Most Dangerous Animals in Australia
Most people view kangaroos and koalas as Australia’s mascots, but the land down under is also home to some of the world's deadliest creatures.
Sharks lurk throughout the continent’s waters (including some lakes), fatally attacking humans more than anywhere else in the world. On land, you might come face to face with extremely venomous snakes and spiders. And then there’s the saltwater crocodile, who can terrorize you on both. If that wasn’t enough, Australia also has killer snails, angry birds and even deadly bees.
Curious to know what to watch out for while snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef or hiking in the Outback? Read on to find out more about Australia's most dangerous animals.
Sharks love Australian waters, and the country has a "perfect storm" of factors that make deadly attacks more common than elsewhere.
More people go swimming at the beaches here, it has a high diversity of sharks, and the sharks are especially deadly. In fact, the country is home to every single species of shark that's caused fatal unprovoked bites on humans.
Most deadly of all are the "big three" — great whites, tiger sharks and bull sharks.
If you’ve seen “Jaws,” you’re probably still scared of the great white, and with good reason. This mighty shark averages 20 feet long, weighs over three tons and has 300 razor-sharp teeth.
Though they prefer to dine on seals and sea lions, great whites do occasionally attack humans (surfers, who they mistake for the creatures they like to eat, are the biggest targets). Even one of their small bites is enough to tear off an arm or leg.
In Australia, Queensland is particularly rife with great whites. The most recent incident there was in early November 2019, when two British tourists were attacked, though not fatally. One had to have a foot amputated, while the other suffered bite wounds on his calf.
Smaller but more aggressive than the great white is the tiger shark. This fearsome beast, named for the stripes running down its back, will consume just about anything in its path, including bottles, tires, clothes — and, yes, on rare occasions humans.
Mostly found in deep, subtropical waters, tiger sharks often swim near the Great Barrier Reef. Last year, in one particularly high-profile incident, three tiger sharks were involved in two attacks in this area, though nobody was killed.
When such incidences happen, it inevitably leads to a heated debate about whether or not the sharks should be culled.
Bull sharks are particularly dangerous because you have a greater chance of encountering one.
Uniquely, their special kidneys allow them to move beyond the ocean and tolerate freshwater, so they can travel for thousands of miles through rivers and lakes. You might even see bull sharks in Sydney Harbour or the Brisbane River, and some have washed up on city streets after storms.
Massive and mighty creatures, bull sharks have a flat snout, can grow to almost 12 feet in length and are very territorial. They are also known for attacking dogs in the water, so definitely keep you and your pup away from this pugnacious beast.
In 2018, a bull shark made headlines when it attacked a surfer at a nude beach in New South Wales. The man escaped by punching it, a generally effective way to thwart incursions.
Australia also has the unlucky distinction of being home to an incredible array of frightening snakes: 21 of the world’s 25 most deadly snakes can be found in the country.
Some snakes are particularly deadly and worth watching out for.
Inland and Coastal Taipan
Widely considered the most venomous snake in the world, the inland taipan stores enough venom to kill more than 100 people. This species loves arid regions like Queensland. Thankfully, they are so rare and reclusive that it's unlikely you'll be bitten by one.
Their cousin, the coastal taipans, are more aggressive. They can grow up to six feet and are ferocious strikers with half-inch fangs, the longest of any Australian snake.
Their venom has been known to cause everything from headaches and paralysis to kidney damage and internal bleeding.
The last headline-grabbing attack by a taipan in Australia occurred a couple years ago, when a teen boy was unexpectedly bitten by his pet inland taipan (he was rushed to a hospital and, fortunately, survived).
Eastern Brown Snake
Though they are the second-most-venomous land snake in the world, eastern brown snakes are Australia's most dangerous. These three-foot predators are fast, bad-tempered and, unfortunately, found all over the country.
They are known to strike quickly, and because their bite is relatively painless, it can take their victims a while to know what’s happened. Before an anti-venom treatment was created, victims were typically dead within an hour.
In 2018, a man in Queensland died after being bitten by an eastern brown. The man had picked up the snake, which we definitely don’t recommend you ever do.
Common Death Adder
Not to be confused with Death Eaters from Harry Potter, these snakes differ from other species in that they like to hide in leaves and bushes, luring prey in with their tail. When threatened, they prefer freezing in place as opposed to slithering away, so most people get bitten by stepping on one.
Once the death adder sinks its sharps fangs into your foot, you may experience a loss of motor and sensory functions, numbness, and, if not treated right away, death.
Fortunately, serious attacks are relatively rare, with just a fewnon-fatalincidents reported in recent years.
Mainland Tiger Snake
Mainland tiger snakes might be beautiful to look at, but the effects of their venom is substantially less attractive. Mainland tiger snakes chop down on unsuspecting victims with relative frequency. They're responsible for the second most bites of any snake in Australia.
This isn't because they're more aggressive than other snakes, but because they have the bad luck of living on the southeastern coast of Australia. The area is highly populated, so run-ins with humans are unavoidable.
Like most snakes, they're nocturnal and come out at night in search of prey. Mice and rats often find sanctuary in barns and sheds, and the mainland tiger snake innocently follows the food. Bites usually occur when the snakes get accidentally stepped on in the dark.
If untreated, bites are fatal. They cause severe pain, tingling and numbness and excessive sweating followed by trouble breathing and, eventually, paralysis. The venom also can lead to renal failure.
They avoid people whenever possible, so just tread carefully while walking and taking late-night strolls.
Even in the United States, most people have heard of the infamous copperhead. The lowlands copperhead is found in the cooler region of southeastern Australia, Tasmania and southern Victoria.
One would think that cold-blooded reptiles wouldn't be able to live in cold climates, but the lowland copperhead is a rare exception. It's the only venomous snake in Australia that lives in areas that get winter snow, and they love to soak in cool water.
They can often be found in ditches along the side of the road, but they're unlikely to bite unless provoked. They usually hiss when cornered, exhibiting obvious agitation to warn off predators.
If they do strike and envenomate their victim, it's not pleasant. The copperhead's neurotoxic venom can damage tissue and cause significant pain, but bites are seldom fatal.
It's not only the small-eyed snake's eyes that are petite. This small but mighty Australian danger noodle rarely exceeds 20 inches in length, but its venom contains a powerful, long-acting myotoxin.
Myotoxins attack any muscle tissue including that of the heart. Effects can last for days after the bite, but there's fortunately only one fatality on record.
Like many snakes, the faded black small-eyed snake doesn't want to bite people. They express their discontent by thrashing and hissing when someone gets too close, but they only bite as a last resort.
The trouble with mulga snakes is how widespread they are. They live throughout most of Australia, excluding only Victoria and Tasmania. They're not difficult to run into, and they have the greatest volume of venom output of any snake in the world.
They're capable of delivering up to 150 milligrams of venom in a single bite. For comparison, an average tiger snake produces less than 40 milligrams.
Different localities, or subspecies, have different temperaments. Southern mulgas tend to be reclusive, while northern mulgas become aggravated quickly, thrashing their heads around and hissing.
If they bite, they're not gentle. They tend to hang on and chew to inject even more venom into the wound. Considering their venom can destroy blood cells and impact nerve function, antivenom is always required.
Fortunately, mulga bites are common enough for most hospitals to have antivenom on hand.
These little eight-leggers tend to incite serious phobias. The fact that Australia is home to the world's most venomous spiders doesn’t exactly put locals and visitors at ease.
Seven spiders in the country are especially panic-inducing.
Few small creatures strike fear in Australians like the funnel-web, the world's most venomous spider, which has killed 13 people (thankfully, though, no one has died since antivenom was created in 1981).
Though it rarely measures more than an inch, this spider’s fangs are larger than some snakes' and strong enough to puncture your fingernails. Its venom, a potent neurotoxin twice as powerful as cyanide, wreaks havoc on the human nervous system.
Funnel-webs are mostly found in New South Wales and love hiding under shoes, bricks and logs (direct ultraviolet light can kill them). Interestingly, their venom is relatively harmless to small mammals such as mice and rabbits.
When a 10-year-old boy was bitten by this spider in 2017, he recovered after being given the largest antivenom dose in the nation’s history.
A cousin of the black widow, the redback made headlines in 2016 as the first spider to cause a human fatality in Australia in 37 years.
Every year in the country, over 2,000 people are bitten by redbacks, mostly by the females, which are larger and more aggressive. They are highly venomous and can thrive in many habitats, including big cities. And because they love hiding in mailboxes and under toilet seats, they can be especially difficult to detect.
Though their bite typically produces mild symptoms, such as a rash and a throbbing sensation, seeking an antivenom treatment is advised.
Fun fact: Redback antivenom is the most commonly administered in Australia.
Spread throughout Australia, these big, hairy spiders like to jump out of curtains, making them particularly capable of provoking phobias.
But while they look like something out of a horror film, huntsman spiders are actually sheepish and don't usually bite, and their venom isn't dangerous to humans.
Their appearance and behavior make them deadly in a different way, though: They have been known to cause panic attacks and even car crashes, scaring drivers by popping out of dashboards and sun visors when they least expect it.
Trap Door Spiders
The idea of accidentally tumbling into a spider's lair totally sounds like something that could happen in Australia. Fortunately, it only happens to bugs and tiny mammals. The trap door spider cleverly covers its burrow with leaves so that prey accidentally fall in.
Their burrows are much too small for humans to step into, but the three-centimeter reptile can still be protective of his/her burrow. Stay away, or you might find out what it's like to fall in for real.
White-tailed spiders aren't as deadly as they're made out to be, but being bit by one is still no walk in the park. People used to believe their venom could eat flesh, but research has disproven this myth. They hunt at night and like to lurk in dark nooks and crannies, so check your shoes before putting them on in the morning.
That said, their bites won't do much more harm than inflicting some mild-moderate pain and swelling. They might not kill you, but they still deserve a place on the list of dangerous Australian animals.
Australians, how do you ever relax when just putting on shoes is a risky activity?
Of all the spiders on this list, tarantulas are probably the least dangerous. Their bites aren't fatal to people. In fact, tarantulas rarely inject venom at all.
They're mostly dangerous because of how dang creepy they are. Anyone who comes face-to-face with a 16-centimeter spider with giant, fuzzy fangs is likely to turn around and run in the opposite direction, even if it's straight off a cliff.
If their sheer size isn't intimidating enough to scare you off, keep in mind that just because their bites aren't fatal doesn't mean they're not painful. Tarantula bites can be very painful. Luckily, most Australian tarantulas make a barking sound that helps people from colliding with them too often.
Recluse spiders are one of the few species that we have to worry about in the states, too. Brown recluse spiders live in the southern parts of Australia. They're small, but their bites are potentially life-threatening.
A recluse spider bite can cause necrosis and blood-clotting issues, making it one of the most unpleasant spider bite experiences possible.
The good news is that brown recluses are, true to their name, reclusive. They hide away in dark corners and aren't particularly aggressive or quick to bite, so no bites have been reported in over 20 years.
More Small But Deadly Animals ...
Sharks, snakes and spiders may get all the attention, but Australia is home to plenty of other dangerous creatures too.
Some are obviously frightening, but many are actually quite cute, making their perilousness a surprise to visitors.
With its bright and glossy shell, the cone snail may very well lure you in — but it’s best to avoid this lethal creature at all costs.
Like something out of a B-horror movie, cone snails use their harpoon-like teeth and microscopic needles to inject super-potent poison into prey. They are powerful enough to penetrate flesh, gloves and wetsuits, and store enough venom to kill over 60 humans in one shot.
Happily, stings on humans are pretty rare, though they do happen. Kind of makes you think twice about ordering escargot, too, right?
Sea urchins look more like something out of a cartoon than something scary. Aquariums often include the spiny, purple creatures in touch tanks, but don't be fooled. Sea urchin spines can be long and sharp, and some are filled with venom.
The biggest risk, however, has nothing to do with venom. Step on a sea urchin, and there's a good chance that a spine will snap off and become embedded under your skin. The puncture wound can easily become infected.
Even if it doesn't, the spine can remain stuck under the skin for months before eventually working its way out.
Lionfish are one of the most well-known species of scorpionfish. They can reach 35 centimeters in length, which equates to just over a foot. Their long, feather-like fins are decked out with entrancing white and reddish-brown stripes, but each fin actually doubles as a spiny, stinging weapon.
Stings from the venomous spins are rarely fatal, but they are extremely painful and may cause severe symptoms, including vomiting, seizures and even paralysis.
Crops like apples and cotton need honey bees to survive in Australia. Yet they've also created quite a buzz as one of Australia's biggest threats to humans.
Originally brought over by European settlers in 1822, honey bees are responsible for one or two deaths a year. That may not seem like much, but it makes them more lethal than sharks in the country.
So what makes the honey bee so deadly? An estimated 3 percent of Australians are allergic to apitoxin, the venom that honey bees produce.
Though they've gotten a bad reputation following the death of Steve Irwin, stingrays are more passive than aggressive.
A distant cousin of the shark, stingrays are known to be naturally curious and playful. The biggest danger they pose is their spear-like tail, but they have only been responsible for two reported deaths in history.
One of those deaths happened to the famed Crocodile Hunter, who was stung hundreds of times by a stingray while filming a documentary on the Great Barrier Reef.
As the famous Looney Tunes character accurately displays, this species is extremely volatile. The world's largest carnivorous marsupial, Tasmanian devils are known for their maniacal displays of teeth-baring and spinning, accompanied by ear-piercing growls.
Their large head, razorlike teeth and powerful jaws add up to one of the strongest bites in the animal kingdom. Human attacks are rare, but like most animals, they will strike if provoked.
Tasmanian devils are a protected species, but sadly, a deadly disease known as devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) has killed tens of thousands of them.
Few things divide Australia like their "native dogs." Just ask Lindy Chamberlain, famously played by Meryl Streep in "A Cry in the Dark," whose claims that a dingo took her baby in 1980 caused a countrywide debate. People doubted her story so much, she was convicted of murder, though she was later exonerated.
It's also heavily argued whether the dingo is a dog or a wolf. Fun fact: It's neither. According to scientists, the creature is a species all its own. But one thing that's not debatable is that dingoes are vicious predators that pose a real threat to the country's livestock, if not definitively its babies.
To protect their cattle from dingoes, Australians got together and constructed the world's largest fence, which stretches almost 3,500 miles.
Leave it to Australia to have a killer bird. Though only responsible for one reported death, in 1926, these mega-birds can reach six feet tall, run at speeds up to 30 miles per hour and have a 5-inch, dagger-like claw powerful enough to sever your arm or slice through your abdomen in one swoop.
Odds are you won't see one of these elusive dinosaur descendants (second only in weight to the ostrich), but if you do, don't try to feed it. Cassowaries are incredibly territorial and don't want you anywhere near their turf.
So get too close and you might get pecked, kicked, head-butted or, worse yet, meet a deadly claw.
Lurking deep within Australian waters is the stonefish, the most venomous fish in the world. You probably won't notice these creatures, which resemble lumps of rock — until you accidentally step on one, that is.
Beneath your foot will now be 13 sharp spines filled with dangerous venom that may cause excruciating pain, heart failure, kidney issues and, if not properly treated, death.
Fortunately, an antidote was created in the 1950s. Unfortunately, it's the second-most administered antivenom in Australia, so please watch where you step.
The blue-ringed octopus is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but here's a helpful tip: Don't touch one.
These creatures are among the most dangerous in the ocean, storing enough deadly venom (tetrodotoxin) to kill several humans in mere minutes. Mostly brown, they show off beautiful blue rings when feeling nervous or threatened — a gorgeous sight, but also a warning to stay away.
Several people are bitten every year by this octopus, mostly when trying to scoop one up. Many victims don’t feel the bite at first, then become paralyzed and experience difficulty breathing and swallowing.
The good news is that only three humans have died from a blue-ring bite, including two in Australia. The bad news? There's no antidote, so you'll have to endure the symptoms for a while.
During Australia's "stinger season" (October through May), jellyfish can be a literal pain in the neck for swimmers. The most powerful of the bunch, the box jellyfish, possesses so much venom that a single sting can prove fatal.
Also known as the "sea wasp," the box jellyfish is Australia's second most powerful stinger (after the cone snail), with venomous tentacles that can reach 9 feet in length and contain 5,000 stinging cells. These cells remain attached to victims even after they’ve left the sea, causing the burning to linger.
All told, the box jellyfish has killed 70 people in Australia since 1883. That may not seem like much, but to quote Destiny's Child, "I don't think you're ready for this jelly!"
The largest reptile on earth, saltwater crocs (or "salties" for short) are incredibly strong and aggressive, causing 10 deaths in Australia from 2012 to 2018.
These apex predators happily lunch on humans (as well as cattle, turtles and even elephants). They are incredibly smart, measure up to 25 feet and weigh two tons, have a bite three-and-a-half times more powerful than a lion and can swim up to 18 miles per hour, so you'll want to avoid swimming in rivers, swamps and anywhere danger signs are posted.
If, however, you want to see one close-up, head to Cairns or Port Douglas, which offer boat tours to spot them, while keeping a comfortable distance.
Drop Bear, or the Killer Koala
First-time campers in Australia are warned to keep their eyes out for the dreaded drop bear, also known as the killer koala.
These terrifying creatures lurk in eucalyptus trees, eyeing unsuspecting campers strolling through the woods. When you least expect it, they'll pounce on your head, pin you down, claw at your flesh and eat you alive.
Luckily, there's a way to keep them away: vegemite. Like mosquitoes and citronella, drop bears can't stand the smell, so to effectively repel these mad marsupials it's advised that you cover your entire body with the thick spread.
OK, the ruse is up: This is one of Australia's biggest urban legends (but many fall for it, so don't feel bad if you did, too).
However, a similar creature may have once existed on the continent during the last Ice Age. Referred to as the Thylacoleo carnifex, or" marsupial lion" by paleontologists, the creature was believed to be a modified koala that had teeth used for cutting as opposed to grinding and may have eaten other animals' flesh.