RBG Melbourne fauna
Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne is home to a range of native and exotic fauna. The lake system provides habitat for eels and other aquatic species; the trees and shrubberies house a rich diversity of wildlife; and various mammals occupy habitats from the lake margins to the largest of trees.
The Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne is home to more than 50 different species of birds. Over 40 of these are native to Australia, they are either resident species
or regular visitors.
The lake system in the Gardens is home to a wide range of native and exotic bird species.
Common birds in the Gardens
There are a selection of birds that are commonly seen in the Gardens. Beautiful Australian native bird species including Fairy Wrens, Bell Miners, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Reed Warblers are often seen here, as well as introduced birds like Blackbirds and Indian Mynahs.
In 2000, the further development of both terrestrial and aquatic collections of indigenous flora has attracted a number of new birds to the Gardens. For example, Red-rumped parrots now breed there and commonly feed on seeds such as found on the grasses at Long Island.
There is a dedicated group of RBG employees and volunteers who observe and provide regular updates on bird sightings in the Gardens.
These birds are wild - they have natural predators and innate mating and nesting habits. The Gardens and nearby parklands provide plenty of natural food sources for these wild birds. Please respect their wild nature and help us to keep them healthy by not feeding or handling them.
Why shouldn’t we feed the birds?
Giving birds (or other wildlife) inappropriate foods, such as bread, is unnecessary and potentially harmful. These foods can cause dietary problems, leading to sickness or malnutrition. If they become dependent on an artificial food source, young birds may not be taught how to forage for natural foods and so risk starvation. Also, close contact with birds can increase the risk of people catching diseases that birds can carry.
Bookings and Information
For a copy of the Birds brochure or for details on our wildlife tours please contact the Visitor Centre, located at Observatory Gate or phone 03 9252 2429. If you are interested in wildlife identification and information The Gardens Shop has a range of field guides available.
In spring you may see turtles moving around on the paths in the Gardens. These are female Common Long-necked Turtles Chelodina longicollis and Murray River Turtles Emydura macquarii looking for a site to build their nests. Travelling long distances can be risky for the turtles, as they are sometimes injured by vehicles or picked up by people. If you see a turtle in the Gardens, please leave it alone so it can make its own way.
Native fish, the Flat-headed Gudgeon (Philypnodon grandiceps) was found in the Ornamental Lake during a fish survey in July 2009. This was conducted with support and involvement from Australia New Zealand Fishes Association (ANGFA). The Flat-headed Gudgeon grows to 8-12 cm in length and spends most of its time near the bottom of the lake, often amongst water plants and/or snags. The Flat-headed Gudgeon is able to live in both freshwater and brackish water such as found in estuarine environments.
The Ornamental Lake is home to a healthy population of Short-finned Eels (Anguilla australis ) that made the original lagoon its home well before the arrival of Europeans. The Short-finned Eel thrives in still, shallow waters, feeding on crustaceans, frogs, insects and worms. It is the most abundant of 32 indigenous fish species in Melbourne’s Yarra River. It was important in the diet of the local aboriginal people, and eel feasts were a common part of clan gatherings. Mature eels can grow to 1.3 metres in length.
This fish is widespread in near-coastal freshwater streams, swamps, billabongs and dams of Eastern Australia and the South Pacific.
The ability to breathe through their skin allows eels to survive in small pools and bogs during dry periods. It also enables them to move overland during damp conditions, aided by a muscular, mucus-coated body. Such feats explain sudden unexpected appearances – providing rich fodder for folklore.
Drawn towards flowing water, mature eels make their way into coastal estuaries where they commence an epic 4,000 km swim to their spawning grounds in the South Coral Sea. The fish stop feeding and undergo physical changes including an increase in eye size and silvering of their underside, relying solely on fat reserves to fuel their journey.
Following hatching, the leaf-shaped larvae are carried southwards on ocean currents, developing into transparent ‘glass eels’ as they approach coastal regions. At one to three years of age, the young eels or elvers begin to migrate up Victorian rivers and streams between March and October. From here they seek out the quiet waters inhabited by their preferred quarry. The Short-finned Eel fact sheet (Word - 334 kb)
During the development of the Long Island project in 2000-2001, extensive frog surveys were undertaken across the RBG. Only the Southern Brown Tree Frog (Litoria ewingii) was found. However, in 2008 two more species: Eastern Common Froglet (Crinia signifera) and Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peroni) were found in the Long Island wetland. It is likely that aquatic planting had provided the habitat for more species to make the RBG their home.
Rakali (Native Water-Rat)
Rakali (Hydromys chrysogaster) is an Australian native rodent that is well adapted for an aquatic environment whether freshwater or saltwater. Its fur is water repellent and the hind feet are partially-webbed. It can grow up to 40 cm long (excluding thick, white-tipped tail). Colour ranges from grey to black with its underside ranging from white to orange. Indeed its scientific name Hydromys chrysogaster means "water-mouse with golden belly" but there is considerable variation in colour. Rakali is mostly carnivorous in its feeding preferences with aquatic insects, crustaceans (shrimps and yabbies), and fish forming its main food supply. However, it has been known to occasionally take birds, mammals, frogs, reptiles, and also feed on plants.
Most of its hunting occurs in shallow water combining wading and diving in searching for prey. Food is usually taken to a favourite feeding place above the watersurface and close to the shoreline such as a log or rock where remnants of food may accumulate.
You may see Rakali foraging for food or swimming near the edge of the Ornamental Lake – particularly around dusk. One of the distinctive characteristics of this mammal is the thick, white-tipped tail. They can also be seen in marine environments like Port Philip Bay, especially where there are rocky breakwaters to provide shelter.
For more information and references see these links:
Brush-tailed Possums and Ring-tailed Possums
RBG Melbourne is home to populations of Brush-tailed and Ring-tailed Possums. Possums can affect the growth of some plants by feeding on their flowers, leaves or fruits. In severe cases, the plant can be completely defoliated. In an effort to minimise this damage, possum guards (sheets of clear plastic) are sometimes wrapped around the trunk or lower branches of trees. This prevents the possums from climbing up the plants to feed.
Not many people realise that there is a small population of foxes living in the Gardens. Foxes survive on rubbish, and prey on small mammals or birds in the Gardens. Foxes appear at night so remain generally unsighted by visitors. Foxes are also found in other inner city locations, so it is not unusual that they would also be found here.
2010-11 Microbat Survey in the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne
Bats are the world’s only flying mammals. Many people are familiar with the larger bats (Megabats) as the Grey-headed Flying Fox is now a common sight in the Melbourne evening sky. But there are also smaller bats (Microbats), living in Melbourne. We often fail to notice them because they are tiny, nocturnal and their calls cannot be heard by human ears. This summer (2010-11) a survey began in Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne (RBG Melbourne) to help us understand the roosting and foraging needs of these cryptic animals.
Four species of microbats have been identified during the survey so far:
- Chocolate wattled bat
- Gould’s wattled bat
- Lesser Long-eared bat
- White-striped Freetail bat
As our urban areas expand, it is important that we understand how wildlife adapts to the changes we inflict on them. Microbats are important insect-eaters and can consume half their body weight in insects each night! The results of this survey will hopefully help us plan for the future conservation of microbats in our cities.
In early 2003, over 28,000 Grey-headed Flying-foxes roosted within RBG Melbourne and the sheer weight of numbers was damaging historically significant and heritage-listed trees and plantings and, in turn, their habitat. In partnership with the Department of Sustainability and Environment and other government agencies, the colony was successfully relocated to Yarra Bend near Kew in the autumn of 2003. The colony can now be viewed roosting at their home at Yarra Bend during the day.
The Atlas of Living Australia records 533 types of insect within a 5 kilometre radius of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne (RBG Melbourne). There are likely to be many more local species awaiting discovery. Within the Gardens, a concentration of habitat types, food sources and camouflage opportunities supports a great variety and abundance of insects, creating a neighbourhood ‘hotspot’ for insect diversity.
Many invertebrates, including insects, rely on safe havens such as botanic gardens for their survival in urban settings. Some insects now rarely seen near the Melbourne CBD are still found here, highlighting the loss of former habitat. The Gardens also provides a harbour for vagrant (wandering) varieties of insects. Both native and introduced insects take advantage of food plants uncommon in other parts of Melbourne.
Both friend and foe to humankind, insects represent more than half of all Earth’s life-forms, and are among the most varied and specialised of groups. Mainly feeders on plant material, they are fundamental in the food chains supporting frogs, reptiles, birds, fish and many mammals. The external skeletons and jointed body parts of insects allow them to flourish in the harshest of extremes, and across an extraordinary range of habitats.
Winged insects are some of the most conspicuous and visually striking. The development of wings has allowed foraging across much wider areas than legs alone would permit. This added mobility buffers them against scarcities in local food supply.
Butterflies are a beautiful addition to the Gardens in the warmer months. Over one third of Australia’s 400 plus butterfly species are found in Victoria, and many of these are common at RBG Melbourne. More than 80 species of butterfly have been recorded in the Melbourne area in addition to several thousand varieties of moth, many as yet unnamed.
Along with bees and some types of wasps, butterflies are important plant pollinators. Like bees and wasps, butterflies also have a four-stage life-cycle. A soft-bodied larva or caterpillar grows through a series of phases until a pupal or resting stage is reached. Finally, a winged adult emerges. Caterpillars often display bold colour patternings, bristles and other warning markers. Many lead cryptic lives within the foliage of their host plants.
Butterflies do not feed on pollen directly. Pollination is a by-product of flower visits as butterflies seek out the sugary liquid nectar which forms their diet.
Some of the most common butterflies seen in RBG Melbourne include the Cabbage and Caper Whites, Common and Shouldered Brown, Yellow Admiral, Meadow Argus and Painted Lady. The beautiful Monarch or Wanderer butterfly is also seen from time to time. The spectacular and aptly named Dainty Swallowtail is a relatively recent addition to Melbourne’s butterfly fauna, and presently thrives within the Gardens.
Bell Miner Manorina melanophrys
Eastern Rosella (Platycercus eximius) feeding on seeds in the Viburnum Collection
Australian Wood Duck (Chenonetta jubata) on the lake edge, the male bird is on the left and female on the right.
White-faced Heron Egretta novaehollandiae
Willie Wagtail Rhipidura leucophrys Eastern Spinebill Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris
Superb Fairy wren Malurus cyaneus
Sulphur crested Cockatoo Cacatua galerita
Purple Swamp Hen Porphyrio porphyrio
Nankeen Night Heron Nycticorax caledonicus
Magpie Lark Grallina cyanoleuca
Black Swan Cygnus atratus
Common Long-necked Turtle - Chelodina longicollis Image provided with permission by Samantha Stapleton
Murray River Turtle (Emydura macquarii) – one of the male turtles caught during the Turtle Survey in November 2010
Murray River Turtle (Emydura macquarii) basking in the sun at Nymphaea Lily Lake. Image: Mike Fogarty
Short-finned Eel (Anguilla australis) in the Ornamental Lake near Terrace Tearooms
Flat-headed Gudgeons (Philypnodon grandiceps) from the Ornamental Lake
Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peroni)
Gould’s wattled bat (Chalinolobusgouldii) Photo: L. Lumsden
Dainty Swallowtail butterfly
Last updated 05 Dec 2012