King Island Wildlife
Life is quiet and easy going here on King Island. Although a small friendly population of people, the Island sure makes up for its numbers with a bustling abundance in wildlife.
Whether you’re a birdwatcher, wildlife enthusiast or just an all round nature lover you’ll be enthralled by the Island’s great nature walks and the discovery of unique wildlife – from the the common appearance of the happily hopping Bennetts Wallaby to the elusive platypus or even rare orange-bellied parrots.
Explore a range of plants and animals through the rugged coastline, beautiful beaches, lagoons and wetlands. The Island is home to a number of endemic and/or threatened species of flora and fauna. Check out the list below of living and past living King Island creatures as recorded by King Island’s Biodiversity Management Plan.
Twelve mammal species are recorded for King Island (Donaghey 2003). Native mammals include the Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus), Swamp Antechinus (Antechinus minimus), Common ringtail possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus), Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula), Eastern Pygmy Possum (Cercartetus nanus), Long-nosed Potoroo (Potorous tridactylus), Bennett’s Wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus), Tasmanian Pademelon (Thylogale billardierii), Swamp Rat (Rattus lutreolus), Lesser Long-eared Bat (Nyctophilus geoffroyi) and Gould’s Wattled Bat (Nyctophilus gouldi). The Spotted-tailed Quoll (Dasyurus maculatus maculatus) was seen until the 1950s (N. Burgess, pers. comm.) and is now considered to be locally extinct and local populations of the Wombat (Vombatus ursinus ursinus), and Southern Elephant Seal (Mirounga leonina) became extinct shortly after European settlement.
King Island has a relatively low diversity of reptiles compared to the Australian mainland. It is home to only nine reptile species, comprising three species of snakes and six of lizards (Donaghey 2003). The reptile fauna comprises species that are commonly found in northwest Tasmania: White’s Skink (Liopholis whitii), Blotched Bluetongue (Tiliqua nigrolutea), Southern Grass Skink (Pseudemoia entrecasteauxii), Metallic Skink (Niveoscincus metallicus), Tasmanian Tree Skink (Niveoscincus pretiosus), Eastern Three-lined Skink (Acritoscincus duperreyi), White-lipped Snake (Drysdalia coronoides), Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus humphreysii), and the Lowland Copperhead (Austrelaps superbus). The Tasmanian Tree Skink is the only Tasmanian endemic reptile species found on King Island (Rawlinson 1965, Donaghey 2003).
The terrestrial vertebrate fauna on King Island is dominated by birds, with 164 species recorded. Fifty are non-passerines, 36 are passerines 13, 12 are breeding or resident marine and shorebirds, 39 are irregular migrants and visitors, 14 are migratory shorebirds and gulls and terns, and 24 are resident and visiting marine birds (Donaghey 2003).
King Island supports a number of endemic subspecies such as the Brown Thornbill, Green Rosella, Yellow Wattle Bird (Anthochaera paradoxa kingi), Dusky Robin (Melanodryas vittata kingi), Black Currawong (Strepera fuliginosa colei) and Scrubtit. King Island is also home to 10 of Tasmania’s 12 endemic resident breeding birds (Green & McGarvie 1971). The endemic King Island Emu (Dromaius ater) is presumed to be extinct (listed under TSP Act) and the Glossy Black-cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami), Gang-gang (Callocephalon fimbriatum) and the Forty-spotted Pardalote (Pardalotus quadragintus) are considered to be locally extinct on King Island (Donaghey 2003). Seven species are currently listed as threatened under State and/or Commonwealth legislation.
King Island is an important stopover point for a number of migratory species during their passage over Bass Strait. Migratory species which regularly use the Island include the Orange-bellied Parrot, Swift Parrot, Ruddy Turnstone and Red-necked Stint.
The frogs of King Island closely reflects that found in far north-west Tasmania (Donaghey 2003). There are six frog species recorded from King Island, the Green and Gold Frog (Litoria raniformis), Brown Tree Frog (Litoria ewingii), Mottled Banjo Frog (Limnodynastes dumerilii variegatus), Striped Marsh frog (Lymnodynastes peronii), Common Froglet (Crinia signifera), and Smooth Froglet (Geocrinia laevis) (Littlejohn & Martin 1965). The Green and Gold Frog is listed as vulnerable under the EPBC and TSP Acts, and the Striped Marsh frog is listed as endangered in TSP Act.
King Island’s freshwater fish fauna consists of six species: the Southern Shortfin Eel (Anguilla australis), Climbing Galaxias (Galaxias brevipinnis), Trout Galaxias (Galaxias truttaceus), Common Galaxias (Galaxias maculatus), Southern Pygmy Perch (Nannoperca australis) and Congolli (Pseudaphritis urvillii). The migratory Australian Grayling (Prototroctes maraena) has been recorded from the Ettrick River (Backhouse et al. 2008), but its current status is unknown.
Whales and dolphins can be seen migrating past the Island various times in the year. Grassy Harbour is home to a colony of fairy penguins that can be seen on dusk returning to nest for the night from a day away at sea.
The waters around King Island are a fisherman’s paradise and home to a wide variety of species. From the shore you can catch Australian salmon, mullet, wrasse, gummy shark, sand flathead and snapper.
From a boat you can also catch King George whiting, bluespotted flathead, barracouta, school and mako shark, garfish, squid, sea sweep and luderick. (Tasmanian government, 2019)
If you’re a keen recreational diver, green and black lip abalone as well as southern rock lobster can be found along various parts of the Islands coast or out diving from a boat. Find out more info on catch limits and licenses for fishing and diving around King Island HERE.
Introduced species present on King Island have established permanent populations either by self or deliberate introduction by people. Introduced species include, but are not restricted to:
• Common Pheasant;
• Wild Turkey;
• House Sparrow;
• Common Blackbird;
• Common Starling;
• Fallow Deer;
• White Italian Snail; and
• House Mouse.
King Islanders and visitors alike are strongly connected to the Island and its ‘environment’. Its natural resources provide the basis for the main industries of agriculture, fishing and tourism and are a major source of recreation for residents, such as fishing, horse riding, diving and camping. The responsible management of these natural values is fundamental to protecting the Island’s industries and way of life for the community as a whole.
All species provide an interesting variety and richness to King Island; from the smallest snail to the largest trees, they play a role in keeping the ecosystems of the Island working. Across Australia and the world, many plant and animal species are under threat of extinction: unfortunately King Island has not been immune to this, and a number of its species are at risk of being lost forever. Currently there are 50 plant species and 12 animal species on King Island that are listed as threatened.
Conscious Travellers – Your Impact
The impact of tourism on native biodiversity on the Island is generally considered low at this point in time. The King Island Tourism Incorporated has been proactive in developing infrastructure such as boardwalks and interpretive information that aims to minimise the impact of tourism. Through any of your expeditions across the Island please consider the natural environment and tread lightly, take any rubbish with you, observe yet not disturb animals. Also note that sightings of any of these species may not be guaranteed and may vary season to season (Threatened Species Section, 2012).
Threatened Species Section (2012). King Island Biodiversity Management Plan. Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, Hobart.https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/f15149a7-f50d-42a9-b6df-7b275c235ccc/files/king-island-bmp.pdf
Tasmanian Government (2019). Fishing Around King Island. Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, Hobart. https://dpipwe.tas.gov.au/sea-fishing-aquaculture/publications-and-products/hot-fishing-spots/king-island