It’s a popular meme, “come to Australia, you might accidentally get killed“, and while granted, we do have more deadly snakes than any other country in the world, and over 2,000 species of spider, it’s not exactly like we have wild lions, tigers, elephants, grizzly bears or hippopotamus roaming around!
True, Australia is probably the only place on earth you’ll ever see a python swallow a salt water crocodile whole. And we do have a snail that can fire a poison dart. Though realistically, you’re more likely to be eaten by a domestic cat than by a shark, and bees pose more of a threat throughout Australia than our spiders do…even though it’s the spiders who seem to incite more fear among visitors to our very foreign shores. Australia’s deadliest animals.
I’ve found it’s generally the Americans I meet who worry that my life must constantly be under threat, and for that I partially blame Steve Irwin, though, dear America, the majority of our creatures would rather slide or crawl away before they killed you. In LA, you have wild animals which hunt and eat you! “You better have a good pair of running shoes and a stun gun if you go for a walk in the bush” says Peter Mitchell. Deadliest animals in Australia.
In the US “you’ve got cougars who stalk joggers and mountain bikers, leap out of the bush and wrap their jaws around the human prey’s head, grizzly bears who are known to sniff around backyards looking for dinner, and coyotes who come down into urban areas and snatch your pet pooch. Australia wins the deadliest snakes award, but rattlesnakes are common on walking trails in the Santa Monica Mountains, and Southern Californian beaches have their fair share of great white attacks, so let’s call that even.”
The point is, the idea that “everything in Australia tries to kill you” is a lot more hype than reality, and the real Australian dangers you should be paying attention to include crossing the street (we drive on the left FYI), ocean currents, and the sun. Seriously. Watch that Australian sun.
Despite the bewildering variety of frightening animals found in Australia, no-one should be put off visiting for fear of encountering them. Our most frightening may include the box jellyfish, salt water crocodiles and sharks, but our most dangerous are actually horses and honeybees.
With a little common sense, no one visiting Oz should be unduly worried about the wildlife; quite the opposite, it’s a great reason to visit. The following is a field guide to the most deadly Australian creatures. Keep in mind that you’re more likely to be killed by a horse, but it can’t hurt to be clued up about Australia’s most poisonous fauna.
A Field Guide to Australia’s Deadliest Creatures
One of the more deadly creatures on the face of the Earth, the Box Jeallyfish is responsible for 79 out of 81 known jellyfish deaths since 1883 (it sounds a lot but that’s still less than one death per year). With near invisible tentacles carrying millions of harpoons which deliver a powerful dose of venom, it’s known as the sea-wasp, and can kill within minutes.
Most victims describe the sensation as more of an electric shock than a burn, this toxin is that strong. After contact it’s possible for cardiac arrest to occur within just 3 minutes, and mouth to mouth resuscitation and first aid procedures are essential to keep the victim alive.
This jellyfish lives along the northern coasts of Australia and can be found throughout the Great Barrier Reef. “Stinger season” runs from October to May; no animal on earth has the potential to stop a human heart so quickly, so you should take warnings on beaches very seriously.
Pro Tip: Contrary to popular belief, urinating on the sting has no discernible effect! Vinegar and peeing on the spot may reduce the pain a little bit, but medical assistance is vital. Wearing a simple stinger suit will deter these jellyfish.
Inland Taipan Snake
Out of the 10 most dangerous snakes in the world, 8 of them call Australia home. The inland Taipan is one of them, and, with enough venom to kill 100 men, this is the most poisonous snake in the world. But they inhabit extremely remote areas, and are so shy that it’s highly unlikely you’ll encounter one.
They generally live in the middle of the red center of Australia, and rarely make it above ground. With 41 recorded deaths between 1980 and 2009, snake deaths in Australia average out at less than two per year.
Eastern brown snake
The second most venomous snake in the world, however easily more dangerous than the first, the eastern brown is responsible for the most snake related deaths in Aus. Larger, more common and much more aggressive than the inland taipan, they feed on mice (though their venom is also highly effective on humans too) and thrive in populated areas.
Aggressive in their attacks, if provoked, the snake will raise itself off the ground and form an S-shaped curve, preparing to fire its venom, which induces blood clotting. Again, it’s unlikely you’ll see one of these, though if you give them a wide enough berth they’ll do the same to you!
The Blue-ringed Octopus
You don’t want to annoy a Blue-ringed Octopus – they are as deadly as they are beautiful. Occupying the Great Barrier Reef, these are not particularly aggressive creatures, so are if you’re lucky enough to see them diving just maintain a safe distance.
Though with enough venom to kill 26 people, when agitated, the creature’s skin becomes a bright yellow and pulsating iridescent blue rings appear, and it produces a neurotoxin 10,000 times more powerful than cyanide. The same incredibly strong neurotoxin is found in arrow poison frogs and pufferfish – there is no known antidote, and it causes motor paralysis, eventually leading to cardiac arrest.
This is one of the most dangerous animals in the ocean, however it actually claims less deaths (just 3 in the last century) than eating incorrectly prepared fugu fish – a Japanese delicacy – which contains the same nerve toxins.
Also found on Australian reefs, the pain of a sting from a stonefish alone can be lethal. Victims have described it as “producing such mind-blowing agony that the body goes into shock and the person dies”, and the pain can be so excruciating that it leads to the amputation of the affected limb. Fun times!
This can be found in the Tropic of Capricorn as well as the Great Barrier Reef, and generally camouflages itself at the bottom of Australia’s reefs as a rock. There has only been one unconfirmed death by stonefish which was in 1915.
While not exactly dangerous in the wild, anyone who has driven on Australian roads will know just how deadly free roaming kangaroos can be. You’ll see them lying in vast numbers on the side of Australian roads, and they do serious damage to your car (and it’s occupants) if they get hit.
Kangaroos in Australia roam free, and their numbers are huge. To give you an idea, the Australia Government ordered the culling of 15,000 kangaroos in 2002 to minimize problems with the increasing population. Make sure you’re alert when driving, and try to stay off the roads at night.
One of Australia’s most fierce and famous creatures! The largest of all living reptiles, the salt water crocodile inhabits the Northern regions of Australia, and has the strongest bite of any other creature on earth…even beating out the Great White Shark!
It is responsible for 1-2 known deaths every year, and usually racks up an annual 4-10 non fatal attacks too. It’s most powerful attack is the “Death Roll” whereby it grabs its prey and rolls with it until it dies.
Human meat isn’t exactly their favorite meal, however these “salties” are opportunistic hunters, and will jump on anything that moves. Generally infested rivers and beaches are well signposted with warnings, however if you’re unsure if it’s safe to swim, ask a local for advice.
Great white sharks may be the most fearsome if you were to come face to face, though they have an undeserved reputation – it’s the bull sharks in Australia which claim the most human prey. While great whites are responsible for an average of just one death per year, world-wide, bull sharks pose a more imminent threat as they come very close to beaches to look for food.
These sharks inhabit both fresh and saltwater, making it into rivers and estuaries, and after flooding in early 2011, one was even reported being seen in a suburban street! Though they’re very rarely of any danger to humans. Just steer clear of swimming in murky waters where there is zero visibility and you could be mistaken for prey.
“Remember that only ten people die in the world every year by shark attack. But 150 die from a coconut falling right on the head.”
Funnel Web Spider
This one is for the arachnophobes – a spider with a set of fangs longer than that of a brown snake, and so powerful that they can pierce a fingernail! Found in populated urban areas of New South Wales, the Funnel Web is more common than other creatures on this list, though a bite can be just as lethal, and requires immediate medical attention. The spider often wanders through domestic gardens and occasionally drops into swimming pools, though no fatalities have been recorded since the anti-venom was developed in 1981.
Responsible for less bites than the well known redback spider, the funnel web is still one of the most deadly spiders on earth due to it’s insanely toxic venom, and reputation for being one of the world’s most aggressive spiders, willing to cling on and deliver multiple bites in one go.
Pro Tip: Regardless of where you are in Oz, shake out your boots and clothing before putting them on just in case a spider has sought shelter there first.
Avoid Australia’s Worst Killers
So while Australia may be infamous for it’s fierce and fearsome creatures, in fact the country’s worst killers are horses, honeybees, and the ocean swell. “The best advice I would give anyone about staying safe in Australia would be nothing to do with avoiding scary creatures. It would be “swim between the flags” if you are going to take a dip in the sea.”
Though if you’re still worried about encountering our wacky and wonderful wildlife, just make sure you’re traveling with fully comprehensive insurance which covers international travel medical.
Pro Tip: We go through Timothy Jennings at Individual Health for travel health insurance with #GeoBlue. We love them as they’re a worldwide insurer who offer the most complete set of benefits and services in the industry, and they make their best attempt to arrange direct payment no matter which medical provider you see.
For more information on insurance with GeoBlue contact Tim Jennings at firstname.lastname@example.org or click for a free quote.
Photo credits: Featured by Jon Connell. Pinterest Images: Box Jellyfish by Guido, Second box jellyfish image to appear by James Brennan. Blue Ringed Octopus by Angell Williams & Steve Childs. Funnel Web Spiders by Alan Couch. All other images by Mapping Megan.
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