Top 10 Most Dangerous Animals in Australia
Australia has a reputation for being home to some of the most dangerous animals in the world.
It should be noted, however, that generally speaking, most wild animals do not attack people if left alone. Most will only strike out at humans if they are taunted, startled, feel threatened, close to starvation, or believe that their young might be harmed.
In fact, in nearly all cases, it is humans who pose the biggest threat to the animals rather than the other way around, whether directly by hunting or road kills, or through the erosion of the animal's natural habitat and food sources.
Putting together a list of dangerous animals is also not straightforward, as there are different criteria for measuring levels of danger.
For instance, a certain animal may be potentially very dangerous because it is highly venomous, but in practice, it accounts for very few human fatalities due to its shy and reclusive nature.
Conversely, there are animals which seem less dangerous, but kill more humans because they inhabit areas where humans also live and are less timid.
Below are my top 10 most dangerous animals in Australia.
1. Great White Shark
The world's largest predatory fish, great white sharks entered the popular imagination with the Jaws movies.
These sharks can be found off the coast of northern Australia and are responsible for the largest number of recorded shark attacks on humans worldwide. Their bite power comes from rows of up to 300 sharp and serrated, triangular teeth.
Despite their reputation for being man-eaters, however, great whites do not deliberately target humans. Most of the bites made by them on people, seem to be test bites. They don't seem to like the taste of humans, however, preferring fattier, less bony prey.
2. Common Brown Snake
The common brown snake, also known as the eastern brown snake, is the second most venomous land snake in the world. Only the inland taipan delivers stronger venom (see below).
The snake is active during the daytime and very quick and aggressive. When riled, the snake holds its head up high and adopts an upright S-shape.
A bite from a common brown can be fatal if medical treatment is not sought. The venom can cause dizziness, diarrhea, collapse or convulsions, renal failure, paralysis and cardiac arrest.
3. Saltwater Crocodile
The world's largest living reptile, male saltwater crocodiles can attain sizes up to 22ft (6.7 m) and weigh up to an impressive 4,400 lb (2,000 kg).
As well as being a formidable predator when it comes to animals that stray into its territory, saltwaters are also the most dangerous type of crocodile when it comes to humans, and certainly more dangerous than alligators.
These crocodiles should always be avoided. Their power and speed will easily overwhelm the average human, especially if the attack comes from one of the bigger crocodiles.
They are also very aggressive and can treat humans as prey, or attack to defend their territory. So if you are in Australia and you see a crocodile warning sign, you should take it very seriously.
4. Box Jellyfish
Also known as the sea wasp or the marine stinger, the box jellyfish is one of the most dangerous jellyfish in the world.
Their venom is highly toxic and is capable of inducing heart failure. That said, there have only ever been a handful of human deaths attributed to this species.
Apart from their potent venom, box jellyfish are different from other jellyfish in other respects too. For instance, they are more umbrella-shaped than dome-shaped.
They are also one of the few species of jellyfish that possess eyes. They have twenty-four of them in clusters around their body, which help them to track down prey and escape predators.
5. The Inland Taipan
The inland taipan has the most toxic venom of any snake in the world, and is found in the semi-arid regions where Queensland and South Australia border meet.
The snake's color varies according to the season: in the Winter they are dark brown, in the Summer they are lighter, more olive-colored.
The inland taipan will generally avoid human contact unless it is provoked or feels it can't escape. If it does strike, it is quick and accurate when delivering its bite.
Typical symptoms/effects from a bite include local pain, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, dizziness, convulsions, collapse, and ultimately death.
6. Tiger snakes are large and venomous snakes that can often be found in coastal areas, wetlands, and creeks of southern Australia.
There are a number of different populations of tiger snake, each slightly different, with groups including the common tiger snake, western tiger snake, Chappell Island tiger snake, Peninsula tiger snake, King Island and Tasmanian tiger snakes.
The venom from tiger snakes is highly toxic, and medical help should be immediately sought if bitten. The mortality rate for untreated bites is between 40 and 60%.
One of the most venomous fishes in the world, a sting from a stonefish can, in some circumstances, be fatal.
Stonefish have needle-like dorsal fin spines which stick up when they are disturbed or threatened. The spines inject neurotoxins that are secreted from glands at the base of the spines.
Although the sting is often exceedingly painful, death is relatively rare. Vinegar is said to lessen the pain of a sting and is often found on beaches where stonefish are found.
A common problem for humans is that stonefish are very good at camouflaging themselves (as their name suggests, they can look like stones), and people can step on them by accident, triggering a sting.
8. Blue-Ringed Octopus
Found in shallow coral and rock pools, the blue-ringed octopus can appear cute in appearance, but they should not be touched, as they are highly venomous.
There are two species of blue-ringed octopus that are native to Australia: the Hapalochlaena lunulata and the Hapalochlaena maculosa. The Hapalochlaena lunulata are larger, measuring up to 8 inches (20 cm) across if the tentacles included. The Hapalochlaena maculosa, are much smaller (around the size of a golf ball) but more common.
The blue rings are only seen immediately before the octopus strikes. Venom is delivered via the animal's beak and is contained in the octopus’s saliva.
The venom causes nausea, vision loss, paralysis, and breathing problems.
9. The Redback Spider
One of the most venomous spiders in Australia, the redback also often likes to live in close proximity to humans, often in places like sheds, garages, and outdoor wood piles, making bites from the spider relatively common.
There are thought to be between 2,000 to 10,000 redback bites each year. That is why the redback antivenom is the commonest type of antivenom administered to victims of snake and spider bites in Australia.
The larger and more dangerous female of the species is responsible for nearly all the bites.
10. Funnel Web Spider
One of the most dangerous spiders in the world, the Australian funnel web spider is very aggressive as well as highly venomous.
Found in eastern and southern Australia, the spider will attack virtually anything that strays into its territory, delivering a powerful bite with its large and powerful fangs. The fangs are capable of penetrating soft shoes or fingernails.
Atrax robustus is the most deadly of the different species of this spider. Modern first aid techniques and antivenom have successfully reduced the number of fatalities suffered, however.
- Egerton, L. ed. 2005. Encyclopedia of Australian wildlife. Reader's Digest ISBN 1-876689-34-X
- Menkhorst, P. W.; Knight, F. 2004. A field guide to the mammals of Australia. Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-555037-4
- Strahan, R. ed. 1983. The Australian Museum Complete Book of Australian Mammals. Angus & Robertson ISBN 0-207-14454-0
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© 2015 Paul Goodman