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. 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 yet 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 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.
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.
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:
*The huntsman is famous more for causing accidents when they appear out of surprise. Their venom is not considered dangerous to humans.
Do you shudder when you think of creepy-crawlie bugs? You’re not alone. Some are completely harmless like the sweet 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 for sure. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So you see, 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.