When we talk about nature, Australia has kind of a bad rep. In the Land Down Under, the deadliest and most venomous creatures skulk the land and stalk the sea, and you should be terrified of everything that lives there, from box jellyfish to bogans. Right? Well, not exactly. While Australia does have some of the deadliest wildlife on Earth, it’s not as dangerous as you might think.
No Big Land Predators
First off, other than crocodiles and dingoes, there are no big land predators in Australia that are a serious threat to humans. There are no lions, tigers, or bears. Oh my. The same can’t be said for India, which has lions, tiger, bears, AND hordes of highly venomous snakes, including the Big Four. India is also one of the few countries where you can be attacked by a leopard in the middle of a city.
Even factoring in crocodiles and dingoes, there’s good reason to say, “No worries!”. Both of these predators are astonishingly easy to evade, especially if you don’t often wander out in the bush.
Crocodiles are iconic Australian animals, but they reside in a surprisingly small portion of the country. Outside a zoo, you’re not going to encounter them in any of Australia’s major cities or the surrounding waterways. They’re really only a threat if you go in or near waterways in Australia’s tropical north, and when you’re in their territory, you should definitely pay attention to every sign you see!
Meanwhile, dingoes are basically feral dogs that were introduced to Australia by humans thousands of years ago, so there’s not a huge difference between a dingo and, say, a stray pitbull. Purportedly, dingoes enjoy eating babies, but they rarely bother adult humans. In fact, they often are quite tame around humans, although they are not suitable pets.
No Rabies Virus
But, if dingoes are like stray dogs, what happens if a dingo bites you, and you catch rabies? Nothing’s going to happen to you because rabies does not exist in Australia. The closest you’ll get to rabies is the Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABLV), which (as the name suggests) is only transmitted from bats to humans. So, if you don’t go around petting flying foxes, you’ll be just fine.
This is in stark contrast to other countries, especially those in Africa and Asia, where rabies is rampant and access to rabies treatment is limited. Even in the United States, rabies is still a serious concern, since there are several mammals that still carry the virus. Without immediate rabies treatment, a mere scratch from an infected animal could end your life in a truly horrifying manner.
Deadly Snakes aren’t Exclusive to Australia
Now, let’s take a look at snakes in Australia. Australia has a LOT of venomous snake species, and some of them even live in the ocean. Out of Australia’s 172 snakes species, 100 of them are venomous. although only a dozen pack venom deadly enough to kill humans.
Brown snakes and taipans are the most venomous snakes in the world, and they all happen to live in Australia. But here’s the thing: a deadly snake is a deadly snake, no matter the potency of the venom. Whether you get bit by a taipan or a rattlesnake, the result is still the same: you have a high risk of death, especially if you’re far away from a hospital.
Truthfully, even the most feared Australian snakes would much rather flee than fight. Snakebites usually occur when someone startles the snake, steps on it, or corners it.
In sparsely populated Australia, snakebites and snakebite fatalities are not as common as they are in other countries, where snakes and humans regularly come into contact. You can see that on this map.
Australian annual venomous snakebite cases are on par with the US, Europe, and China. Meanwhile, India and many other South and Southeast Asian countries have over 100,000 annual cases of venomous snakebites.
To add to that, none of Australia’s snakes eat people. The venomous snakes are too small, and none of the python species are known to have consumed humans. Meanwhile, to the north, in Indonesia and the Philippines, the massive reticulated python has been recorded devouring humans on multiple occasions.
Australian Arachnids are Overblown
Now, that we’ve got the snakes out of the way, let’s get to the spiders. Australia has several species of spiders, including many venomous ones, and that’s not a secret by any means.
Huntsman spiders are incredibly common in Australia, and they’re very huge and fast. Oh, and they can climb walls and ceilings. Okay, I’m not making such a great case here, but hear me out.
Huntsman spiders are scary LOOKING, and they ARE venomous, but their venom is not dangerous to humans. Huntsman spiders rarely bite, and when they do, it’s usually about as painful as a bee sting. You can compare them to wolf spiders, which are also big, fast, and scary looking but are also harmless to humans. So, with that in mind, let’s look at Australian spiders that are truly dangerous to humans.
Redback spiders are found throughout Australia, and they are highly venomous. But redback spiders are basically Aussie black widows, and they’re not much different from their North American relatives. Like black widows, a bite from a redback can cause a nasty illness called Latrodectism, but with proper medical care, you’re probably going to be okay after a week.
Now, on the other hand, Australian funnel web spiders are among the world’s most venomous spiders, and they are all over Australia’s east coast. Some species can be aggressive, such as the Sydney funnel web, which is known to bite repeatedly without letting go. During mating season, lovestruck males tend to wander into people’s backyards and homes. But these little fellas–actually, you know what? These guys are pretty dang scary. I’ll give Australia this one.
The good news? No one has died from a funnel web spider bite since the introduction of Atrax antivenom in 1981. Also, you’re not likely to encounter a funnel web in the city, so don’t think a Sydney funnel web spider is going to drop on your face while you’re touring the Darling Harbour.
Other terrifying arachnids in Australia are ticks. Specifically, the paralysis tick, which carries a neurotoxin that can cause tick paralysis. Like the funnel webs, paralysis ticks are only found on Australia’s east coast, but despite the scary sounding name, paralysis ticks are no more dangerous or icky than ticks found in other countries. Tick paralysis can be fatal to dogs and cats, but it is less likely to seriously affect humans. Certainly not any more than a deer tick carrying Lyme disease or a dog tick carrying Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
So, now that we’re done with the land, let’s go out to sea. What horrifying creatures lurk here? You probably already know.
There are Sharks in the Ocean. Who Knew?
Sharks are at the very top of the list, and they can be quite frightening. Sharks are literally everywhere there is ocean, but there are some places that are more sharky than others. Australia is regarded as one of those places, so let’s look at the data.
According to the International Shark Attack File, only the United States leads Australia in shark attacks. In fact, from 2011 to 2020, the U.S. had 7 fatal shark attacks out of 455 while Australia had 15 fatal attacks out of 126. That’s 1.5% fatal attacks in the US versus 11.9% fatal attacks in Australia. So, clearly, you need to watch your butt in Australian waters. But that’s just the tip of the dorsal fin.
One possible reason Australia leads in fatal attacks is because of the surfing culture there. Check out these stats. 2.5 million Aussies are surfers. That’s nearly 10% of the country’s population. By comparison, roughly 3.5 million Americans are surfers, which is little over 1% of America’s population. That parallels the fatal attacks in each country fairly well.
Of course, correlation does not imply causation. But, since surfers are more frequently attacked than people participating in other water activities, this is probably not a coincidence. So, while sharks are concerning in Australia, they don’t have a secret society that favors Australian waters. They just really like surfers. But sharks aren’t the only dangers lurking beneath the waves. Let’s look at the other deadly Aussie sea creatures.
Ocean of Death?
Marine stingers like the box jellyfish and the Irukandji are probably the deadliest animals in Australia. They’re practically invisible and can kill swimmers in minutes, and that’s not an exaggeration. But, like crocodiles, they are only present in Australia’s tropical north, and they are generally only present during the summer months. If you wear a stinger suit in these waters during stinger season, you should be fine, but it’s best not to chance sharing the ocean with them. There are some times where we’re better off staying on the beach.
Other infamous marine creatures include the cone snail, the stonefish, and the blue-ringed octopus. All of these creatures are extremely venomous, but they can very easily be avoided. Most incidents occur when tourists touch these animals or pick them up. You have to remember that these creatures are much smaller than us and find us terrifying. They have no desire to attack us unless threatened.
So, compared to the rest of the world, Australian wildlife is not that dangerous. Australia definitely has its share of dangerous animals, but it certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on them. There are plenty of other countries with just as many, if not more, deadly creatures.
That said, like anywhere else, all wildlife should be treated with respect. You don’t need to be afraid to explore Australian nature, but you do need to be aware of the dangers. No matter where you go, don’t feed, harass, or harm wildlife. That is always a recipe for disaster.
Now, with my obvious American accent, how the heck do I know Australia isn’t a dangerous place? Well, I lived there for a year and spent hours upon hours exploring the Australian bush and Outback. I was actively looking for dangerous wildlife and was often disappointed (which, in hindsight, was for the best). I also spent several nights camping out in the Australian wilderness, and I never felt unsafe. There weren’t any bears or mountain lions snooping around my tent. Only kangaroos and koalas.
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