The Daintree Rainforest, one of the oldest in the world, is part of the Wet Tropics of North Queensland, Australia. This 1200-square-kilometer, or approximately 500-square-mile, rainforest is home to 3000 plant species. There are 70 animals and 700 plants that exist only in this region that Daintree Discovery Centre describes as housing “30 percent of Australia's frog, marsupial and reptile species, 65 percent of Australia's bat and butterfly species and 20 percent of the bird species.”
Mammals found nowhere else in the world live in the Daintree Rainforest. The musky rat kangaroo is a tiny marsupial that climbs in the undergrowth, uses its scaly, prehensile tail to carry nesting material, and feeds on insects, other invertebrates and fallen fruits it finds amidst the leaf litter on the rainforest floor.
The Bennett’s tree kangaroo, endemic to the Daintree Rainforest, is one of many tree kangaroos that eat and sleep in the trees. The Daintree River ringtail possum is a slow-moving, nocturnal leaf-eater that lives in the forest canopy.
This region is home to 34 species of bats, including flying foxes, tube-nosed bats and blossom bats. Bats, which pollinate flowers and disperse fruit from many rainforest trees and plants, are essential for the forest's survival, according to the Australian Rainforest Foundation.
The endangered cassowary is one of more than 400 bird species that live in the Daintree Rainforest. In 2002, the Wet Tropics Management Authority reported the "population numbers of the Southern Cassowary...appear to be in decline with estimates of fewer than 1,500 adult cassowaries remaining in the Wet Tropics bioregion."
Twelve bird species, including the Macleay's and bridled honey eaters, pied monarch and Victoria's riflebird are found only in Australia. Other birds in the Daintree are the buff-breasted paradise kingfisher, the little kingfisher and several other kingfisher species, the great-billed heron, the black bittern, the lovely fairy-wren, fruit pigeons, the mangrove robin, the double-eyed fig parrot and the red-necked crake.
Reptiles and Amphibians
Daintree reptiles include geckoes, skinks, turtles and snakes. The tiny Thornton Peak skink feeds on insects and lives only on the rainforest's Thornton Range. The large salt-water crocodile grows to 20 feet long and lives in the swamps, estuaries and beaches of the coastal rainforest.
Most snakes living in the Daintree are venomous, including the death adder, the taipan and the amethystine python, the largest in Australia, growing to nearly 23 feet long and feeding on warm-blooded animals it kills by suffocation.
The northern leaf-tailed gecko has rough skin and spiky scales and is found only in Australia, as is Boyd's forest dragon, a lizard nearly 2 feet long with a line of curved spikes down its back.
Tree frogs live in moist, dark places in the rainforest and eat insects such as flies, crickets and moths. Some of the tree frogs in the Daintree are the dainty tree frog, the giant white-lipped tree frog, the green-eyed tree frog, Lesueur's tree frog and the orange-thighed tree frog.
Of the 19 primitive flowering plant families on Earth, 12 are represented in the Daintree region. The idiot fruit, or green dinosaur, one of the rarest primitive flowering plants was rediscovered in the 1970’s in the Daintree Rainforest.
The rainforest has coastal plain forests, middle altitude forests and montane forests with heath-like vegetation on the mountaintops. Mangrove forests along the mouth of the creeks and rivers have the highest species diversity of any estuarine habitat in Australia.
The most common forests in the Daintree are mesophyll and complex mesophyll vine forests, which have plants with large leaves and a large variety of life forms, such as orchids, ferns, buttressed tree roots and multiple layers of vegetation. Fan palm forests are another endemic plant community of the region.
Of all the Australian flowering plants that require pollination, Austrobaileya scandens, found only in the Daintree Rainforest, is the most ancient. It evolved before butterflies and bees, and beetles, attracted by its waxy flowers that release a rotting fish smell, serve as its pollinators.