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Road Sign, WA | Courtesy of Tourism Australia © Nick Rains
Road Sign, WA | Courtesy of Tourism Australia © Nick Rains
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Meet Australia's Deadliest Animals

Picture of Ellie Griffiths
Updated: 24 May 2018
To the outside world, the land of Down Under has been known to be home to some of the deadliest animals on Earth. Although this is somewhat true, it doesn’t deem the country to be the deadliest. With minimal killings throughout the last century and an increase in anti-venom available to those attacked, Australia is more safe than you think. To help you identify the deadliest animals in Australia to prevent attacks, we have found those you need to keep an eye out for.

Blue Ringed Octopus

The blue-ringed octopi are generally found living in coral reefs and tide pools in both the Pacific and Indian Oceans – reaching from Australia to Japan. Each year several humans are bitten, and although the bites are usually painless, within five to ten minutes the victim can start to experience paresthesias, numbness, muscular weakness and a difficulty breathing and swallowing. Currently there is no antidote, the victim simply has to wait it out. The blue ringed octopus is often missed due to their size – fully grown reaches the size of a golf ball – however, you should keep an eye out for their bright, glowing blue rings. Despite the lack of an antidote, there have only ever been three reported deaths from this octopus in recorded history: two in Australia and one in Singapore.

Blue-Ringed Octopus | © Angell Williams / Flickr
Blue-Ringed Octopus | © Angell Williams / Flickr

Box Jellyfish

Although Dory made bouncing on jellyfish – in Finding Nemo – look like a lot of fun, jellyfish can be rather powerful killers, and the Australian Box Jellyfish is no exception. Their powerful venom lies in their 15 tentacles, that can reach the length of three metres, holding around 5,000 stinging cells each. The venom isn’t triggered by touch, rather it is triggered by the chemical on the outer-layer of their prey. Although there are around 50 different species of box jellyfish found in warm coastal waters, very few hold venom that are lethal to humans. Over the last 100 years, the box jellyfish has been responsible for over 60 deaths, where the victim has been known to go into shock resulting in drowning, or they have died from heart failure. However, the severity of the sting depends on many factors such as the size of the jellyfish and victim, and how many tentacles are involved.

Box Jellyfish | © Will Fisher / Flickr
Box Jellyfish | © Will Fisher / Flickr

Cassowary

The heaviest bird in Australia, standing between 1.5 and two metres in height is the cassowary. Although they are frugivores (fruit eaters) and will not attack for any reason, they are very territorial birds. Most attacks on humans – resulting in people being kicked, pushed, pecked, charged at, jumped on and head butted – are due to the human wanting to feed the bird. If you need more of a reason to not feed them, their middle claw is 12cm in length and acts as a dagger that could result in serious damage. Descended from dinosaurs, this bird has been classified as the ‘most dangerous bird on Earth’, however, the last recorded death was in 1926. Just remember they are shy, flightless birds who would much rather avoid confrontation.

Cassowary | © Tchami / Flickr
Cassowary | © Tchami / Flickr

Funnel Web Spider

Australia: home to many deadly looking spiders, and plenty of them. Although spiders can be found anywhere in the world, the funnel-webs have grown a (mostly exaggerated) fearsome reputation. There are at least 40 species of funnel-webs identified, varying from one to 5cm in length; however not all of these species are known to be dangerous. An icon of fear and fascination, is the Sydney Funnel-web; holding venom that is one of the most toxic to humans. A bite from this venomous mygalomorph spider should be treated similarly to a snake bite. Although this spider is responsible for 13 reported deaths in New South Wales, since the introduction of anti-venom in 1981 there have been no fatalities.

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Funnel web spider | © Paul Looyen/Shutterstock

Saltwater Crocodile

Said to be one of the most dangerous animals in Australia, the Saltwater Crocodile is an aggressive and territorial animal, and is the largest reptile in the world in terms of their mass – known to reach over 1000kg! Although males can reach up to 7 metres in length, in reality any length over 5m is rather rare. This protected species is known to mainly eat small reptiles, turtles, fish and wading birds, but have also been seen taking wild pigs and livestock (including cattle and horses). As seen by the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, you must be aware of their movements if you come in contact with them, however, they wouldn’t attack out of nowhere. Unlike other creatures found in this country, this croc is known to result in an average of less than one human killing per year.

Saltwater Crocodile | © Bernard DUPONT / Flickr
Saltwater Crocodile | © Bernard DUPONT / Flickr

Sharks

Australia is commonly thought of as having shark infested waters, resulting in many people avoiding the water. Whilst the three shark species most likely to attack humans are the Great White, Tiger Sharks and Bull Sharks; there is no certainty behind their attacks as they are random events. Throughout the last 100 years (reported in 2014) there were a total of 298 provoked shark attacks – 204 were injured, 56 left uninjured, and only 38 of these attacks were fatal. Often, those that are attacked are surfers, followed by people who are swimming and scuba diving, generally, in unallocated areas. When you are at the beach, remember to swim between the flags, they aren’t just there as decoration – they are there to help save your life.

Snakes

Now, we could list each snake that is classified as one of Australia’s deadliest but there are just too many. In Australia, there have been around 140 species of land snakes and about 32 species of sea snakes identified, of which about 100 are venomous; although only 12 of these species could result in a wound that would actually kill you. The Eastern and Western Brown Snakes have been responsible for the most reported deaths where their venom is known to cause paralysis and blood clotting disorders, however, there is an anti-venom available in medical centres that can reverse this. Whilst prior to the introduction of specialised anti-venom in 1956, the coastal taipan was one of the most feared causing death in as little as 30 minutes. However, on average there are only two deaths per year by snakes, and most are due to an attempt to kill the snake or showing off to mates.

Stingray

Since 2006, stingrays have gained a bad reputation due to the death of Steve Irwin, however, what many people fail to realise is that although they are cousins of sharks, they are very rarely a threat to humans. Irwin was not killed by the sting, rather he was pierced in the heart, as a result bleeding to death. Although this isn’t a lovely image to have, the stingray’s sting – located in the spear of their tale and their only form of defense – is very rarely life-threatening to humans. Throughout both freshwaters and oceans, there are around 200 species of stingrays ranging from the Smooth Stingray (known to reach over 4m in length) to the Blue Spotted Ray (as small as 70cm in length). This deadly perspective of stingrays is seen as bit of a myth, as they are not naturally aggressive, rather they are curious and playful creatures. On the entire record of stingray killings, other than Steve Irwin, there is only one other reported fatality from a stingray.

Stonefish

Although there have been no deaths recorded in Australia since the arrival of Europeans, the Stonefish is the most venomous fish in the world that lies hidden in Aussie waters. With their excellent camouflage capabilities, they are rather difficult to notice until they are stepped on. Their venom is released by their 13 spines when pressure is applied to their spine, and can cause severe pain, heart failure and, if untreated, death. Known to be naturally slow swimmers, their attacks can be as quick as 0.015 seconds. Although many people suffer their sting – due to unintentionally stepping on them – an anti-venom was invented in the late 1950s to prevent the dire from occurring.

Textile Cone Snail

Everyone loves collecting shells, but this is one shell you may want to skip. Featuring a highly glossy shell with a desirable pattern of light to dark brown or yellowish markings, the Textile Cone Snail is, however, one of the most venomous species of cone snails living in Australia but can be found in the Indian Ocean from Hawaii to Africa. This snail, also known as the ‘cloth of gold’ uses conotoxin to kill their prey, where their harpoon-like tooth injects the venom into its prey through its microscopic needles that are powerful enough to not only penetrate human skin, but further, gloves and wetsuits. Although, there have only been a handful of reported deaths worldwide from the Textile Cone, they contain enough venom to kill 60 adults.

Textile Cone | © Harry Rose / Flickr
Textile Cone | © Harry Rose/Flickr