Australia is, for most, a dream destination that has to be visited at least once in a lifetime. From its stunning, pristine, sometimes deserted beaches, to its rich fauna and flora and everything in between, tourists have been flocking to Oz for years, attracted by its natural beauty and its laid-back nature. Besides being one of the most beautiful countries in the world, Australia is also home to countless deadly animals, sea species and plants. Surrounded by water, its beaches are also rather dangerous when caught in unsafe currents. On top of all this, the sheer force of the sun when in Australia is enough to seriously fry your skin.
After having lived about eight months in Australia, I still find it miraculous I made it out alive. Every day, knowingly or unknowingly, Australians, as well as those that are lucky enough to temporarily call Australia their home, are confronted with some of the most dangerous situations in the entire world. Forget hanging up your towels in the backyard while barefooted, sitting on wooden park benches or taking showers without critters having a free peep show. Forget taking walks in the forest without proper foot attire, swimming off the east coast of Australia at dawn or dusk, or sleeping in a tent in the Outback. Brace yourself for what you’re about to see…
10. Australian Snakes
Considering that there are over 140 species of land snakes in Australia, bites are actually quite rare but nonetheless still occur – an estimated four to six people die per year from these bites. The rest are lucky to be close enough to a hospital and consequently be spared of their lives. Usually, the bites are the fault of the person being bitten. In other words, snakes don’t usually lunge out at you to attack; they don’t see humans as food. Their bites sometimes contain toxic venom that is usually used to subdue smaller animals, such as mice, that would be challenging to eat without having bitten them. Eastern brown snakes are the most dangerous ones in regards to taking human lives. They are hostile and their venom is considered the second most toxic one of all land snakes in the world. If you are bitten by a brown snake (which is, by the way, actually entirely brown, in contrast to many venomous insects or animals that show colorful patches, differentiating them from the rest), your body will begin a slow paralysis and your blood will stop clotting. Within a matter of minutes, your body will collapse and you will require an immediate dose of anti-venom. One of my Australian friends told me the story about how, as a child growing up in Southern Australia, him and his friends saw their dog being bitten by a snake and dying within minutes, a mere few feet in front of them. Yikes!
9. Box Jellyfish
Most of us are well aware that a sting from a jellyfish is incredibly painful, sending sharp jolts of pain through the affected area and into the rest of the body. Jellyfish contain venom, necessary for attacking their prey. The reason for which it has incredibly powerful venom is so that when it attacks its prey, it dies instantly, sparing any damage to the jellyfish’s fragile, ten meter tentacles. This transparent and pale blue jellyfish is found in the waters above Northern Australia and in Indonesia. The box jellyfish’s venom contains toxins that directly target the skin cells, the nervous system and the heart. It has been said that the pain is unparalleled – it has been documented that victims have gone into heart failure while still in the water, dying before they even manage to reach ashore. It is considered “the most venomous marine animal known to mankind” and is one of the rare types of jellyfish able to actually move, compared to other jellyfish that simply drift. Theorists have even discussed whether box jellyfish actually hunt down their prey, rather than simply wait for a prey to swim up to them. This is an interesting theory to explore as jellyfish don’t even have nervous systems…
8. Sharks (Bull, Tiger, White Pointer)
Classically depicted through Hollywood as a ferocious man-eater, sharks are among the most feared species in the entire world. Relentless attackers, film-makers have been using sharks to instill fear in the minds of viewers for the past 50 years (think Jaws). I have to agree that the first time I swam out into the ocean off the east coast of Australia, fear dominated my mind. In Oz, there are three types of sharks that are known to threaten the life of humans: bull sharks, tiger sharks and great white sharks. The Bull Shark differentiates from the rest based on its aggressive temperament and the fact that it can actually tolerate fresh water, encouraging it to swim up seas to river openings, where people usually think they can swim stress-free. Tiger Sharks are considered one of the largest to swim in Australian waters and are also very aggressive. They have no trouble coming close to the beach or in shallow waters. The White Pointer (called the Great White Shark in North America) is the biggest rapacious shark in the entire world and is found in colder waters near the Southern parts of Australia. Thanks to Spielberg’s masterpiece, Jaws, most people believe that they target humans as prey, which is untrue. Rather, they “test-bite” humans simply to see if they are a suitable meal for them (we often aren’t, due to our body composition which is difficult ti digest by this ferocious being).
7. Saltwater Crocodile
Saltwater crocodiles, or “salties” as Australians affectionately call them, invade the waters on the east coast of Oz (above the city of Mackay) and on the north coast of the country. Forget worrying about sharks in this part of the ocean… crocs are what you are most likely to worry about. It is actually more probable that these animals eat a human, compared to sharks whose attacks are usually accidents (in the case that they think humans are seals). These massive, prehistoric animals have an average size of five meters and weigh half a ton, but some have reported seeing crocodiles up to seven meters and weighing up to a full ton. Their preferred method of attack is calmly waiting right under the surface of the water, waiting for their desired dinner to take a sip of water. At that point, they will attack – whether it’s monkeys, water buffaloes or even sharks. They then drag their prey underwater thanks to their sharp jaws until they drown. Australian statistics report around two fatal saltwater crocodile attacks per year, but pets and livestock are also attacked regularly. The best advice that authorities can give to avoid these attacks is to stay away from the water’s edge, don’t clean freshly caught fish near the water, never leave leftover food at your campsite and finally, always observe the crocodile warning signs. Seems straightforward enough, right?
6. The Sun
Did you know that thanks to all of the aerosol and other products containing CFCs used in previous decades, there is a massive hole present in earth’s ozone layer? This layer has been expanding continuously for the past decades and poses a serious threat for us on earth. Coincidentally, this massive hole in the ozone layer is situated exactly above Australia, making life difficult for those trying to live burn-free. The hole permits UVA and UVB rays to enter the earth’s atmosphere and increase the damage caused to skin. Consequently, Australia has the highest amount of skin cancer diagnoses in the entire world. You have possibly seen images of sunbathers sporting horrible, painful looking sunburns, their red skin’s heat transcending through the photograph. Tourists beware – the sun is in fact one of the most inevitable risks when vacationing in Australia. Most of us enjoy a sun-kissed glow, but in Oz, the sun’s strength can burn you in a matter of minutes. Forget wearing SPF 15 – you need to lather up with SPF 30 or higher when basking in the Australian sun. The state of Victoria has recently banned commercial solariums, our equivalent of tanning beds, reiterating the importance of protecting your skin as much as possible.
When one thinks of Australia, one automatically thinks about two things: sharks and spiders. Sharks are easily avoidable if one doesn’t swim too far out into the ocean on a warm summer day. Spiders, on the other hand, are everywhere. They are in houses, apartments and in fields, whether you live in the city or the countryside. Some spiders are large and hairy, yet harmless, such as the Huntsman, and others produce such strong webs that they can catch small birds in them, such as the Golden Orb Weaver. The Australian spider that we hear the most about is the Red Back Spider. They are found throughout Australia and are very small – females’ bodies are around 1 cm. The female’s bite is toxic but its venom is slow acting, meaning that most people that are bitten don’t even know it. The symptoms that follow are severe pain, swelling, vomiting and nausea. These small spiders don’t usually kill. The Sydney Funnel-web spider is a rather dangerous one. Its body is around 4-5 cm and it has nasty looking fangs. Once bitten, one can experience mouth numbness, abdominal pain, sweating and salivation. Since the invention of anti-venom, few people have died from spider bites. Symptoms can be managed.
I haven’t personally met a Cassowary but believe me, if I did, I would quickly take off running and hopefully find refuge in a tree. The cassowary is a massive blue and green bird that could be physically compared to an ostrich or an emu. Growing over six and a half feet tall and weighing more than 100 pounds, they are also very quick runners, speeding over 50 kilometers per hour. This bird has been known to chase, kick, peck, charge at and push humans. Scientists say that this bird is extremely territorial and most attacks reported have been due to self-defense. Just like kangaroos, Cassowary’s are able to kick out both of their legs at the same time when having to defend themselves or their offspring. As if that wasn’t enough, their middle claw is a whopping 12 cm long, enough to severely injure or kill animals, as well as humans. Hikers wandering through the Australian forests have reported several attacks and many techniques have been used to escape these imposing birds. There haven’t been many actual deaths reported, but caution needs to be exercised when encountering them!
3. Blue-Ringed Octopus
Most people wouldn’t doubt for a second that an octopus could be one of the most deadly sea creatures. The blue-ringed octopus swims in Australia, as well as Indo-Pacific waters and several humans grieve with their painful bites every year. Some of these bites are sadly fatal. This type of octopus likes to swim in shallow waters along the coast, where several swimmers enjoy themselves. What usually happens is that humans are unaware that this type of octopus is venomous and inadvertently touches it or comes into close contact with it. A blue-ringed octopus bite is so miniature that usually only a tiny drop of blood appears. Cases have been reported where people didn’t even directly get bit but rather expose a body part to the water where this octopus has been swimming. In these cases, slight neurological symptoms have occurred, proving that it isn’t even necessary to touch the octopus to be affected by its tetrodotoxin. Symptoms vary depending on the level of venom absorbed but range from numbness and muscular feebleness, to difficulties related to breathing and swallowing. Some victims have become paralyzed by this octopus but explain their experience by saying that they were conscious but were unable to communicate or move.
2. Marble Cone Snail
Most of us wouldn’t doubt for a second that a snail bite could even possibly result in a slow, painful death. Think again. The Marble Cone snail, or conus murmurous, can be found in Australia, as well as in many countries in proximity, such as New Caledonia and Samoa. It lives in shallow water and prefers coral reed platforms, making them a risk to avid swimmers, snorkelers and surfers. This dangerous snail uses its long white tongue, which resembles a harpoon, to sting its prey repeatedly. Their venom is a mixture of hundreds of different toxins. When the cone snail’s victim is consequently paralyzed, its weak body moves outside of its shell, its muscles inevitably relaxed. It’s at this moment that the snail can enjoy its meal. The effects of the cone snail’s venom also weakens humans. Sadly, no antivenin exists for this type of sting. Hospitals use treatment simply to keep the victims alive until the poisonous effects wear off.
Probably one of the ugliest fish known to mankind, one wouldn’t naturally think of approaching this fish once in the ocean. Spiny and greenish brown in color, its back contains numerous venomous spines. In fact, it is said to be the most poisonous fish in the sea. The stonefish enjoys swimming around coral reefs and on rocks, and enjoys sleeping in the mud laying on the bottom of the ocean floor. Occasionally, it can even come up onto shore, surviving up to 24 hours. When we discuss the Stonefish, the first thing that comes to mind is its ability to perfectly camouflage itself. It has the appearance of a rock and is barely noticeable, unless you are looking for it. The pain exerted by this fish is said to be one of the most painful experiences one could ever live through. Swelling occurs almost immediately after a bite, causing death to the surrounding tissues. Blood rushes out of the area affected by the spine and if it isn’t treated rapidly, the victim will die. The anti-venom for this fish is said to be the second most administered one in Australia, demonstrating that numerous attacks occur.