Visit Australia? Whatever were you thinking! Don’t you know what a shark is!? Didn’t you know Australia has all 10 of the world’s deadliest snakes! Are you the world’s biggest idiot, with front seats on the juggernaut named Death Wish?! The answer is, yes… yes you are. But so are we. And we’re happy to hold your sweaty little hand as we give you the vital but fearsome fauna facts. Arguably only Africa compares to Australia in terms of the wondrous array of freaky and unique animals. It’s the ones with all the teeth and the tentacles that are worth finding out about first – not least because if you know nowt about them, you just might be their next meal.
What:Dingoes came to worldwide attention when a baby girl disappeared from an Uluru campsite in 1980. Her mother, Lindy Chamberlain, was imprisoned for her murder, but claimed all along that “a dingo stole my baby” and was released five years later. The story inspired the film A Cry In The Dark in which Chamberlain was played by Meryl Streep. The dingo was played by a dingo.
Where: Zoos. Plus, they’re wild dogs, so logically they roam the wilds. You’ll certainly see them on Fraser Island and in various outback settings (though not Tassie).
Will it eat me? They pose little threat to fully-grown humans, however a child was attacked and killed on Fraser Island in 2001. The popular Queensland island is believed to have the purest strain and you are strongly advised not to feed them, there or anywhere. If you feel threatened stand up tall, look it in the eye and calmly back away.
What: Contrary to northern hemisphere myth, you will not find crocs (as they’re playfully nicknamed) waddling down city streets and lazily snoozing in municipal fountains. Except maybe, very occasionally, in Darwin. Saltwater crocs (“salties”) like it hot and wet (just like the editor’s missus), so they stick to northern coastal areas and wetlands – mostly NT and Queensland. Salties are the world’s largest reptiles and can grow up to 7m, though they’re actually more likely to be found in freshwater. Freshwater crocs on the other hand are not considered dangerous to humans. But do you want to test that out?
Where: Daintree, in northern Queensland, is a good place to go on a croc-spotting cruise (though you’re less likely to see them in summer). Take a jumping croc cruise (yes, really) on the Adelaide River, near Darwin. Broome, amongst other places, has an excellent crocodile farm. And if you want a bit of a show, you could always try the Crocodile Hunter’s home, the Brisbane Zoo.
Will it eat me? Hell yeah. They’ll eat pretty much anything that moves. Seriously kids, if you’re warned not to swim somewhere – don’t. There’s one croc death a year, on average.
What: There are 166 species of shark in Australian waters,
BUT only three species pose a significant threat to us: bull sharks, tiger sharks and great whites.
Where: Sharks inhabit all of Australia’s coastal waters and estuarine habitats, while South Australia, a favourite with great whites, has the reputation as the deadliest state (there have been 20 fatalities recorded). If you want to make finned friends with one of the 163 species of nice shark, Oceanworld Manly (Sydney) has excellent shark dive experiences (with critically endangered grey nurse sharks), and the Gold Coast’s Sea World and Maloolooba on the Sunshine Coast offer similar experiences. For a really wild show, you can dive with the same sharks from Sydney and whale sharks on the incredible Ningaloo Reef (April-June). Head to South Australia for the ultimate thrill – cage diving with great whites.
Will it eat me? Though experts claim sharks don’t actively hunt humans, Australia averages one or two shark deaths per year (in comparison, hundreds die from drowning). Certain times of the day are more dangerous than others (late afternoon and early morning) and you should avoid areas inhabited by seals or where dolphins are pupping. Several popular beaches in Queensland and NSW are protected by shark netting, though it isn’t entirely fail-safe. If you have any doubts, speak to locals: do what they do. The only way to be completely sure is to stay out of the water.
What: Australia is the only continent where venomous snakes outnumber their non-venomous cousins. In other words, there are lots and lots of slithery things happy to sink their lethal teeth into your ankle. But snakes are actually rather shy and are only likely to trouble you if you go after them Steve Irwin-style, or tread on them by accident. Ones to watch out for are tiger snakes, king browns, black snakes, taipans, death adders (I said death adders, not deaf adders), etc, etc….
Where: Different species prefer different climates, but essentially our legless colleagues are all over the continent. You might not want to think too long about the fact that 33 extremely venomous sea snakes inhabit Australia’s northern waters. Zoos and reptile houses (don’t miss the one in Alice Springs) often put on shows, as do various snake handlers (at La Perouse, Sydney, for example).
Will it eat me? No, but many snakes can still send you to a sleep you won’t wake up from. That said, with sophisticated anti-venoms and effective first aid measures, death is uncommon these days. If bitten, try very hard not to panic: increased blood-flow speeds the poisoning process up, and do not wash the area. You need to try and immobilise the affected area (with a splint if possible), add pressure to it and get to a hospital. It is helpful to have identified the snake – at least remember its markings. Better still, don’t walk through long grass wearing just thongs in the first place… you idot.
What: Australia has lots of spiders, but only two can kill you. Though species like the big ugly (hope they can’t read) and hairy huntsmen spider look badass, their bites may hurt – but you’ll live. The two to fear are the tiny redback (back has a red stripe) and the Sydney funnel-web (pictured), which grows up to 6-7cm, and is a black, aggressive, ugly spider with massive eff-off fangs.
Where: The funnel-web can be found from Nowra all the way to Brisbane and as far west as Lithgow. The male funnel-webs tend to roam about, particularly after heavy rain in summer, and often end up indoors. You can also see them in zoos.
Will it eat me? Well, no, but the funnel-web is powerful enough to easily penetrate a fingernail. During a bite, the spider firmly grips its victim and bites repeatedly; in most cases the experience is unforgettably horrific and the venom is highly toxic, giving immediate pain. The venom of the slightly smaller male spider is five times as toxic as the female, but oddly, toads, cats and rabbits are almost unaffected by the bites of either. For first aid, see snake section. The redback is more passive, their venom takes much longer to work its black magic and fatalities are rare.
What: Just a floating lump of jelly, innit? Um, no. The box jellyfish (or chironex fleckeri) is responsible for more deaths in Australia than snakes, sharks and salties. They’re very fast swimmers with sophisticated eyes and four clusters of 15 tentacles each – though, thankfully they are thought to avoid humans. The box jellyfish is related to the irukandji, another deadly bugger, which is only 2.5cm in diameter and very hard to spot.
Where: They like it hot (remember, like the girlfriend), so they generally inhabit northern coastal waters, especially during “stinger season” (north of Rockhampton, roughly Oct-April). Can be seen in some aquariums (try not to shudder).
Will it eat me? Though you can eat jelly, a jellyfish cannot eat you back. However, a sting from its tentacles is incredibly powerful and can be fatal – the toxins are capable of stopping cardio-respiratory functions in three minutes. That’s notably quicker than any snake or spider. Although anti-venom exists, treating a patient in time is another matter. Dousing a sting with vinegar helps, while rubbing a sting or adding alcohol exacerbates the problem. Call us wussbags, but we’ll be adamantly avoiding north Queensland waters during stinger season.