Backyard Buddies

Photo: Clare Pearce

B-mail January 2018

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There’s No Such Thing as a Penny Turtle, by Clare Pearce, NT Parks and Wildlife Commission

Mythical beasts are more glamorous than the real thing. Unicorns sparkle, dragons breath fire, and Penny Turtles never grow bigger than a fifty cent piece.

Unfortunately, like fire breathing dragons and unicorns, Penny Turtles don’t exist.

People often call Northern Yellow Faced Turtle hatchlings “Penny Turtles” and get them as pets thinking that they will have a cute tiny turtle. Not so. If kept correctly, native turtles can grow to be as big as a dinner plate, need a varied diet and a deep sunny pond to swim in. With a lifespan of forty years your little reptile buddy will outlive its tank and will need ongoing and complex care requirements far longer than any dog would.

photo credit

Native turtles make great pets. While they don’t run to the gate to meet you they can, in their own way, be quite friendly. Northern Yellow Faced Turtles are the most common pet turtles and they are incredibly cute when they are hatchlings. They are not much bigger than a fifty cent piece and have a charm that is difficult to resist. They live comfortably in an aquarium and their only requirements are clean water, sunlight and a proper turtle diet, no walking or training required.

If you are thinking about getting a turtle as a pet you will need to keep a few things in mind.

Check the permit requirements in your state. You must get your turtle from someone who has a permit to keep or breed it. You will also need to get a permit; these are free but you need to have the permit number of the person you bought your turtle from.

You must never release your turtle buddy into the wild if you don’t want it anymore. Your turtle will not know how to find food and will not know how to avoid predators. Releasing a pet turtle into the wild guarantees its swift demise - it is also illegal.

Turtles need proper turtle food. This doesn’t include mince or bread. Turtles have diets as varied as they are and it is important that you know what your turtle needs.

Adult turtles need a pond that is at least one meter in depth with shallow areas, sloping sides and an area for basking. Turtles are also great climbers and will be able to escape most mesh fencing.

A turtle is a pet for a lifetime, care for it well.

The Uniquely Elusive Platypus

The Platypus is a special kind of mammal.

They are only one of two animals in the world that are known as monotremes; mammals that lay eggs. The other one is also an Australian – the echidna.

Their adorable ducky faces and furry little bodies are not often seen by humans in the wild, but if you can find a spot where they live and sit quietly for a while, you may be lucky enough to see them in action.


Cuteness aside, the Platypus is one of the very few venomous mammals. The male defends itself using a horny spur on his ankle which is connected to a venom gland. Not so cute now, right?

Semi-aquatic, the Platypus is right at home in freshwater rivers and streams. When not feeding on aquatic vertebrates – for up to 10 hours a day! – they hang out in their burrows. Mostly active at night and twilight, they can live for up to 20 years and are protected across Australia by law.

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Where's Leafy? 


Camouflage can be the best strategy for many small creatures to survive and thrive. The Leafy Seadragon can blend in to it’s seaweedy home easily by changing colour to match the background and wafting around in the current.




Our large native marine animals are spectacular to watch but good things also come in small packages. Leafy Seadragons are tricky to spot but seeing them in the wild is a rewarding experience. They can live quite near the surface in some areas so you will only need a snorkel and sharp eyesight to tell the seadragon from the kelp.

Like many marine animals, they are very susceptible to changes in their environment and pollution is their biggest threat.


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In Our Big Backyard 

Whale Sharks are the biggest, most beautiful fish in the ocean. Australia is lucky enough to have one of the biggest populations of Whale Sharks, who have been baffling scientists for many years with their mysterious migratory disappearances.

They really are gentle giants and although enormous, move pretty slowly for fish. In Western Australia, it is possible to swim with them each year when they visit Ningaloo Reef between March and July to feed. The jury is out on whether tourism has impacted their behaviour but like all wild animals, you can look but not touch. Their size means they have no natural predators, and they are harmless themselves, showing no aggression nor attacking other fish or marine animals. If they feel threatened, they just head down and dive into deep waters.

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