Animal evolution

Musky rat kanagaroo
Photographer: Mike Trenerry


The Wet Tropics contains several groups of animals that are relicts or early descendants of fauna that were around 60 million years ago after the dinosaurs became extinct. These include ancient lineages of frogs, geckos, legless lizards, dragons, skinks, cassowaries, scrubfowl, brush turkeys, songbirds, chowchillas, beetles, leafhoppers, cockroaches, spiders and land snails.

The Wet Tropics also contains some of the most primitive marsupials - the carnivorous dasuroids. These are thought to have evolved in rainforests about 40 million years ago and been the ancestors of Australia's dry-adapted marsupials. The musky rat-kangaroo (Hypsiprymnodon moschatus) is the most primitive kangaroo and is restricted to the Wet Tropics. It represents an early evolutionary stage of development from possum-like marsupials. The musky rat-kangaroo is the only living member of the group descended from Gondwanan ancestors that retained the mobile first toe on the hind foot - a possum characteristic. Five of Australia's six ringtail possum species are in the Wet Tropics (four of them endemic) and are descended from a common ancestor.

The Wet Tropics of Queensland is the most important area for several lineages of Australo-Papuan songbirds such as the bowerbirds, scrubwrens, thornbills and gerygones.

Northern barred frog - Mixophes schevilli
Photographer: Martin CohenThe frog genuses Taudactylus and Mixophyes  are derived from Gondwanan times. Two of Australia's six species of Taudactylus are found only in the Wet Tropics. Mixophyes is represented in the Wet Tropics by Mixophyes schevilli, the northern barred frog


The mix of Australian and Asian fauna

The Wet Tropics is also important because it contains a unique record of the mixing of Asian and Australian animals and plants when the continents collided about 15 million years ago. In some cases these plants and animals, some of common origin, had been separated for 80 million years. So some animal species of Gondwanan origin were able to take up residence in the Wet Tropics after a long absence.


More information

Find out more about ancient, endemic, rare and threatened vertebrates of the Wet Tropics in the State of Wet Tropics Report 2015–16.

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