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Freshwater wildlife

Wildlife in our waterways

Melbourne’s waterways are home to a large variety of wildlife. Melbourne Water’s Healthy Waterways Strategy has identified a number of species that are strong indicators of healthy waterways and help government agencies know where to focus their work.


Usually near the top of the aquatic food chain, fish provide food for birds and are a source of recreation for people who go fishing. The Yarra River is home to several species of endangered fish, including the Australian Grayling and the Macquarie Perch.

Australian Greyling. Image source: T. Raadik. Department of Environment and Primary Industries

Australian Grayling. Image source: T. Raadik. Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning


An essential part of the ecosystem, frogs are sensitive to pollutants in the water and air, making them an excellent indicator of water quality. Frogs are usually very difficult to find so identification occurs by recording their calls. About 18 species of frogs have been recorded around Melbourne, with the most common being the southern brown tree frog, spotted marsh frog and the common froglet.

Spotted marsh frog. Image source: Melbourne water

Spotted Marsh Frog. Image source: Melbourne Water


An animal unique to Australia, the platypus relies on aquatic invertebrates (small water borne animals without a backbone) for food. Platypus populations across Melbourne suffered during the drought due to loss of habitat, and from the pressures of urbanisation. Several platypus populations across the region are considered to be small and isolated and therefore at considerable risk of extinction, however data shows their numbers may be slowly increasing in some areas.

Platypus held by a Melbourne Water employee

Platypus. Image source: Melbourne Water


The most visible, studied and monitored animal, birds positively influence how people feel about the health of our waterways – many wetlands and waterways are popular spots for bird watching. In and around Melbourne, 57 species of wetland birds and 113 species of streamside birds can be found.

White faced heron perched on the top of a tree

White faced heron. Image source: Parks Victoria


Waterbugs – more correctly known as aquatic macroinvertebrates, are small animals without a backbone that live or spend some or all of their lifecycle (e.g. eggs, larval stage through to adult) in waterways.
There are thousands of macroinvertebrates, including dragonflies, beetles and freshwater crayfish. 
A food source for platypus, fish and frogs, they are very sensitive to changes in the environment and are a good indicator of waterway health.

For more information on river health please refer to Melbourne Water’s website.


Dragon fly

Dragonfly. Image source: Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

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