As you read this, my husband and I are on our way to the land of wallabies (right), waratahs, and wattles. Yup, we’re going to Australia! This amazing country has been on my “bucket list” since I was thirteen, and we’ve been saving for it forever. I might be just a teeny bit excited.
While my husband wants nothing more complicated than a well-deserved hammock on the beach, I want to see the continent’s unique birds and plants. That means spending a lot of time outdoors, and that means that, besides the kookaburras (left) and kangaroos, there are a number of less-than-friendly creatures I might encounter.
What kind of creatures? Common Death Adders. Tiger Snakes. Eastern Brown Snakes. Taipan and Belcher’s Sea Snake. Out of the ten most venomous snakes in the world, half are found in Australia. And how about the dangerous Australian snakes that didn’t make it into the top ten list, like the Spotted Brown Snake, Mulga Snake (aka King Brown Snake or Pilbara Cobra), Red-bellied Black Snake, Collett’s Snake, or Highland Copperhead? It seems that Australia has far more than its fair share of dangerous snakes.
If we decide to take a refreshing dip in the ocean, sea snakes aren’t the only lethal creatures we might encounter. The Blue-ringed Octopus, stonefish, lionfish (left), various cone snails, and box jellyfish are all potentially deadly. That’s if the sharks don’t get us—Bull Sharks, Tiger Sharks, or the infamous Great White.
Man- (and woman-) eating saltwater crocodiles may be found in freshwater streams and ponds, as well as in brackish estuaries or the ocean. There’s even Crocwatch, a website listing recent crocodile sightings. I think the idea is to avoid the animals, but I want photos… .
We’re not even safe in the cities. The above-mentioned Eastern Brown Snakes hang out in urban areas, and at least a couple of spiders, most notably the Sydney funnel-web spider and Redback spider, are also deadly (although antivenin saves lives).
The duck-billed platypus may look like a fascinating aggregation of animal parts, but it also has a venomous spur on each hind leg. The venom may not be deadly, but it will hurt—a lot. Note to self: do not hug.
Even Australia’s plants are out to get us, and we don’t have to eat them to get in trouble. I was shocked to learn about the Gympie-Gympie, an innocuous-looking stinging tree found in Queensland’s Atherton Tableland. A brush with the poisonous hairs on its leaves and stems can leave us hospitalized for months of excruciating pain—and it’s only one of six species of stinging tree found in Australia, all members of the nettle family.
The sap of the milky mangrove can not only cause severe skin irritation, it can also (temporarily) blind us. So can the sap of various spurges (Euphorbia sp.).
Surprisingly, however, the most dangerous creature in Australia isn’t any of these—or the paralysis tick, Jack jumper ant, bull ant, or several other ant species. It’s the familiar honey bee. That’s because so many people are allergic to its sting.
Thankfully, most of these creatures are not very common, and injuries are relatively rare. That’s a very good thing. We also plan to come back in one piece. I’ll tell you all about it when we get home.