This planet has a lot of animals living on it.
You probably already know that though, perhaps because you’ve watched a lot of TV shows on Animal Planet. It is perhaps a fairly obvious fact. In fact, you might even have thought “Well, that’s a somewhat obvious fact,” to yourself as you read my opening statement. But indeed, the fact that it might be obvious aside, the amount of genres and species and sub-species of animals living on this planet is overwhelming. Not only that, there are simply billions and billions of animals in general. You can pretty much always find some sort of animal in every part of the world, be it cuttlefish or echidna or polar bear or human being. So it isn’t surprising that even the deserted desert of South Australia, a place one often imagines to be desolate and lonely, is actually bursting with animals of all shapes and sizes.
For example, as I’m typing this, clutching the laptop to my chest in the only spot of Internet service for miles (which happens to be at the top of a somewhat cold mountain), I’m actually also watching a couple of butterflies performing some sort of mating ritual. It might also just be freeze tag. I’m really not an authority on these things. The point is, there are butterflies (and beautiful ones too I might add) out in the middle of nowhere, and if I’m right about the mating thing, there will be even more butterflies soon.
Also, there are probably about seventeen flies on me at this very moment. Another example of the abundance of animals here in the Australian Outback! So many flies swarm the skies that they are pretty much ubiquitous across South Australia. Wander into any remote town in this region and you’re sure to find fly nets (nets that cover your head to project you from flies) and fly repellent for sale. While seasoned travelers to South Australia like myself usually come prepared, many a tourist has been not-so-pleasantly surprised by the the welcoming party of flies that seem to never go away.
But not all small creatures are as friendly as flies. Australia’s reputation for being home to hundreds of species out to kill you is, somewhat unfortunately, quite accurate. This is true especially where I’m currently residing: on a 400 square mile and extremely wild property. The Eastern brown snake, the second most venomous snake in the world, can be found hiding under porches and in creek beds all throughout this region. The infamous Redback spider also enjoys lurking in plenty of South Australian dark corners. Tiny scorpions litter the ground. A few larger creatures can be a cause for nightmares as well. Dingos populate many of the small caves on this property, and wedge-tailed eagles can scoop up small humans and take them to their huge nests.
Just yesterday I was changing into a pair of shorts when a massive black spider fell out of one of the legs onto the floor. I screamed, and jumped backwards about three meters. Killing that thing took almost every ounce of my strength. In this region, however, it’s often necessary to buck up and do things you wouldn’t normally do, such as kill terrifying spiders.
Luckily, there are also a fair amount of really awesome species here too. Kangaroos roam the mountains and creeks. Emus sprint across the flatter areas of this property, their tiny feathers undulating in the wind like seagrass. Sometimes, I even stumble across a pinecone lizard sunning itself on a rock, named for the scales that resemble the features of a pine cone. Cows and sheep mosey around this property, casually napping in the shade of eucalyptus trees.
In the rocks embedded in the mountains, animals long dead can be found as well. These creatures make up the Ediacaran biota, Earth’s earliest animals who lived on a shallow seafloor around 560 million years ago. Paleontologists such as my mom come from across the world to study these organisms, organisms that may hold secrets of early life on other planets as well. When I step on an uncovered bed of rock that was once a rippled seafloor home to many a soft-bodied creature, it feels as though I am stepping back in time. The coolest animals in South Australia, it seems to me, are not necessarily kangaroos but perhaps ancient organisms living in a world so very different, and yet so similar, to our own.
Thus, the animals that make up this region are both microscopic and massive, tame and terrifying, friendly and fierce, ancient and alive. But all, in their own particular way, are actually quite beautiful. This is perhaps why coming here is almost like a dream. Although this place is strange and bizarre and often scary, South Australia is a place that is very much alive, and it has been for a very long time.