Creepy Crawlies - Dangerous Australian Animals

16 December 2017

If it creeps or it crawls, then it’s officially termed a ‘creepy-crawlie’, for obvious reasons! What’s less obvious is if these critters are dangerous or not. Just because something might look ugly (which is a matter of opinion), doesn’t mean it’s deadly, and just because something appears to be harmless, doesn’t mean it is. So how do you really know what’s dangerous and what’s not?

Australia is famous for its ‘dangerous animals’. People think kangaroos are cute and cuddly but they can actually kill a grown man. The best advice is to never touch any animal, insect, bug, spider, bird, fish or other creature if you’re not absolutely sure.

If possible, find out what it is and look it up on the internet. But if there’s no reason for you to touch it – and there’s not usually any good reason to touch unidentifiable wildlife – then don’t touch it.

1. Snakes that can kill you

Some say snakes deserve pride of place at the top of the creepy-crawlies list. Did you know that the world’s most venomous snake – the inland taipan – is found in south-western Queensland? No human deaths have been recorded because it lives in such a remote area.

On the other hand, the eastern brown snake, which is found all over the eastern states and even in South Australia, is responsible for the most snake-related deaths in the country.

The fact is, Australia has approximately 140 snake species, out of which only twelve can kill, and even those don’t always inject venom into their victims when biting defensively.

Australian snakes are actually quite shy creatures and even though some are dangerous animals, almost all would rather hurry away from a human than stick around and fight.

What to do if you’re bitten by a snake: It’s very unlikely that you will be bitten by a snake as they’re more afraid of you than you are of them. However, if you’re extremely unlucky to step on one by accident and be bitten, treat all snakes as poisonous and go to the nearest hospital emergency department immediately or call triple zero (000) for an ambulance. In the meantime, apply a pressure immobilisation bandage around the bite which involves firmly bandaging the bite area which helps reduce blood flow, and further spread of the poison. Keep as still as possible. Symptoms of a venomous bite include severe pain around the bite, nausea, dizziness, breathing difficulties and headaches.

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2. Spiders: Eight legs of terror

Allianz Global Assistance Overseas Health - Spiders in Australia
Spiders: Australian Tarantula

Most people are not fans of spiders. They’re not the prettiest creepy-crawlies in the world and they seem to have that element of surprise. You move a rock and there’s a spider there. You put your foot in a shoe and find a spider.

Well the good news is that spiders are not as dangerous as bees. The bad news is, there are ten Australian spiders that are notorious for being highly toxic to humans:

  1. Sydney funnel web
  2. Other species of funnel web spiders
  3. Redback spider
  4. Mouse spider
  5. Trap door spider
  6. White-tailed spider
  7. Australian tarantula
  8. Recluse spider
  9. Huntsman spider*
  10. Common garden orb weaver spider

*The huntsman is famous more for causing accidents when they appear out of surprise. Their venom is not considered dangerous to humans.

What to do if you’re bitten by a spider: As with snakes, treat all spider bites as venomous and seek medical attention from a doctor. If you’re bitten by a big black spider, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance, especially in the case of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). For other spider bites, apply an ice pack to relieve the pain and seek medical assistance if necessary.

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3. Bugs that do more than just bug people

Do you shudder when you think of creepy-crawlie bugs? You’re not alone. Some are completely harmless like the little ladybird while others can be troublesome but not deadly, like the paralysis tick. Usually it will only cause mild discomfort in adults but symptoms of paralysis are more likely to be experienced by children and medical attention must be sought.

Honeybees are such useful creatures and without them, the world’s plant life would be decimated. But for those who suffer an anaphylactic reaction to a bee sting, they can be deadly. In general, bee stings, although painful, are harmless to most people but sadly, the honeybee dies after stinging. European wasps are found in Australia and can become very aggressive if their nest is disturbed. They can be a frightening prospect when encountered as their stings can result in extreme reactions in those who are sensitive to the venom.

What to do if you’re bitten by a bug: It really depends on what bug you’re bitten by, but if you have an allergic reaction, call the ambulance immediately. If pain persists, see your doctor for medication. If you’re bitten by a paralysis tick, see your doctor if you’re feeling unwell.

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4. Bull Ants

Large Australian bull ants have a painful sting that is full of venom and is hazardous to those who suffer allergic reactions. Since 2001, incursions of fire ants have been discovered in Queensland.

Allianz Global Assistance Overseas Health - Bull Ants In Australia
Bull Ant

Previously unknown in Australia, they are thought to have been unknowingly imported into Brisbane as long as twenty years ago. In rare circumstances, their terribly painful sting can be lethal to those who suffer allergic reactions.

What to do if you’re bitten by an ant: Apply a cold pack and a sting soothing cream to relieve the pain and take oral antihistamines to treat the itch.

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5. Cold, slimy creepy-crawlies

Leeches, little blood sucking animals that attach themselves to the bodies of warm-blooded creatures (like humans!) are not only harmless, but can also be considered beneficial.

They have actually been used therapeutically in Chinese medicine, 19th century Europe and as far back as 400BC, in the time of Hippocrates. They help to treat conditions such as varicose veins, abscesses, circulation disorders and insufficient wound healing.

What to do if you’re bitten by a leech: apply salt, salt water or vinegar on the leech and it will eventually fall off. Don’t pull it off your skin as this may cause skin tears or ulceration. Once the leech has been removed, treat with soap and water. Seek further medical attention if a wound develops. If you develop an allergic reaction, call 000 for an ambulance.

Allianz Global Assistance Overseas Health - Cane Toads In Australia
Cane Toad

It’d be very difficult to find anyone who likes cane toads which are mostly found in Queensland. Not a native Australian animal, they were brought from Hawaii to eradicate the grey-backed cane beetle that is harmful to sugar cane crops.

Now an invasive pest, the cane toad is as ugly as ever and is toxic to domestic pets such as cats and dogs. The pets try to lick or grab the toad with their mouths and the toxin is absorbed into the bloodstream, often resulting in death.

What to do if you come into contact with cane toad poison: It’s unlikely that you will come into contact with cane toad poison unless you accidentally or deliberately step on one. If it comes into contact with your skin, wash it off immediately with water. If poison makes contact with your eyes, irrigate them with water and seek medical treatment immediately.

6. Marine creepy-crawlies

There’s one way to ensure you never come up against a marine creepy-crawlie in Australia. That is, to never venture into the ocean. The box jellyfish has killed 79 people since 1883, and the Irukandji jellyfish, 2 people. The box jellyfish – different from the true jellyfish which also stings – is the most venomous marine animal known to mankind and is found in Australia’s northern oceans throughout the year, but mainly during the warmer months from November to April (otherwise known as ‘stinger season’).

If a person is stung by a box jellyfish while swimming alone, they literally may not make it back to shore alive. In mild cases, if emergency first aid is applied, survival is possible. Plain white vinegar has saved countless lives by neutralising the stinging cells, but the best course of treatment is antivenin. Sadly, there is no antivenin for an Irukandji sting.

Ten to fifteen per cent of stings are life-threatening for victims and the remainder will experience severe pain but no dire consequences. During stinger season, it’s best to swim within designated stinger nets which prevent the entry of box jellyfish into the swimming enclosure.

What to do if you’re stung by a jellyfish: treat the affected site with vinegar and seek medical attention to be safe.

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Australia deserves its reputation for being home to some of the world’s most dangerous animals, but for the most part, if humans leave them alone, there will be no harm done.

When it comes to creepy-crawlies, knowing what’s dangerous and what’s not is a matter of seeking out the information for your area, but most people only do so when faced with one. Luckily, there’s so much else to love about Australia but remember, all creatures great and small deserve to be respected and appreciated.

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