30 of Australia's deadliest animals
Australia is home to some of the most dangerous animals in the world. Find our lethal rundown here.
AUSTRALIA IS INFAMOUS FOR its dangerous animals. With more deadly snakes than any other country worldwide, it isn’t surprising.
Though sharks, spiders, and snakes get the majority of bad press, it is actually an awesome array of predators and venomous critters that have earned Australia its fearsome reputation.
Naturalist and TV presenter Steve Backshall has been filming in Australia for the BBC program, Deadly 60, which airs on the ABC here. After the crew’s extensive stay, Steve says he calls Australia the “home of deadly”.
The strongest bite of any animal
Steve had a close encounter with one of our apex predators, the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), while filming in the Northern Territory. He was measuring the bite of one crocodile - which has the most powerful bite of any species - when it put on an impressive display. It bit the pole Steve was attached to, and threw him back and forth, before making off with expensive equipment including a bite-force gauge and a camera.
Great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias), however, have an undeserved reputation – they are responsible for an avergae of just one death per year, worldwide. “You're more likely to be eaten by a domestic cat,” jokes Steve.
Perhaps more threatening is the stinging stonefish (Synanceia verrucosa), found on Australia’s reefs. The pain of a sting alone can be lethal. “It produces such mind-blowing agony that the body goes into shock and the person dies,” says associate professor Bryan Fry, a venom researcher at the University of Queensland, in Brisbane.
Death by pain: underwater predators
Stings are rare, tending to occur when unsuspecting reef walkers step on the fish, which is camouflaged against rocks. “When they do occur, they are catastrophic,” Bryan says.
Steve and his crew stumbled upon a spectacular predator in Sydney Harbour: the southern blue-lined octopus (Hapalochlaena fasciata), which is a kind of blue-ringed octopus. This mollusc has one of the most toxic venoms on the planet and bites cause paralysis within minutes, leading to respiratory issues and heart failure.
But the octopus has an effective warning system – it turns bright yellow with electric blue rings when threatened. “It's like something you'd see in a nightclub, not in the natural world,” Steve says.
The world’s deadliest snake
Tracking down the world’s most toxic snake, the inland taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus), took the crew to a remote desert in south-western Queensland.
“The inland taipan is unbelievably elusive,” he says. The remote location is one reason there have been no recorded deaths by this species, even though one bite contains enough venom to kill several humans.
The potency of their venom allows the species to knock out prey quickly. “Taipans feed on the world’s toughest rodents that could severely injure or kill any other snake,” says Bryan.
The next most venomous snake in Australia and the world is the eastern brown snake (Pseudonaja textilis). “Wherever there are people, there are mice, and wherever there are mice, there are brown snakes,” says Bryan.
The eastern brown snake is responsible for the most snake-related deaths in Australia (Credit: Getty)
Brown snakes are responsible for the most snake-related deaths in Australia, making snakes the deadliest group of venomous animals on the continent.
The Sydney funnel-web (Atrax robustus) is one of the world’s most dangerous spiders. Its toxic venom evolved as a defensive tool against predators, rather than for attack. Unfortunately, humans are especially sensitive.
“As a fluke, we are particularly sensitive to funnel-web venom and thus bites are particularly devastating to humans,” say Bryan. However, there hasn’t been a death since the development of an anti-venom in 1981.
More deaths are caused by the European honey bee (Apis mellifera). This species doesn’t have particularly potent venom, but the allergic reaction suffered by 1-2% of the population coupled with the high incidence of bee stings make them second to snakes as the most deadly venomous animal in Australia.
Deadly 60 on a Mission is curently showing on ABC1 on Sundays at 5:30pm.
30 of the deadliest animals in Australia
This list was developed by the Australian Museum in Sydney. Museum staff rated animals out of 10 based on the threat they pose, combined with the likelihood of encountering one.
Danger rating: 10/10
1. Box jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri)
Danger rating: 9/10
2. Honey bee (Apis mellifera)
3. Irukandji (Carukia barnesi)
Danger rating: 8/10
4. Bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas)
5. Eastern brown snake (Pseudonaja textilis)
6. Saltwater or estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)
7. Sydney funnel web spider (Atrax robustus)
Danger rating: 7/10
8. Blue-ringed octopus (Genus Hapalochlaena)
9. Coastal taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus)
10.Common death adder (Acanthopis antarticus)
11. Cone shells (Conus sp.)
12. Dugite or spotted brown snake (Pseudonaja affinis)
13. Mulga snake or king brown snake (Pseudechis australis)
14. Red-bellied black snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus)
15. Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)
16. Tiger snake (Notechis scutatus)
17. Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias)
18. Yellow-bellied sea snake (Pelamis platurus)
Danger rating: 6/10
19. Bluebottle (Physalia physalis)
20. Common lionfish (Pterois volitans)
21. Collett’s snake (Pseudechis colletti)
22. Highland copperhead (Austrelaps ramsayi)
23. Inland taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus)
24. Redback spider (Lactodectus hasselti)
25. Reef stonefish (Synanceia verrucosa)
26. Smooth toadfish (Tetractenos glaber)
27. Blue-bellied black snake (Pseudechis guttatus)
Download the Australian Museum 'DangerOz' smartphone app here
Australia's 10 most dangerous snakes
Australian spiders: the 10 most dangerous
Australia's most dangerous predators
Bees more deadly than spiders in Australia
Cryptic creatures: the art of camouflage
13 tips for avoiding a shark attack
10 myths about sharks: the truth
Shark 'attacks' should be re-named, study says
Shark attacks in Australia: a timeline
Spider versus snake: the mammoth battle
10 most dangerous stingers in Australia
Ticks: poisonous hitchhikers
GALLERY: The 10 loudest animals on Earth