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Desert Shrublands & Grasslands
(Mulga & Spinifex)

The vast arid lands of Australia...

Damon Ramsey in desertthe author made to feel small in the expansive salt flats

The 'deserts' of Australia are not just the rolling sand dunes people have in their mind when they think of that word. It includes the grasslands, shrublands and woodlands of the arid regions, where the erratic rainfall is less than the evaporation rates of that water, resulting in a deficit of moisture. As the world's driest continent, Australia obviously has a large portion of it's country defined as arid 'desert' ecosystems.  

desert lake full of waterDesert lake full of water, South Australia

Unlike many other arid areas in the world, in Australia the rainfall is not always received in annual cycles, but often follows longer term non-annual events. There is a boom-and-bust pattern that occurs over many years, and can be unpredictable, with little rain for many years, and then a huge amount at once with subsequent flooding.  

red sand of desertthat red sand gets everywhere. Just ask Anakin.

Much of the arid land of Australia is dominated by bunches of prickly grass called 'Spinifex'. Over long periods of time, weathering and oxidisation has resulted in distinctive bright orange-red soils...

Class Insecta

(Coober Pedy, South Australia)

Vanessa kershawi, 'Australian Painted Lady'.

For the page of the plants of Australian desert

sturt's desert peaSturt's Desert Pea, (Coober Pedy, SA)

Class Reptilia

Order Squamata: Lizards & Snakes

There is one group that is very diverse in these arid habitats of Australia - lizards! In fact, there are claims that some of the dry habitats in Australia, such as the Spinifex grasslands, have the highest diversity of lizards in the world. However, this does not mean you will see lots of them; in the winter they may be scarce, and in the summer, they run fast and quickly take shelter inside and under the prickly grasses.

Family Agamidae: Dragons

Many of the dragons of the region seem to have annual cycles, only living for one year.

Ctenophorus caudicinctus, 'Western Ring-tail Dragon'.(Millstream National Park, Western Australia)

Ctenophorus caudicinctus, 'Western Ring-tail Dragon'. Found in arid shrublands and sub-tropical woodlands of central west of Australia, mostly around Pilbara region.

For the page of the birds of Australian desert shrublands & grasslands

(Crimson Chat, north of Cober Pedy)

Class Mammalia

euro(Western Wallaroo, Alice Springs Olive Pink Botanical Gardens)

Many mammals of the Australian arid regions have been reduced in number or even gone extinct.

Order Diprotodontia

Superfamily Macropodoidea: Kangaroos and Wallabies

Many species of kangaroo and larger wallaby are sexually dimorphic, with the males being a different colour and much bigger than females.

Family Potoroidae

(Barna Mia, Dryandra)

Bettongia lesueur, 'Burrowing Bettong', 'Boodie'. Once very common, this species is mostly extinct on the mainland, now survives only on islands. Lived in dry woodlands and arid grasslands. 

(Barna Mia, Dryandra)

Lagorchestes hirsutus, 'Rufous Hare-Wallaby', 'Mala'. This species is now mostly extinct on the mainland, and survives only on islands. Lived in arid grasslands. 

Family Macropodidae

(Alice Springs Botanical Gardens, N.T.)

Osphranter robustus, 'Euro', '(western) Wallaroo'. These large kangaroos have more developed fore-arms and longer fur than grey or red kangaroos (making them appear 'shaggier'). They live mostly on and around rocky hills, but are larger and clumsier in their rocky habitat than rock wallabies. They are usually seen in pairs or alone.  They are widespread across much of Australia.

Order Artiodactyla

Family Camelidae

Camels are the only hoofed mammals to mate in the sitting position. Lazy buggers. The males ejaculate three or four times during the mating session. Ok, not so lazy then.


Camelus dromedarius'Dromedary (one-humped) Camel'. Largest of the three extant camel species. As the name suggests, they have one hump on the back. When in heat, the males inflate part of their palate into a large red balloon (called the dulla), which hangs out of the side of their mouth like a swollen tongue. Apparently, the females are attracted to the male with their tongue hanging out (this doesn't work for humans). Also, it is not true that females attract the males with their camel toe. This is a domesticated species, and it is thought they have not existed in the wild in their native habitat for thousands of years. They are originally from the drier areas of northern Africa. They were introduced into Australia and it is thought there are over half a million feral individuals wandering around western Queensland, northern SA/southern NT, and mostly Western Australia.

Throughout the virus I am working in Australia on and off as local borders close, mostly in the Kimberley with Coral Expeditions (May-September). If you can't go travelling until everything settles down, then until then, here I am doing online guided walks for Noble Caledonia and online lectures for Silversea.