Wildlife of Australia
Cute koalas and bouncing kangaroos. These are powerful images of Australia. However, there is also a ‘not so cute’ side to our wildlife!
Dangerous wildlife in Australia
Emotion-charged reports in the media have given Australia a reputation as a place where wild animals are lying in wait to bite or sting the unwary at every opportunity. As home to the 10 deadliest snakes in the world and some of the most dangerous spiders, it is perhaps not surprising that this image exists. But the truth is, for the large amount of time that Australians spend outdoors, serious injuries from wildlife are actually quite uncommon. The number of people killed by native animals each year averages less than five.
Although similar to the jellyfish, the Bluebottle (known in other countries as the Portuguese Man o War) is a different animal. The sting of the Bluebottle is extremely painful but is rarely lethal, unless the victim has an allergic reaction to the venom. Normally the pain lasts for an hour or two and red welts remain on the skin for two to three days.
Consult a life saver for treatment if you are at a patrolled beach. If you are not at a flagged beach, and the sting is not serious, an over-the-counter treatment from a pharmacist will help relieve the pain.
This small octopus lives in coastal rock pools in every state and territory of Australia. Despite its small size, it is highly venomous. The bite of the octopus is not painful and no symptoms may be noticeable for up to 10 minutes, when numbness and paralysis can set in. However, only two fatalities have ever been recorded in Australia.
Two species of crocodile are found in Australia: the Saltwater Crocodile and the Freshwater Crocodile. The saltwater species is larger and more aggressive than the freshwater variety.
Saltwater Crocodiles occur all across northern Australia, from Western Australia to the Northern Territory, and Queensland. They are responsible for one to two human deaths per year in Australia.
Freshwater Crocodiles live in rivers and creeks across the north of Australia. Unlike the Saltwater Crocodile, they are not known to attack humans. Nor do they share habitat with the Saltwater Crocodile.
Always ask if the area is free of crocodiles before swimming in northern Australia. Also take note of all warning signs.
Common biting or stinging insects in Australia include the Honey Bee, the European Wasp, ants, and mosquitoes. The bee and the wasp will generally not attack unless they are disturbed.
Australia is home to a number of species of stinging jellyfish, including lethal varieties such as the Irukandji and the Box Jellyfish – the country’s deadliest animal.
Stinging jellyfish, or ‘stingers,’ are found in tropical Australia, along the northern coasts of Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and Queensland. They occur more frequently during ‘stinger season,’ which runs from November to June. Nets are placed across popular beaches during this time but it is still a good idea to wear a ‘stinger suit’ while swimming as loose tentacles can penetrate the barriers.
Stings from Box Jellyfish, in particular are extremely painful, and can be lethal if enough venomous barbs penetrate the skin. It is responsible for more than 60 human fatalities in Australia in the past 100 years. The venom is a cardiotoxin, meaning that it can cause heart attack or arrythmia.
If you are stung by a jellyfish at a patrolled beach, inform the nearest life saver immediately. They will call an ambulance, if required.
Of more than 800 species of lizard in Australia, thankfully none are deadly to humans. However many will become aggressive if cornered, and larger species can deliver a nasty bite. Lizard bites should be immediately cleaned with an antiseptic to avoid infection.
Australia has around 80 species of scorpion that are found throughout the country. Although all scorpions are able to deliver a painful sting, no species in Australia are deadly. Being nocturnal animals that prefer to live in bushland, they are rarely seen.
Swimming at the beach in the oceans surrounding Australia, the chances of seeing a shark are extremely small. They feed from dusk til dawn, when very few people are in the water. Sharks are also more likely to be found in dirty or murky water and around river mouths. You actually have a greater chance of drowning in Australia than being attacked by a shark.
Beaches in large Australian cities, such as Bondi Beach in Sydney, often have nets across them to minimise shark and swimmer contact. Although the nets reduce the numbers of sharks near the beaches, they do not prevent 100 per cent of them getting through.
Around 180 shark species are found in Australian waters including the Great White, the Tiger Shark, the Bull Shark, the Bronze Whaler, and the Grey Nurse. Most species do not attack humans.
Even walking in the Australian bush, it is not common to see a snake. They are very sensitive to vibrations so will usually scurry away before you see them. In the southern parts of Australia, most snakes hibernate in winter so they are only active in the warmest months of the year. Snakes are at their most aggressive during the breeding season in January and February.
It is very difficult to tell the difference between a venomous and non-venomous snake, so the safest option is treat any snake you see as venomous.
Between 500 and 600 people are treated for snakebites in Australian hospitals every year. Of these, an average of three are fatal.
If you see a snake inside your house or in the garden, do not attempt to catch or kill it. As well as the risk of being bitten, many snakes are protected species so it is actually illegal to kill them. Call the wildlife rescue service in your area for free removal of the snake.
Australia has over 2,000 types of spider with more venomous species than any other country in the world.
However, deaths from spider bites are extremely rare. The last fatality from a spider bite was in 1981. The most dangerous spiders in Australia are the Sydney Funnel Web and the Redback, a relative of the North American Black Widow.
Most spiders will become aggressive when cornered. Be careful when handling spiders as even non-lethal species can give a painful bite.
When camping or in a bushland area, it is a good idea to check inside your shoes for spiders before putting them on.
Not SO dangerous…but watch for them! The Ringtail Possum is found along the east coast of Australia, Tasmania, and some parts of Western Australia. It is greyish in colour and about the size of a cat. It is called the Ringtail Possum as it has a ring-shaped tail, which it uses like an extra limb to grip tree branches.
Possums are quite harmless, unless they are cornered. They have extremely sharp teeth and their bite is very painful. They sometimes find their way into the rooves of houses. You will certainly know if you have a possum in your roof as they tend to make a lot of noise. If this happens, call your local wildlife rescue service. They will remove the animal and re-locate it free of charge. Numbers for these services are listed at the bottom of the page.Wildlife rescue services in Australia
These services are for the removal of any native animals you find in your house, such as snakes or possums, or injured animals. They cannot help with any injuries to humans from animal bites or stings.
Finally….be prepared for very BIG cockroaches!
Removing wildife from your home
Do try to remove any small animals such as spiders or insects on your own. However, if you cannot, or they are too dangerous, please call:
- NSW – NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue & Education Service (WIRES) 1300 094 737
- Victoria – Wildlife Victoria 1300 094 535
- Queensland – Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service 1300 130 372
- South Australia – Fauna Rescue of South Australia (08) 8289 0896
- Western Australia – Wildcare Helpline (08) 9474 9055
- Tasmania – Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary (03) 6268 1184
- Northern Territory – Wildcare NT (08) 8988 6121
- ACT – RSPCA ACT (02) 6287 8113 (business hours), 0413 495 031 (after hours)