Yeah…I’m not coming back alive.
Australia is home to many of the deadliest species of insects, reptiles and marine life on the planet. However, with very few exceptions, the average tourist is unlikely to encounter any of these in an urban environment. Simply be aware that they exist and you’ll be okay. The primary rule is “If you don’t recognise it, don’t touch it”. The vast majority of deaths from bites and stings in Australia are due to allergic reactions to bees and wasps: there have been no fatal spider bites since 1979, and fatal snake bites occur only a couple of times a year.
Anti-venom is available for most spider and snake bites. If bitten you should immobilise the wound (by wrapping the affected area tightly with strips of clothing or bandages) and seek immediate medical help. If you are in an isolated area send someone else for help. The venom of some snakes (the taipan in particular) can take effect within fifteen minutes, but if the wound is immediately immobilised and you rest it is possible to delay the onset of poisoning by one to a few hours, depending on the creature. If possible, you should attempt to identify the creature that bit you (in the case of spiders it might be possible to trap it in a jar and take it to the hospital) so that the appropriate anti-venom can be administered swiftly.
If travelling in rural Australia it would be a good idea to carry basic first aid equipment including compression bandages and to learn what to do after a snake or spider bite.
Australia is home to six of the top ten deadliest snakes in the world. Never try to pick up any snake, even if you believe it to be a non-poisonous species, while travelling down under. Most people bitten by snakes were trying to pick up the snake, kill the creature, or inadvertently step on one whilst out walking. Snakes will generally try to put as much distance between themselves and you as possible, so if you see a snake while out walking, simply go around it or walk the other way. Walking blindly into dense bush and grassy areas is not advisable, as they are places where snakes may hide.
The world’s deadliest spider is the Sydney Funnel Web spider, found in and around Sydney and eastern New South Wales. Until the late 1970s a bite from this spider could result in death, but anti-venom is now available. Their webs are easily identifiable by their funnel-like shape, hence the name, and are a good indication that funnel web spiders are present in the vicinity.
The Red Back spider (easily identified by a red mark on its abdomen), is more common but not life threatening. Both are likely to be found under rocks or leaf litter, although Funnel Webs have the unfortunate tendency to seek shelter indoors when there is a lot of rain.
Travellers in northern Queensland, Northern Territory, or northern Western Australia should be aware of the risk of fatal stings from the Box Jellyfish if swimming in the ocean between October and May. Box Jellyfish are very hard to detect and can be found in very shallow water. Rather than being ‘painful’, stings from these jellyfish are ‘excruciating’ and often fatal. Vinegar applied immediately to adhering tentacles will lessen the amount of venom injected, but immediate medical assistance will be required. The danger season varies by location, the best rule is to follow the advice of locals. Irukandji are another species of jellyfish that inhabit the waters off of Australia and the surrounding Indo-Pacific islands. They are also very hard to see and are quite dangerous. They can be fatal if not treated immediately, but generally leave the victim in agony for a couple of days. Vinegar is also recommended for their treatment, however, to avoid stings altogether it is best to use a wetsuit that is resistant to jellyfish stings.
Blue Ring Octopus
Common in rock pools around the coasts of Australia is the tiny, but still deadly poisonous, Blue Ring Octopus. Usually a dull sandy-beige colour, the creature will show bright blue rings in its skin if threatened. Most often Blue Rings are found in rock pools, and commonly bites occur when children (or tourists) pick them up.
Travellers in northern Queensland, the Northern Territory or north Western Australia should be aware of the risk of fatal attacks by crocodiles in and adjacent to northern waters (ocean, estuarine and fresh water locations). Crocodiles in these areas can reach 30 feet in length and can attack in water without warning. On land, crocodiles usually lie motionless, but they have the ability to move with extraordinary speed in short bursts. There are relatively few attacks resulting in injury — most attacks are fatal. Take advice from locals and only swim in inland waters if you are specifically advised that they are safe.
The Gympie bush (Dendrocnide moroides), also known as the stinging tree, is a stinging plant, whose microscopic stinging hairs on leaves and branches can cause severe pain for up to several weeks. They are mostly found in North-east Queensland, especially in rainforest clearings. However, the Gympie bush and other closely related species (there are about five) of stinging tree can be found in south-east Queensland, and further south in eastern Australia. People bushwalking in such areas are advised not to touch the plant for any reason.
Generally however, so long as you employee common sense and follow local instructions, you are likely to be safe. A lot of the rumors about Australia’s wild life are larger then then life and blown out of proportion.