Mammals, marsupials and monotremes… oh my.  These animals are more (reptiles and birds) can be found at the Melbourne Zoo

Coming from D.C., the Zoo had a lot to live up to – the National Zoo in Woodley Park D.C. is one of the best zoos I’ve ever been to in terms of breadth of animals and natural exhibits/habitats.  While the Melbourne Zoo had many of the standard iron wire enclosed structures, the Bushland and Aviary are not to be missed.  Which was pretty much all we cared about since, let’s face it, we’ve all seen lions, tigers and bears before. But not… koala bears.

Koalas are but one type of marsupial common to Australia and found at the Zoo.  Marsupials are a subclass of mammals, which are characterized (like mammals) by giving live birth to their young.  Unlike mammals, marsupials give birth prematurely, when the “joey” is still underdeveloped.  The joey then crawls into the mother’s pouch and attaches to her teet, continuing to develop for days to weeks inside the protective pouch.  

The vast majority of today’s marsupials reside in Australia, though they originated in North America, and migrated through South America to the land now comprising Australia when the two continents (and Antarctica) were one, known as Gondwana.  One species of American marsupial persists–the possum. 

The red kangaroo is the largest kangaroo, the largest mammal in Australia, and the largest surviving marsupial.  They can reach up to 4.5 feet in length, nearly 200 lbs, and can jump more than 30 feet.  Just look at those limbs!

The Great Grey Kangaroo is also quite big.  In fact, taller than its red cousin, the grey kangaroo can reach 6 feet long.  They lose out to the biggest marsupial on girth though (weighing in at a mere 150 lbs).

And then, there’s the adorable little wallabies.  

 

The Bushland exhibit also includes these dinosaur-age birds.  Emus are the largest bird in Australia, reaching 6.5 feet and darn fast – they can sprint at 30km/hour.  They’re also mean suckers–they have a nail that’s as sharp as the blade of a knife and used to fend off aggressors and fight for the ladies.

And then, there’s monotremes.  There are only a few species of monotremes left in the world, all of which reside in the wild in Australia and New Guinea.  Like mammals, monotremes are warm-blooded and lactate.  But very unlike mammals or marsupials, monotremes lay eggs, which remain inside the female for a period of post-laying development (similar to the pouch phase of marsupials).  The lactation process of monotremes is also supremely unique – the mother lacks nipples and lactates through her skin to provide the necessary nutrients to her young.  

The platypus is one famous monotreme; echidna are another native Australian member.  At the Zoo, we had the pleasure of watching both:  the platypus in his water habitat furtively darted in and out of the water, like a tiny seal and with spectacularly wide webbed feet for such a little guy; and a gaggle of echidnas, lumbering around, searched the soil and tree stumps for grubs and glistened as the sun hit their jet black and seriously dangerous looking spikes.

And if these educational lessons were not enough, the Zoo also offered an important message about saving wildlife habitats acros Australia and using recycled toilet paper, straight from — the Crapman!

Check out more pictures on the photos page.

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