
** NUTTY NOTES: Dial 911 if a Tasmanian Devil family moves into your street. RUN!

** WEDGE-TAILED EAGLE -   Watch out!
The Wedge-tailed Eagle is found throughout mainland Australia, Tasmania and southern New Guinea. The Wedge-tailed Eagle has long wings (wingspan 2.3 m), a characteristic long, wedge-shaped tail, and legs that are feathered all the way to the base of the toes. The bill is pale pink to cream, the eye brown to dark brown, and the feet off-white. Young Wedge-tailed Eagles are mid-brown in colour with reddish-brown heads and wings. They become progressively blacker for at least the first ten years of their lives. They eat both live prey and carrion. Their diet reflects the available prey, but the most important live items are rabbits and hares.
Wedge-tailed Eagles may hunt singly, in pairs, or in larger groups. Working together, a group of eagles can attack and kill animals as large as adult kangaroos. This explains the scientific name of the Wedge-tailed Eagle, which means 'bold eagle'. Under ideal conditions, an eagle can lift about 50% of its body weight. Often, eagles may cache food items on a branch near the nest area. More Details 
** NUTTY NOTES: You can serve them anything if they come to dinner - dead, alive, or really smelly!

** WOMBAT - A bit of a mystery critter.
If you don't know what a wombat is, then you've come to the right place. I can offer you the works on wombat behavior, Diet, Physical Characteristics, and Life Cycle, as well as pictures and a list of links:

Wombats are large burrowing mammals found only in Australia. Being rather timid (wimpy) and primarily nocturnal, they're difficult to observe in their natural habitat and haven't been well studied. They weren't even noticed by European settlers for ten years. Information is somewhat scarce, and what there is, is often contradictory. Facts were gathered from a number of sources, so differing viewpoints are included where appropriate.

** NUTTY NOTES: Wombats are NOT bats without wings- they are muscular, and confirmed ground dwellers.

** BILBY - or Rabbit Eared Wombat (flappy ears!)
The Greater Bilby (Macrotis lagotis) is on the endangered list, the Lesser Bilby (Macrotis leucura) is believed to be extinct.The Greater Bilby, usually referred to as the Bilby, is the largest of the bandicoots, measuring up to 55cm in length (body only) with a tail up to 29cm long. Adult males weigh up to 2.5 kg and females about half that.
Bilbies are sometimes called Rabbit-Eared Bandicoots.

They are marsupials. Their pouch opens backwards so that when they dig in the dirt their pouch won't get filled with the dirt. The word Bilby comes from the Yuwaalaraay, one of many Aboriginal languages.
Refer to the Bilby Fact Sheet at the bottom of this page for links and more information:

A Bilby, in the form of a soft toy, has been to the highest point in on earth! In May 1997, Tashi Tenzing, the grandson of Tenzing Norgay, climbed to the summit of Mount Everest. The following is an extract from "Tenzing and the Sherpas of Everest" written by Tashi, and his wife Judy, who live in Sydney. "A Bilby, in the form of a soft toy, has been to the highest point in on earth! In May 1997, Tashi Tenzing, the grandson of Tenzing Norgay, climbed to the summit of Mount Everest."               
 ** NUTTY NOTES: A Bilby is just to be like Dumbo! But too fat to fly.

** SUGAR GLIDER -  Very cool critter!
The sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps) is a small, omnivorous, arboreal, and nocturnal gliding possum from the marsupial family. The common name refers to its preference for sugary foods, such as nectar and tree sap, and its ability to glide through the air, much like a flying squirrel. They both look similar in appearance and habits, although not closely related. The scientific name, Petaurus breviceps, translates from Latin as "short-headed rope-dancer", a reference to their canopy acrobatics.

Sugar gliders are characterized by their gliding membrane, known as the patagium. This extends from their forelegs to hind legs. Gliding serves as an efficient means of locating food and evading predators. They are covered in soft, pale grey to brown fur-lighter on their underside. The sugar glider is endemic to mainland Australia and New Guinea and its surrounding islands.  
More Glider Facts:

** NUTTY NOTES: Surprises enemies by "gliding" to safety at the last moment!

** CARPET SNAKE or CARPET PYTHON - A smooth dude. 
Carpet pythons feed after dark. They primarily eat mice, rats and birds, although smaller pythons prefer to eat lizards. Often encountered in suburban areas, you couldn't find a better rat catcher. Like most pythons, the carpet python has heat-sensitive pits on their upper and lower lips, which help them detect the body heat of their prey.
Carpet pythons can be found in habitats ranging from the tropical rainforest of north-east Australia, to arid and coastal regions. The species is currently divided into six distinct subspecies.

This beautiful non-venomous python's body has patterns that are blotchy yellow and black. The carpet python may grow to reach lengths of up to 3.5 meters. It spends most of the day coiled up in a tree or rafter, or basking in an open area. For information about breeding etc, click this link.
** NUTTY NOTES: A Carpet Snake just wants to give you a BIG SQUEEZE!



A Request:

I would love to hear from you if you 
liked this page or read my books.
I promise to reply to any e-mails
your child sends me -

Margot Finke

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