11 Sept 2022


Did you know there might be threatened wildlife living near you? Discover what animals need protection in your local area using WWF-Australia’s My Backyard tool, and find out how well they’re being cared for.

Australia’s wildlife is unlike any other in the world – from the shy, duck-billed platypus to the spiky echidna, which, despite laying just one egg a year, is still our most widespread native mammal.

Melbourne is a distinctive city with famously unpredictable weather. And its wildlife is just as unique – you might be surprised to learn which animals make their homes in the local forests, grasslands and woodlands. Sadly, many face serious threats to their survival.

Here are 7 threatened animals living around Melbourne.

Golden sun moth
© Leo Berzins

1. Golden sun moth

When golden sun moths spread their wings, they reveal a colourful secret – their hindwings are bright orange with black spots. But these stunning wings are all for show. The females are very poor fliers, and although the males are better, they typically don’t stray more than 100 metres from where they hatch. But there’s something these moths are even worse at - eating! Golden sun moths don’t have functioning mouths, meaning they live no longer than four days. Their short lives are spent in grasslands and woodlands, where you can spot them flying during the day. But with their forest homes being destroyed, they desperately need our protection.

Recently spotted: A lucky individual struck gold when they saw a golden sun moth at Merri Creek, north of Melbourne.

Plains-wanderer © CC BY-SA 2.0 Nik Borrow / Flickr

2. Plains-wanderer

The ground-dwelling plains-wanderer is an extraordinary bird that is small, quail-like and deserves serious respect – their origins can be traced back more than 60 million years. They live in arid grasslands, which they rely on for invertebrates, leaves, native herbs and seeds, and are so sensitive to their surroundings, even a change in temperature or overgrown vegetation can cause them to move on. Having survived so long, it’s devastating that climate change, pollution and human activity have impacted their habitat, leaving them listed as Critically Endangered.

Recently spotted: Ecologists at Terrick Terrick National Park discovered a breeding boom of 60 adult and 41 chick plains-wanderers – great news for these rare and remarkable birds.

The grey-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus)
The grey-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) © Michal - stock.adobe.com

3. Grey-headed flying fox

Grey-headed flying foxes are one of the world’s largest migratory bats, so they can be found in eucalypt forests and rainforests…and also in Melbourne’s CBD. Look for the magnificent collar of thick orange and brown fur nestling their neck. Grey-headed flying foxes’ and their movements are critical for the environment. They are super pollinators, flying long distances, dispersing as many as 60,000 seeds each night while foraging for fruits, nectar and pollen – just one of the many reasons why we need to protect them.

Recently spotted: At Yarra Bend Park, thousands of flying foxes have been sighted nesting in the trees alongside the Yarra River.

Greater glider in a patch of old-growth forest in Munruben, Logan City, south of Brisbane
Greater glider in a patch of old-growth forest in Munruben, Logan City, south of Brisbane © Josh Bowell

4. Greater glider

Greater gliders in Victoria have a great claim to fame – they’re Australia’s largest gliding animal. Southern greater gliders are much larger than their Queensland relatives, growing to the size of a house cat. They look pretty adorable, with fluffy ears, long tails and thick fur in colours ranging from grey, brown and creamy white. Greater gliders are highly dependent on their forest homes, relying on hollow-bearing trees for nesting and shelter (it can take up to 250 years for these hollows to form). During the 2019-20 bushfires, almost a third of their habitat was burnt, so it’s more important than ever to protect these eucalyptus-leaf-eating marsupials and their forest homes.

Recently spotted: Citizen scientists in Wombat Forest, northwest Melbourne, found 40 greater gliders, prompting calls to stop logging in the area.

Swamp antechinus
© CC BY-SA 2.0 Michael Sale / Flickr

5. Swamp antechinus

You might not have heard of the swamp antechinus, but you may have heard of their relatives, the quoll and the Tasmanian devil. That’s why they’re also known as the little Tasmanian marsupial mouse. They have a long snout and sharp teeth, which they use to eat dragonflies and grasshoppers. Swamp antechinus have an unusually short lifespan, as the males live for just a year, dying soon after breeding, with the females living just another year or two. Because of this, catastrophic bushfires are devastating, destroying not only their homes, but also disrupting their breeding cycle, which can wipe out entire populations in the region.

Be one of the few to spot one: The swamp antechinus is notoriously hard to spot, but if you head down to some of our best surf coast towns such as Airey’s Inlet and Lorne, you might be lucky enough to see one in the coastal grasslands.

Grey falcon
© CC BY-SA 2.0 David Cook / Flickr

6. Grey falcon

Grey falcons spend their time in arid grassland, shrubland and woodland throughout Victoria, preying on smaller birds, including parrots and pigeons. They nest high up in the trees, often using the old nests of other birds of prey. As their name suggests, they’re pale grey on top, white with faint dark streaks underneath, and have dark wing tips, a black bill and a distinctive orange eye-ring. They’re often mistaken for brown falcons, but there’s a big giveaway – grey falcons’ feathers hide more of their legs. Sadly, the destruction of their forest homes has put their future at serious risk.

Be one of the few to spot one: It’s hard to catch a glimpse of a grey falcon, but your best chance is to look up high in Melbourne’s forest and coastal areas.

7. Striped legless lizard - spot it here!

Their name says it all – striped legless lizards have evolved to be legless. They appear similar to a juvenile brown snake, but dark brown stripes running along their sides are a clear giveaway. Regardless of their lack of legs, they are exceptionally high jumpers. In fact, despite being just 20 centimetres long, they can leap up to 30 centimetres into the air when escaping ground-dwelling predators. If you don’t catch them mid-jump, you might hear their distinctive, high-pitched squeak, which they make when threatened. Striped legless lizards live for up to 20 years but, unfortunately, as nature has been increasingly disrupted, they’re now vulnerable to extinction.

Recently spotted: Burnside, in Melbourne’s west, is prime striped legless lizard territory, so it’s more important than ever to conserve this grassland habitat.

Keen to know what other threatened animals make their home in your backyard? Discover WWF-Australia’s My Backyard tool and learn how well they’re being cared for.