Australia’s dangerous animals: the top 30

By Jude Dineley 28 March 2013
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Australia is home to some of the most dangerous animals in the world. But the deadliest will surprise you.

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. After the crew’s extensive stay, Steve says he calls Australia the “home of deadly”.

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 bit the pole Steve was attached to, throwing him back and forth and making off with expensive equipment.

Great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias), however, have an undeserved reputation – they are responsible for an average 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.

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.

Tracking down the world’s most venomous 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 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, however, 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 per cent of the population coupled with the high incidence of bee stings make them second to snakes as the most deadly venomous animal in Australia.

Australia’s 30 most dangerous animals

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)

A Box jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri)
Image credit: shutterstock

Related: How to avoid and treat Australia’s deadliest bites

Danger rating: 9/10

2. Honey bee (Apis mellifera)

The European honey bee
Image credit: Papilio/Alamy
honeypot ants Related: Wasps, bees and ants: nature’s honey makers

3. Irukandji (Carukia barnesi)

Image credit: L. Gershwin

Related: Irukandji jellyfish: Everything you need to know

Danger rating: 8/10

4. Bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas)

A Bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas)
Image credit: shutterstock

Related: Bull sharks: fact from fiction

5. Eastern brown snake (Pseudonaja textilis)

An Eastern brown snake (Pseudonaja textilis)
Image credit: shutterstock

6. Saltwater or estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)

Image credit: Chrissie Goldrick/Australian Geographic
Related: Welcome to croc country: telling fact from fiction

7. Sydney funnel web spider (Atrax robustus)

Image credit: Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Related: World’s deadliest spider: the funnel-web

Danger rating: 7/10

8. Blue-ringed octopus (Genus Hapalochlaena)

A Blue-ringed octopus (Genus Hapalochlaena)
Image credit: shutterstock
Related: Rock pools: tiny but complex underwater worlds

9. Coastal taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus)

Image credit: shutterstock

10. Common death adder (Acanthophis antarcticus)

Image credit: shutterstock
Related: Multiplying death adders

11. Cone shells (Conus sp.)

Image credit: shutterstock

12. Dugite or spotted brown snake (Pseudonaja affinis affinis)

Image credit: shutterstock

13. Mulga snake (Pseudechis australis)

Image credit: shutterstock
Related: Rare footage of fighting Mulga snakes recorded at Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary

14. Red-bellied black snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus)

Image credit: shutterstock

15. Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)

Image credit: Justin Gilligan/Australian Geographic

16. Tiger snake (Notechis scutatus)

Image credit: shutterstock

17. Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias)

Image credit: shutterstock

18. Yellow-bellied sea snake (Pelamis platurus)

Image credit: shutterstock
Related: A guide to the sea snakes of Australia

Danger rating: 6/10

19. Bluebottle (Physalia physalis)

Image credit: shutterstock
Related: The low-down on common bluebottles

20. Common lionfish (Pterois volitans)

Image credit: Pelagija/shutterstock

21. Collett’s snake (Pseudechis colletti)

Image credit: shutterstock

22. Highland copperhead (Austrelaps ramsayi)

Image credit: shutterstock

23. Inland taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus)

Image credit: shutterstock

24. Redback spider (Latrodectus hasselti)

Image credit: shutterstock
Related: Hidden housemates: The redback spider

25. Reef stonefish (Synanceia verrucosa)

Image credit: shutterstock

26. Smooth toadfish (Tetractenos glaber)

Image credit: shutterstock

27. Blue-bellied black snake (Pseudechis guttatus)

Image credit: shutterstock

Danger rating: 5/10

28. Australian paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus)

Image credit: shutterstock
Related: Ticks: poisonous hitchhikers

29. Bull ant (Myrmercia pilosula)

Image credit: shutterstock
Related: The science behind ant vision

30. Giant centipede (Ethmostigmus rubripes)

Image credit: Genevieve Vallee/Alamy

Related: Top 10: Dangerous marine creatures that aren’t so well known