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April 22, 2016
Posted at 8:50 pm

Dangerous Wildlife

THe other weekend, I received this feedback from one of the long-term readers of the "Three Signs" series.

Hi, The other day I read an article about
dangerous animals indigenous to Australia.
Spiders, snakes, box jellyfish, etc. You never
mention any.

That's a good question. While it's true that there's a lot of publicity about how Australia has so many dangerous animals; venomous snakes, and spiders, sea creatures... I really shouldn't say this, but the country isn't anywhere near as dangerous as the media makes out. I think some Australian's like it that way - it makes them appear macho and tough, as if they defied the odds and actually survived to adulthood. That's not to say there aren't dangerous animals, but most people who get killed by them are killed more out of stupidity than anything else.

I guess in summary, there are three main category of dangerous creatures in Australia; spiders, snakes and sea life. There aren't any large predators, not like lions, tigers, bears, that other countries have - with the exception of the Salt Water Crocodiles; and they are restricted to the far north of the country.

1) Spiders. There are only a few venomous spiders in the Sydney area; the Sydney Funnel Web and the Redback. The Funnel Web is very deadly, and is found in gardens under rocks or piles of leaves, where it hides and has a funnel-shaped hole, lined with a web. It's a medium sized spider, and if it bites you, you have maybe 30 minutes to get to a hospital and get the antivenin injection, or you're dead. That's why, when I was working in the yard, weeding, planting, all that stuff, I would always wear thick leather gloves. The redback likes to hide in dark places - sheds, outhouses, and so on - and while venomous, probably won't kill you. There are other spiders, most are good to have around the garden, since they catch flies, mosquitoes and other insect pests in their webs.

2) Snakes. Around the Sydney area, there are two venomous snakes, the brown and the red-bellied black snake. The brown is far deadlier - but like most snakes, they will hear you coming long before you see them; and unless you are silly enough to corner them, and try to agitate them, you might never see one.

3) Marine Life. Around the Sydney area, there are sharks and the blue-ringed octopus. Most of the swimming beaches have shark nets that (allegedly) keep the sharks from getting close into shore, but at the time of writing the story, it was over ten years since a fatal shark attack in the Sydney area. There were aerial shark patrols - small planes flying maybe 200 feet above the water, with spotters looking for sharks. If they saw any, they would fly low over the swimming area, rev their engines, and the lifesavers would get everyone out of the water. The blur-ringed octopus is a tiny octopus that lives in the rock pools around the tidal areas. They are normally shy, and you really have to go looking for them to find them. If you are silly enough to put them on your bare skin, and have them bite you, you die a quick and painful death. As a kid, we were taught about them, and told not to go looking for them or play with them. There were also "bluebottle" - a small floating jellyfish / portuguese man-of-war critter; these would often come into the beaches, brought in by the prevailing winds. While their stings were painful, unless you were allergic to them, they weren't fatal. Other parts of the country - mainly in the North-east, around the Barrier Reef - have box jellyfish (rather fatal) and stonefish - a fish that looks like a rock with a nasty spike on its back. Step on it, and you get venom injected... and die. Other nasties are the toadfish - a puffer fish, that is poisonous (so if you eat it, you die), the platypus - the male has a poisonous barb on their back feet, stingrays (ask Steve Irwin).

But unless someone specifically goes out of their way to look for any of these animals, you normally wouldn't encounter one - certainly not in the city. Maybe living in rural areas, snakes would be more common, but even there most snakes will keep clear of humans. Back then, in the localities the books deal with, kids were more likely to get killed by drowning in the ocean or a backyard swimming pool, killed in a car accident, fall off a cliff, or killed in a house fire. Probably not much different to most other countries. The thing in Australia that kills the most people is their inexperience / inability to deal with the conditions. They go swimming in the ocean, and misjudge the strength of the waves, and drown. Or try driving through the outback, without adequate water and food... car breaks down, and they try to "walk to safety". And they die.

But don't tell the Australian tourism people I said that....