Surviving Australia - Exhibition Guide for Teachers

An outline of what you will see in each section and the key components that will intrigue and excite you.

Surviving Australia Exhibition

Carl Bento © Australian Museum

How much do you know about the beautiful and bizarre animals that call Australia home? The Surviving Australia exhibition unlocks the secrets and surprises of many of Australia's animals. It reveals both their diversity and adaptations for survival over millions of years of changing climate and landscape.

The Surviving Australia exhibition has seven main sections:

  • Blue Edge
  • Island Homes
  • Our Backyard
  • Dangerous Australians
  • Adapt or Die: specialists on land and in freshwater
  • Adapt or Die: specialists over time
  • Where Are They Now

There are also several smaller displays and components:

  • Stromatolites
  • Scientists' Stories

Blue Edge

Where can you see penguins at the beach, or find gardens older than the pyramids? At Australia's blue edge - where land meets sea - and people meet marine life.

This section focuses on Australia's temperate marine waters.

Rocky reefs

Rocky reefs are the great shelves of rock along the blue edge where the ocean floor rises up and becomes land. Surrounded by dense beds of aquatic plant life, they provide food and shelter for thriving colonies of fishes, crustaceans, molluscs, sea stars, colourful sea slugs and thousands of other animals.

See a diversity of rocky reef survivors and their adaptations including sea dragons, sea stars, sea urchins and rock lobsters.

Simple is best

In the deep waters off the blue edge there are gardens that are older than the pyramids. These are Australia's sponge gardens - undersea colonies of animals, some of which are more than 9000 years old.

Did you know that there are about 15,000 species of sponge in the world and five thousand of these live around Australia with about 160 living in the Sydney region?

Intelligent invertebrates

Squid, cuttlefish and octopus belong to the sub-group of molluscs known as cephalopods. They have the most advanced nervous system of all invertebrates and have excellent eyesight with the ability to recognise colour, shape and texture.

See the Common Sydney Octopus, and find out why a squid needs a pen. Did you know octopuses have blue blood? Find out why.

Masters of disguise

Sea slugs, or nudibranchs, have an amazing ability to camouflage themselves by developing colours and patterns that closely match the environment in which they live.

Life's a beach

Most beach animals escape our notice because they're small and spend their lives beneath the sand. Other animals we can readily see. Take a look at some of these beach survivors. And next time you hit the surf remember you're just visiting - these animals are at home.

Find out what a 'Hairy Mary' is, and see Giant Beach Worms, Blue Bottles, beach crabs and the smallest species of penguin in the world - the Fairy Penguin.

Mangrove swamps

Mangrove swamps are extremely important habitats. Did you know that about 75 per cent of all commercial fish species spend part of their life cycle in mangrove swamps? They provide food and sheltered breeding and nursery grounds that numerous aquatic animals couldn't survive without.

Find out about some of the special adaptations of the Grey Mangrove and learn about some of the crabs commonly found among mangrove swamps - the Semaphore Crabs, Soldier Crabs and Blue Swimmer Crabs.

Swimming dangerously?

Each year, the blue edge of Australia claims more than 40 human lives. The vast majority of these deaths are from drowning, not venom or teeth; but Australian waters are certainly home to some very dangerous animals.

Learn to recognise some of our dangerous marine creatures including the Blue-ringed Octopus; cone shells and lionfish. See an Irukandji Jellyfish and discover some of the sharks it is best to avoid!

Highlights in Blue Edge:

  • Watch live invertebrate animals in a three-metre-long marine tank. Be mesmerised by a massed group of cuttlefish and look for other marine dwellers such as sea stars, sea urchins, anemones and sea snails.
  • Use a touch-screen interactive to explore the weird and wonderful sea creatures adapted to the extreme environments of the deep sea and seamounts off the coast of Australia.

Island Homes

Want to see survival of the fittest played out in fast-forward? Take a look at an island.

Change comes in many forms: the introduction of exotic species, human colonisation, and the thriving and extinction of island species.

Christmas Island - red crab vs yellow ant

Every year Christmas Island Red Land Crabs leave their forest homes together to breed at the nearest beach. It's a dangerous journey that can last up to 18 days and, in recent years, it's become increasingly perilous. The crabs now have to contend with introduced Yellow Crazy Ants.

Find out whether the Red Land Crabs are doomed or whether there is hope for their survival.

Kangaroo Island - too much of a good thing?

In the 1920s, small groups of threatened native species were shipped to Kangaroo Island for safe keeping. It was a mammoth experiment in conservation. But some species are doing too well.

Learn about the wallabies, koalas and other species whose numbers are now so high that they are destroying the habitats that sustain them.

Lord Howe Island - return of the woodhen

Lord Howe is home to many rare and endangered species. Following human settlement of the Island, the once-abundant Lord Howe Island Woodhen became one of the most endangered birds in the world.

Find out why it became endangered and how conservation activities are now helping.

Macquarie Island - cool parakeets

The colourful Macquarie Island Red-crowned Parakeet must once have been an astonishing sight on this cold sub-Antarctic island. But by 1891, the Macquarie Island Red-crowned Parakeets were no more.

Discover the story behind their extinction.

Penguins galore

There are 17 species of penguin in the world and they all live in the southern hemisphere. Generally, the bigger the penguin, the further south it lives.

Examine the many special adaptations of these quirky birds.

Highlights in Island Homes:

  • See six different penguin species including the smallest and the largest!

Stromatolites - the ultimate survivors

This display focuses on rock-like structures that are the world's oldest direct evidence of life. Stromatolites start life as blue-green algae called cyanobacteria - billions of tiny living cells held together by a mucous secretion. Sadly, rising sea levels are now impacting the few surviving stromatolites on earth.

See the world's oldest direct evidence of life - a stromatolite that's about 3430 million years old.

Highlight:

  • From the past to the present, and onwards to the future, global warming and sea level rises are changing the environment. Use a multimedia touch screen to explore sea level changes over the past and projected rises in the future.

See past sea levels 20, 60 and 130 thousand years ago. Don't miss the chance to find out how rising sea levels will impact the Sydney landscape in the future. Whose house will be underwater with a five-metre or perhaps a 30-metre sea level rise?

Our Backyard

What are you sharing your backyard with? All sorts of animals survive in our urban sprawl - come and meet your neighbours!

Sci-fly

It's easy to dismiss flies as annoying, numerous irritations that buzz persistently around your head, walk all over your food and need to be exterminated with fly spray. But there's much, much more to flies than that.

Did you know there are more species of fly in Australia than there are fish, reptile, amphibian, bird and mammal species put together? Learn about the fly life cycle, find out why flies swarm, and discover some of the great diversity of Aussie flies.

Urban nightlife

You might be surprised how many nocturnal animals there are - hooting and chattering, running around your roof or, if you listen very hard, flapping past your window.

Find out about the lives and specialised adaptations some of the bats, owls, gliders, possums and spiders that come out at night.

Pondlife

Pools of fresh water in your backyard are microcosms of life, teeming with insects, spiders and other invertebrates that can dive, swim and walk on water. These freshwater communities are important components of backyard biodiversity, supporting other animals such as frogs and birds.

Look closely and you'll see there's plenty more to pond life than mozzies! See water beetles, water bugs, dragon flies and damsel flies, wrigglers and even a water spider. Learn about the life cycles of some of our neighbourhood pond dwellers.

Scribbly Gum

Scribbly gums' smooth, pale, mottled trunks are covered with dark brown marks which look just like a child has scribbled all over the bark. These are 'mines' made by the larvae of scribbly gum moths as they feed.

Learn about the tiny moths that are responsible for the scribbles in the 'scribbly gum'. Find out about cicadas and their long life cycles. View film focussing on the great diversity of life in a scribbly gum from canopy to roots over the course of a year.

What's in your backyard?

We usually only notice the backyard residents we find annoying, frightening or pretty, but there's more to see than cockroaches, Redbacks and Rainbow Lorikeets.

Discover which animals thrive in our urban sprawl as you compare our mini-backyards with yours. See a fantastic diversity of backyard creatures - large and small, native and introduced. How many do you recognise?

Highlights in Our Backyard:

  • Sit at the discovery bench and explore a range of changing displays and activities on camouflage, adaptations, and the minibeasts that live in pools and on land.
  • Come face to face with live animals including a Diamond Python, Eastern Blue-tongue Lizard, Green Tree Frog and invertebrates such as stick insects.

Dangerous Australians

Australia is known world-wide for its dangerous animals but is this reputation really deserved?
On average, all the people killed in Australia each year by snakes, crocs or sharks can be counted on just one hand. So what do you think? Is our dangerous reputation really fair?

Australia's most venomous snakes

Australia is home to 190 species of snake. Twenty-five are toxic to humans and 20 of those are among the
25 most venomous snakes in the world.

See the top 10 most venomous snakes in the world - they're all Australian! Learn about them and about snake fangs and venom.

Crocodiles

Huge, predatory Saltwater Crocodiles are one of Australia's most famous dangers. They're also the world's biggest living crocodiles!

Learn some fascinating facts about our giant 'Salties'.

Aussie Mozzies

Mosquitoes are a major irritation in Australia but they can be more than just a pest. Worldwide, mosquitoes transmit disease to more than 700 million people a year.

Find out about the special senses of mosquitoes that allow them to find you from 36 metres away! Discover which parts of Australia have mosquitoes that carry diseases such as Ross River Fever, Australian Encephalitis and Dengue Fever.

Highlights in Dangerous Australians:

  • Have fun while learning about some of our dangerous Australian animals at an amazing five-metre-long interactive touch-screen multimedia table. Explore the fact files of ten different animals from the sea and land to learn why they are dangerous, where they are found, first aid measures and other interesting details.
  • The ten fact files focus on animals from the sea: Blue-ringed Octopus, Box Jellyfish, Great White Shark and Saltwater Crocodile; and animals from the land: Eastern Brown Snake, Common Death Adder, Sydney Funnel-web Spider, Redback Spider, Jack Jumper Ant and European Honey Bee.

Adapt or Die: Specialists on land and in freshwater

Australia's great diversity of animals have adapted to life in harsh deserts, lush wetlands and everywhere between. Meet some Aussie survivors and find out how they've done it.

Freshwater survivors

An unusual range of animals have evolved to cope with Australia's freshwater systems. Our lakes and billabongs, wetlands and rivers are all teeming with animals that have adapted to unpredictable rainfall patterns, fluctuating evaporation rates and cycles of drought and flood.

Find out about some of the vertebrate and invertebrate animals that live in freshwater.

Famous, but shy

The Platypus looks like no other animal in the world. It has webbed feet and a duck-like bill, but also claws and fur. It lays eggs and has no nipples, yet it suckles its young.

See a diorama of a Platypus burrow complete with a baby platypus and learn about this secretive animal's special adaptations. Gather additional information about Platypuses by visiting the section on Adapt or Die: specialists over time.

Underground living

Underground hideaways are cool when it's hot and warm when it's cold. They also offer dry, safe places in which to raise young and sleep, protected from predators.

Meet some of the Australian animals that dig and live below the surface and learn about their habits and habitats. Some, like the wombat, may be familiar, but did you know that there are burrowing birds, frogs and possums too? And don't miss the bilby in its burrow.

The wanderers

One of the best ways to survive completely dry conditions is to avoid them altogether. Nomadic animals, particularly those in the desert, will move from place to place, following the rains and sporadic flourishings.

Find out about some of Australia's nomadic birds. Learn about one of our distinctive national emblems - the Emu - and see an adult and its chicks.

Boom and bust

While some desert animals constantly follow the rain, other animals wait for the rain to come to them. This is the boom and bust cycle of desert living.

Find out about a grasshopper that only eats and reproduces after rain, and learn about the native Plains Rat that doesn't need to drink!

Extreme recycling

Whether they wander from place to place or wait for the rains to come, desert animals need to make super-efficient use of every precious drop of fluid they find.

Discover the adaptations of certain lizards, birds and mammals that minimise water use. Some of these adaptations are behavioural, others relate to external body features, and then there are internal adaptations such as the ability to produce completely dry poo.

Koala and Frilled Lizard

Koalas are famous for spending most of their time asleep in trees. Another tree climber, the Frilled Lizard, is usually more active.

See a koala and find out why koalas are adapted to sleep. Did you know the Frilled Lizard is the only lizard in the world that has a frill? Find out what the frill is used for.

Echidna and Lyrebird

Echidnas are highly successful survivors, surviving in different habitats all over the country, from above the snowline in the Snowy Mountains to the edge of the Simpson Desert. The lyrebird is the largest Australian songbird, and not only gives a spectacular singing performance but is also a great dancer.

See the spectacular tail of the lyrebird and find out about some of the echidna's special adaptations. Gather additional information about echidnas by visiting the section on Adapt or Die: specialists over time.

Desert survivors

The sculptural red chards located on the central pathway represent the cliff walls of central desert chasms.

Look in, on and around the walls to see a range of desert specialists and survivors. Mammals include a Red Kangaroo, Dingo and microbats. Birds include a Wedge-tailed Eagle, Nankeen Kestrel and Zebra Finches. Reptiles include a Perentie, Woma Python and Thorny Devil.

Highlights in Adapt or Die: specialists on land and in freshwater

  • See some of Australia's freshwater survivors live. A large display tank recreates a freshwater habitat complete with live juvenile Freshwater Crocodiles, Krefft's River Turtles, and Freshwater Crayfish.
  • See many of Australia's iconic animals including those shown on the following Australian coins:

Five cent - Echidna; Ten cent - Lyrebird; Twenty cent - Platypus; Fifty cent - Emu and kangaroo (supporting the coat of arms).

Adapt or Die: specialists over time

If you think some of Australia's modern-day animals are strange, you should see their ancestors - killer marsupial 'lions', giant wombats and echidnas, fanged kangaroos and the largest marsupial that ever lived - the Diprotodon.

Monotremes - the great survivors

Monotremes have been around longer than any other group of living mammals. The oldest known monotreme lived alongside the dinosaurs - 115 million years ago. The fossil record shows that many other species of monotreme once lived in Australia including platypuses with adult teeth and long-beaked echidnas that are now only found in New Guinea.

Unravel the Platypus' long lineage in 'Puzzle of the Platypus' and find out about the 15-million-year fossil record of echidnas in 'Echidnas - beaks long and short'. Gather additional information about modern Platypuses and echidnas by visiting the section on Adapt or Die: specialists on land and in freshwater.

Meet the megafauna

From about 15 million years ago, many animals around the world began evolving into larger and larger forms, reaching their peak in the last two million years. These animals are known as the 'megafauna'.

See real fossils of a variety of Australian megafauna that are now extinct. Learn how big they were. What was the 'Demon Duck of Doom'?

Vanished giants - what happened?

It would be pretty obvious if megafauna were wandering around today. So what happened to them? Some adapted to change, evolving into the species we know today; the rest died out within the last 100,000 years.

Find out about the great Pleistocene megafauna extinction and discover some of the giants that shrunk.

Diprotodon - giant wombats?

Diprotodon looks a lot like a giant wombat but it's not! While it is a relative of today's wombats and koalas, this megafauna giant belongs to an extinct family, the diprotodontids.

Did you know that Diprotodon optatum is the largest known marsupial of all time? Read the Diprotodon fact file and look at its fossils to learn more.

Australia's marsupial lions

Eight species of marsupial lion have so far been identified, getting progressively larger over time from the size of a domestic cat to the size of a leopard. The largest was one of our megafauna - the formidable Thylacoleo carnifex.

Find out why Thylacoleo carnifex was 'the world's best carnivore'. Read its fact file and look at its fossils to learn more.

Thylacines - the end of an ancient line

Thylacines were around a very long time, first appearing in the fossil record about 28 million years ago, and there may have been as many as 13 different species over time. The only modern species - the Tasmanian Tiger - is one of Australia's most famous extinctions.

Find out about a megafauna thylacine, the Powerful Thylacine. Read its fact file to learn more. Look at the fossils of the modern Tasmanian Tiger. Did you know it once lived all over Australia?

Kangaroos - to hop or not to hop?

All kangaroos hop, right? Not quite. Many do, but many others climb, crawl and walk on all fours. In fact, until about 17 million years ago, no kangaroos hopped.

Learn about the evolution of Australia's iconic kangaroos from the earliest tree scrambling, possum-like creatures through to the kangaroos found today. See a short-faced kangaroo skeleton - one of our now extinct megafauna. Compare the amazing diversity of modern kangaroos in the display 'The who's who of 'roos' showcasing 12 modern kangaroos - large and small.

Highlights in Adapt or Die: specialists over time:

Meet our giants from the past as you come face to face with unique Australian megafauna. See life-sized reconstructions of:

  • the Diprotodon, Diprotodon optatum
  • the Powerful Thylacine
  • the Marsupial Lion, Thylacoleo carnifex

And see many real fossils of the megafauna.

Where Are They Now?

In the last 200 years, over 50 vertebrate species and an unknown number of invertebrates and plants have disappeared from Australia - presumed extinct. Is this a wake-up call?

This section focuses on Australia's long list of extinct and threatened species.

From pristine to degraded:

  • Rainforest: over three-quarters of Australia's rainforests have been destroyed.
  • Woodland: one-third of Australia's woodlands - our iconic 'bush' - has been cleared.
  • Grassland: less than one per cent of temperate grassland survives in 'moderate to good' condition.
  • Wetlands: an estimated 50 per cent of wetlands have been destroyed.

See some of the endangered and vulnerable wildlife from these different environments.

Clearing the land

Clearing the land for cities and towns, industry and agriculture was a sign of Australia's progress. But it's been a disaster for ancient habitats and the billions of animals that live in them.

Did you know that the marked decline in biodiversity, habitat quality and water resources are now prompting us to reassess how we manage the land?

Alien invaders

Australia has been subject to a massive invasion of animals, plants and diseases since European settlement in 1788.

Rabbits and Cane Toads are examples of introduced species but there have been many others. Find out how many alien plant and animal invaders are now in Australia.

Our heavy footprint

Climate change has always been a reality. It's the activity of humans that has accelerated it to dangerous levels - and many species are wearing the consequences.

The silent killer

Disease was probably a nail in the coffin for many species, but it's one of the hardest extinction factors to identify.

In the wake of extinctions

Extinctions are not isolated incidents - they always have an impact on other species.

Did you know there are at least 6300 species which depend on endangered species for survival?

Gone, but not forgotten

Sadly, many Australian animals vanished before much - or anything - was known about them, and we can only guess at how they fitted into the ecological system, why they died out, and what their deaths might have taught us about conservation.

Highlights in Where Are They Now?:

  • Rediscover extinct species such as the Tasmanian Tiger in historical film and through some of its last remains.
  • See the original heritage features revealed, including columns, ceilings and, in the Where Are They Now? section, heritage tessellated floor tiles and wall display cases.

Scientists' Stories

This mini theatrette audiovisual presentation showcases a selection of short stories about the research projects of Australian Museum scientists. The stories will change over time so they remain up-to-date. Currently there are five stories, running for approximately three minutes each.

The Australian White Ibis

Scientist - Richard Major
Since there are now breeding colonies near several city airports, ibis present a threat to aircraft - they are recognised as Australia's 'Number 2' air-strike risk.

Find out what the research scientist is studying and what the results to date indicate regarding ibis populations.

Larval fish

Scientists - Amanda Hay and Jeff Leis
The beginning of life for most reef fishes is a very tumultuous one as they develop and search for a reef to call home.

Learn about the problems that beset baby fish. Find out how the early results from this research project have astonished the scientists and how they hope to help with the protection of our reef fish and marine environment in the future.

Collecting and naming species

Scientist - Dan Bickel
Most people are unaware of the great diversity of species that exist in the natural world, and that most species are still undescribed by science. This story follows the process of describing species, from field capture to the identification or description of a new species.

Find out why collecting and naming species is important and how it helps us understand and care for our environment.

Dromornithids - megafauna birds from the past

Scientist - Walter Boles
Large flightless birds once roamed Australia and their remains are found at many fossil sites. They were members of our megafauna but we know little about them - about how they lived or why they died out. One of the intriguing members of this group is the two-and-a-half-metre tall 'Demon Duck of Doom'.

Find out about some of the things we do know and learn why the research to find out more about these fascinating birds will, in turn, give us a better insight into extinction and evolution.

The thylacine cloning project

In 1999 the Australian Museum launched a project to clone the thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger.

Find out about this research project - its past and its potential future. How and why was this attempted? Why was it important? Why was the project abandoned and is there a future for the project?

Highlight:

  • Find out about some Australian scientists and Australian scientific research. See what the scientists do and learn why their research is important.


Ms Helen Wheeler , Education Project Officer
Last Updated:

Tags Exhibition guide,