10 of Australia's Cutest Animals

The land of precious

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You've heard of kangaroos and koalas, but that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Australia's one-of-a-kind wildlife. The Land Down Under seems to have a special talent for adorable critters that not only look memorable but also have signature traits. (Not to mention the comical names that roll off the tongue.)

From mini-marsupials (like the quokka pictured here) to snickering songbirds, the following cuddle-worthy wild things are not only irresistibly eye-catching, but many are only found on the continent. Prepare to be mesmerized and charmed.

Dingoes

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Thought to be descendants of domesticated dogs that returned to the wild thousands of years ago, these indigenous ginger-colored canines are to Australia what wolves are to North America. Dingoes even howl like wolves and trigger similar primal fears. Remember "A Cry in the Dark," the 1988 Meryl Streep flick about a true-life couple whose child was allegedly killed by a dingo?

Such attacks are extremely rare, but that doesn't mean dingoes make good pets either. Attempts to domesticate them have mostly failed because dingoes never fully leave their wild sides behind.

Bandicoots

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These marsupials may look like rats with their spiky snouts and skinny tails, but Australia's 11 bandicoot species are thought to be closer in kinship to rabbits. Must be their bunny-like size and those bunny-like hind hoppers. One type — the rabbit-eared bandicoot, or bilby — is well on its way to replacing the Easter Bunny as Aussies' spring holiday chocolate favorite.

Coolest bandicoot fact: These prolific diggers have pouches that face backwards toward the hind end — opposite of kangaroos' front-opening pouches so the babies (called joeys) inside don't get covered in dirt and soil.

Platypuses

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Crikey! A mammal that lays eggs? In Australia it seems wild and wacky rules. The platypus is one of two species of monotremes, or egg-laying mammals. The other — the echidna (discussed later) — also hails from this enchanted continent.

With its paddle-like tail, waterproof fur, flat bill and webbed feet, the platypus looks like a cuddly cross between a beaver, an otter and a duck. But don't be deceived by this river-dweller's whimsical appearance. Males wield spurs on their hind feet that are connected to a toxin-producing gland. One strike is enough to kill a dog and inflict major pain on a human.

Echidnas

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Often called the spiny anteater, echidnas are the other monotreme (egg-laying mammal) species, along with platypuses, and are another of Australia's delightful mishmashes. Part porcupine, reptile, marsupial and bird, these endearingly quirky creatures are covered in 2-inch quills, sport a beak-like snout and are equipped with pouches.

And that doesn't begin to cover it. Females nurse their young (called puggles) sans nipples, secreting milk via a special gland in their pouch. And let's just say that male echidnas take mating to a whole new level. (Wired wrote about that aspect and the creature's other peculiar traits.)

Yellow-bellied gliders

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Threatened by habitat loss, this nocturnal rabbit-sized marsupial with large, pointy ears and long, bushy tail (not to mention a darling pink nose) is a type of gliding possum. Yep, it "flies" — up to 500 feet via a membrane that stretches from its hands to its ankles.

These vocal, tree-dwelling denizens of Australia's eastern eucalyptus forests sport a distinctive black back stripe and a light-colored belly.

Quokkas

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Yep, they're beyond darling with their furry compact bodies, rounded ears, black noses and ever-present hint of a grin. In fact, their camera-ready cuteness makes them a favorite sidekick for Down Under selfies.

Unfortunately, these magnetic marsupials are also endangered, partly due to their ever-dwindling limited range in a tiny corner of southwest Australia and some islands off the coast and partly because their sociable nature, which makes them easy prey for foxes, cats and dingoes.

Wombats

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Like a cross between a giant groundhog and a small bear, these corpulent cuties carry the distinction of being the world's largest burrowers and the second largest marsupial (some weigh up to 80 pounds!) Despite their teddy bear-like bearing and their generally docile demeanor, you may want to forgo up-close-and-personal contact. Wombats can be stubborn and occasionally dangerous.

Quolls

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As Australia's largest meat-eating marsupial, this spotted charmer comes in four varieties. Sadly, like many Aussie species, it's also endangered, but not only because of habitat loss or too many predators. The quoll's taste for cane toads, an invasive species introduced in the 1930s and loaded with deadly toxins, has influenced the dwindling numbers. In fact, many researchers Down Under are currently hard at work teaching quolls to just say no to the toad.

Kookaburras

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Endowed with a distinctive cackling call that sounds like raucous human laughter (listen here), this arresting Aussie bird is a type of kingfisher. For years, movie-makers have added kookaburra calls to enhance jungle-themed soundtracks.

But the kookaburra — popularized in a 1930s song ("Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree. Merry, merry king of the bush is he...") — is anything but warm and fuzzy. These beguiling birds of prey are actually fierce carnivores, ruthlessly hunting frogs, reptiles, birds, rodents and even venomous snakes.

Leadbeater's possum

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The elusive Leadbeater's (or fairy) possum is not only adorably cute for its giant eyes and petite, pointy snout but also its diminutive size. These tiniest of marsupials (a.k.a., "forest fairies") will fit in the palm of a human hand.

Profoundly shy and supersonically swift, fairy possums dwell high in the hollows of giant mountain ash trees that grow in Australia’s Central Highlands. Unfortunately, this also puts them at profound risk for extinction as their majestic old-growth forest homes are increasingly decimated for lumber.