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 for this pugnacious beast!
Last year, 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.
Last year, 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.
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.
A trio of 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 U-V 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.
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?
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 three 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 — including the famed Crocodile Hunter, who was stung hundreds of times by one 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 specifies, 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 country-wide 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 dingos, 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 over the last six years.
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.