The bio-diverse Mornington Peninsula
Updated: Nov 11, 2022
The Mornington Peninsula is the most biodiverse region for its size in Victoria and despite being urbanised, is still a wonderland for wildlife watching.
A close drive from the city, the Mornington Peninsula is labeled as Melbourne's summer playground because of the vast crowds attracted to its beautiful beaches, seaside restaurants and countless wineries.
A growth in real-estate coupled with millions of visitors annually creates enough traffic to congest every road and walkway in the summer, making it hard to picture this area as being a wildlife haven. But it is teeming with life for those willing to stop and look.
Hopefully this post inspires you to open your eyes to the natural world around you on your next holiday, or around your home if you are lucky enough to be a local!
Weedy Sea Dragons (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus) have made snorkelling famous on the peninsula, being found under popular jetties. ©Nathan Litjens
Despite the expansive development, the Mornington Peninsula still has a patchy reserve network that supports healthy populations of wildlife and endangered flora. Mornington Peninsula National Park, Arthurs Seat State Park, Langwarrin Flora & Fauna Reserve, Cranbourne Gardens and The Briars Park include some of the best bush-walks for wildlife.
Echidnas, Koalas, Swamp Wallabies and Eastern Grey Kangaroos are all large mammals that are common along the peninsula. The smaller White-footed Dunnart is rare and is seldom seen, whilst another smaller marsupial in the Southern Brown Bandicoots can be found at Cranbourne Gardens.
There are 293 species of birds recorded along the many different habitats of the Mornington Peninsula. Common backyard birds include some of Australia's most beautiful birds in Rainbow Lorikeets, Eastern Rosellas and Superb Fairywrens. A number of rarer birds are also found on the peninsula, such as the Hooded Plover, Australasian Bittern and Powerful Owl.
Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua) is the largest owl species in Australia. It mainly predates on possums. It is present in old-growth eucalyptus forest along the peninsula.
As spring rolls over, an immense awakening of flowers completely changes the Peninsulas eco-systems. Insects and birds flock to the nectar producing flowers, whilst beautiful and elegant orchids emerge from the ground.
Jewel Beetle (Castiarina octomaculata). One of many spectacular Jewel Beetles that arise with the flowering of Tea Tree.
Tip 2# Head to Langwarrin Flora & Fauna reserve when the Tea Trees flower and watch the amazing diversity of colourful jewel beetles and wasps buzz around the small white flowers.
The Mornington Peninsula is home to a whopping 88 dazzling species of orchids. A great percentage of these are threatened, with some only occurring on the peninsula. One of the best spots to see orchids is Langwarrin Flora & Fauna Reserve in spring. Orchids are extremely fragile and can be hard to spot, so stay on the path and look at the edges to avoid trampling them!
Trim Greenhood Orchids (Pterostylis concinna) are one of a few species of Greenhood Orchids on the peninsula. They flower between May and October.
Purple Donkey Orchid (Diuris punctata) is another example of the stunning diversity of orchids found in Langwarrin Flora & Fauna Reserve.
The smaller minority are just as colourful and brilliant as our birds and fish. Stare at the leaves long enough and you may just find some of the small colourful spiders that call the Peninsula home. There are seven species of Peacock Spider found here. These spiders have become an internet sensation, as the males raise their colourful abdomen and display a dance to attract females.
Peacock Spider (Maratus tasmanicus). This stunning jumping spider is common along the whole peninsula.
Tip 1# Look on low coastal vegetation such as Pigface (Carpobrotus) during spring for these incredible and small peacock spiders.
The Triangular Spider (Arkys walckenaeri) is one of the most uniquely shaped Australian Spiders. It is mostly found in ambush on the underside of wattle leaves.
This male Orange-thighed Brushed Jumping Spider (Jotus auripes) is another species of jumping spider that displays to females.
The Mornington Peninsula is home to 25 species of reptiles, including five species of snakes. The majority of these reptiles enter torpor in winter, waiting for the warm weather to be active. Although, the Lowlands Copperhead and White-lipped Snake prefer the cooler weather and will bask in the winter sun. All of the peninsulas snakes are venomous, so keep your distance!
The Eastern and Blotched Blue-tongue Lizards are both common lizards, feeding on snails and any fallen fruit in backyards.
Tiger Snakes (Notechis scutatus) are the most common snake on the peninsula. They are mainly found around wetlands.
Blotched Blue-tongue Lizards (Tiliqua nigrolutea) are one of the better scaly backyard visitors. ©Matt Clancy
The Mornington Peninsulas coastline is a stronghold for the endangered Swamp Skink. These brilliantly marked skinks are declining throughout southern Australia from habitat loss, as many mangroves and coastal dunes are being ripped up for real estate. There are fenced off areas along Tootgarook Swamp to protect the important habitat of these skinks.
Whites Skink (Liopholis whitii) is another skink found on coastal dunes. It creates burrows in the sand under vegetation.
The Peninsula has eleven species of frogs found along its wetlands and damp forests, from the endangered Growling Grass Frog to the abundant Common Froglet. The 'pobblebonk' sound of a Banjo Frogs call is soothing to the ears of pond or dam owners on warm summer nights.
As summer ends the rains begin to mark Autumn, instigating the breeding season of the elusive Southern Toadlet. The sharp whistle calls of the Brown Tree Frog echo amongst the frost on a cold winters night.
Southern Toadlet (Pseudophryne semimarmorata) is an endangered frog that is persisting in undisturbed forest along the peninsula.
Surprising to most, both sides of the peninsula boast incredible marine diversity, with many strange looking animals you couldn't dream of. Both kelp forest and rocky reefs are magical to explore.
Shaw's Cowfish (Aracana aurita) are one of many spectacular fish on the peninsula that no-one talks about! ©Nathan Litjens
Basically speaking, the inner bay (Frankston to Portsea) has much calmer currents and is better for inexperienced snorkellers/divers, whilst the ocean side (Flinders and associated ocean beaches - Rye, Sorrento, etc) can be more unpredictable, needing more experience.
The best places to start snorkelling are also the most popular beach destinations, Rye and Portsea piers! Whilst the piers are full of people leaping off them, none seem to know about the incredible fish underneath them.
Potbellied Seahorses (Hippocampus abdominalis) are found clinging onto the pillars of Rye Pier. ©Nathan Litjens
Smooth Stingrays the size of small cars often patrol these popular piers. Whilst Weedy Sea Dragons look royal floating in the long sea-grass. Keep an eye out for Goatfish hoovering at the bottom or life camouflaged in the sand.
More experienced divers can push out to breath-taking sponge gardens off Portsea, or explore the world renowned Blairgowrie Marina. Fish such as the Tassled Anglerfish or Blue Devils can be found in these places.
The ocean side brings in some astounding life to its rocky shores. On a perfect day with no wind, do yourself a favour and swim out past the wave-break. The Mushroom Reef off Flinders or Sorrento Ocean Beach will blow you away with scenery and life. Colourful fish like Senator Wrasses dart through the kelp, whilst large Rock Lobsters hang out in the rocks.
Port Jackson Shark (Heterodontus portusjacksoni) can be found under rocky ledges during the day. ©Nathan Litjens
Horseshoe Leatherjacket (Meuschenia hippocrepis) are one of the beautiful leatherjackets found in kelp forests. ©Nathan Litjens
Tip # If you are too nervous to swim out further than the waves, there is still life in your reach! Numerous species of Pipefish congregate on the floor debris in the rolling waves.
The Mornington Peninsula is blessed with many mammals of the sea. Fur Seals and Bottlenose Dolphins are a plenty and can be seen from shore, whilst Whales are often spotted further out. There is plenty of eco-tours to search online that get you up close and personal with these animals.
The Australian Fur Seal (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus) colony on Chinaman's Hat are a popular eco-tourism destination. ©Nathan Litjens