Dangerous Animals in Australia: 9 Species to Look Out For

Australian kangaroo
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We know cuddly koalas, colorful reefs, and idyllic beaches might be the first things that come to mind when you think of the land Down Under, but chances are, you’ve also heard about the dangerous animals that call Australia home. So, do you have anything to worry about when it comes to Australian wildlife?  

On average, the annual number of deaths caused by snakes, crocodiles, and sharks in Australia can be counted on just one hand, but there are also tiny insects, who can pose a much deadlier threat to unknowing humans. It’s more likely that you’ll hear about these critters than have an encounter with them, and Australia is much safer than its reputation will have you believe. Nevertheless, it’s always better to be on the safe side.

We’ve compiled a list of some of Australia’s most dangerous animals that you should look out for on your next trip, from common house critters to colorful marine life. Let’s get into it. 

Saltwater Crocodile

saltwater crocodile in Australia
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Kicking off our list is the Saltwater Crocodile. Also known as “Salties”, these aggressive, territorial, and opportunistic predators are considered to be one of the most dangerous animals in Australia, and some of the largest reptiles in the world, with many reaching a mass of over one ton. They reach average lengths of 120 to 190 inches and have much broader snouts than freshwater crocodiles. 

Originating from Southeast Asia, Salties can be found in the ocean, but they’re generally spotted in estuaries, and occasionally, freshwater across the country. Their diet is known to consist mainly of turtles, fish, small reptiles, and birds, but there have also been reports of them eating livestock like cattle and horses, as well as humans. However, this is extremely rare and there have only been 24 deadly attacks recorded between 1975 and 2009, with an average of less than one human casualty per year.

That being said, it is still a good idea to avoid swamps, ensure that the swimming spots you’re eyeing are safe, and stay away from muddy water, but you can rest assured that they won’t attack for no reason. Just pay close attention to those crocodile warning signs.

Blue-Ringed Octopus

blue-ringed octopus
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They may be quite the sight to behold with their colorful rings, but don’t be fooled, these golf ball-sized octopi are highly venomous and extremely dangerous. 

Several humans are stung every year in Australia, and although it’s usually painless, the sting is often fatal, since its venom is 1000 times more powerful than cyanide. Within five to ten minutes the body can become paralyzed and victims typically experience difficulty breathing and swallowing. 

Unfortunately, there’s currently no antidote, but treatment is possible and usually involves artificial respiration until the toxin leaves the body. Despite this, there are less than a handful of recorded deaths from this octopus throughout history, with two being in Australia and one in Singapore.

Luckily, these Pacific Ocean natives aren’t aggressive, and only sting humans when cornered or handled. Even so, they’re often missed due to their tiny size, and we recommend looking out for the bright blue rings that appear all over their bodies when they feel threatened.

Box Jellyfish

dangerous sea animals
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Believed to be one of the most lethal creatures on the planet, Box Jellyfish are primarily found on the Northern Australian coast and in the Indo-Pacific, where they can be quite difficult to spot due to their transparent, pale blue bodies.

They’re especially prevalent in Australia between October and May and their powerful venom is stored in their 15 tentacles which contain toxins that could lead to cardiac arrest and even death within minutes. The sting is also said to be intensely painful and immobilize nerves, but the severity of it will depend on the size of the jellyfish and victim, and how many tentacles were involved.

You’ll find that most of the 50 different box jellyfish species found in Australia’s coastal waters don’t pose a threat to humans, so don’t throw away your beach towel just yet.

Great White Shark

great white in Australia
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While Australia’s legendary beaches are undeniably picturesque, they also have a reputation for having shark-infested waters, which leave many people steering clear of the sea altogether. 

The Great White ranks among the top three shark species most likely to attack humans, but deadly encounters are rare, and globally there are only about five per year. There’s also no certainty behind their attacks, but we all know how horrendous the result can be. This has turned them into the most feared and misunderstood animal in Australia.

The truth is, human-caused shark mortality outweighs human fatalities by millions and sharks only tend to attack when they mistake surfers, swimmers, and scuba divers for turtles or sea lions, which makes their man-eater reputation a bit unfair. 

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautions though. The wisest course of action would be to stick to swimming between the flags at the beach and avoid unallocated areas.

Stonefish

dangerous stone fish in Australia
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The Stonefish is not only the most venomous fish in Australian waters, but the whole world, and with their excellent camouflaging capabilities, they can be difficult to notice unless they’re stepped on. 

Their thirteen stout dorsal fin spines can inject an extremely poisonous venom which leads to severe pain, heart failure, and if left untreated, even death. They also often look like an encrusted rock or lump of coral and lie motionless and their attacks can be as quick as 0.015 seconds, making them very hard to spot. One of the ways to distinguish it from the very similar-looking Estuary Stonefish is the deep depression of the eyes, which contrasts the elevated peepers of the latter.

Fortunately, an antivenom was developed in 1959 but we still recommend you avoid walking barefoot through the shallow coastal waters of Northern Australia. Employ sturdy footwear if you’re wading on reef flats or rocky, weedy areas to avoid a sting.

Funnel Web Spider

dangerous spider in Australia
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Australia is home to plenty of deadly spiders, but the Sydney Funnel Web, in particular, has cultivated a menacing reputation. 

Although these tiny spiders are only about half an inch to two inches long, their venom is one of the most toxic to humans, and the very painful bites from this creepy-crawly are treated similarly to a snake bite. They love to hide in cool, humid places, like logs or shoes, and have even been known to take shelter in homes if the weather is particularly hot. To make matters worse, they can survive immersion in water for several hours by trapping the air bubbles next to their skin, so chances are, they’ll still be alive if you find one of them at the bottom of a swimming pool.

On the bright side, there haven’t been any fatalities since the introduction of anti-venom in 1981, and you should be able to avoid them if you keep your garden free of rubble and litter where they can hide.

Coastal Taipan Snake

bosy cobra
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Australia has around 140 species of land snakes, of which around 100 are venomous, but only 12 of these species are lethal to humans. The most venomous is the Coastal Taipan Snake, which can be found in the deserts of Down Under and cause death in as little as 30 minutes.

These fearsome reptiles are often mistaken for the Eastern Brown Snake, due to their similar color, but they can be distinguished by their pale faces and snouts, as well as their large heads and slender necks. It’s also important to note that these 80-inch predators aren’t ones to back away from a surprise encounter. They typically shelter in abandoned animal burrows, hollow logs, and piles of vegetation, and change color seasonally, with snakes becoming darker in winter and fading in summer.

Fortunately, these snakes usually prefer a vanishing act to a fight if given space, and on average there have only been two deaths per year by snakes since a specialized anti-venom was introduced in the late 50s.

All the same, it’s best not to provoke them or test their toxic venom. Call for medical assistance immediately if you or someone you know has been bitten, and avoid cutting or washing the site of the bite until treatment.

Redback Spider

dangerous black widow spider in Australia
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The Redback spider, or Australian Black Widow, is a small, highly venomous arachnid that’s about half an inch long, and found throughout Australia. 

If you have a fear of spiders, this creeper just might be your new nemesis. Its venom acts directly on the nerves, and common early symptoms include pain, sweating, muscular weakness, nausea, and vomiting. Bites are particularly common over the summer months, but only the female bite is dangerous. 

Thankfully, no deaths have been reported since the introduction of antivenom in 1956, and humans are unlikely to be bitten unless a body part touches their webs, which they like to build in dry, sheltered sites, like sheds or bathrooms. 

Should you get bitten by one of these terrifying creatures, the smartest things to do would be to apply an ice pack to the bitten area for pain relief, collect the spider for positive identification, and seek medical attention. It would also be best to avoid pressure bandages, as this can increase the pain.

Stingray

dangerous stingray in Australia
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Stingrays have had an understandably nasty reputation since 2006 when Steve Irwin tragically passed away as a result of a fatal sting, but this is actually an extremely uncommon occurrence.

Despite their relation to sharks, these instantly recognizable fish, with pancake-shaped bodies and spear-like tails, are surprisingly curious and playful creatures, who rarely pose any real threat to humans. In fact, throughout history, there has only been one other reported fatality from a stingray besides Steve Irwin, and their poison is usually only deadly if their tail strikes a vulnerable part of the body, as it did for Irwin.

There are about 50 Stingray species with spiny tails in Australia, and they’re usually found in coastal saltwater environments rather than open ocean waters, with most stingray attacks occurring when swimmers or divers tread on a ray during a rising tide. Nonetheless, most stingrays will flee when approached closely, but bigger varieties should definitely be avoided and no attempt should be made to grab or touch them.

To stay on the safe side, we recommend admiring them from a distance and shuffling or dragging your feet along the seafloor when walking on the beach to avoid accidentally stepping on one.

Is Australia a dangerous place to live?

There are a number of factors you need to consider when making the move to Australia, but there’s no reason to feel unsafe. Most Australian cities boast much lower crime rates than Europe and the US but you could be at more of a risk from wildlife than elsewhere. Australia’s unique location and varied landscape mean tropical animals thrive. Out of the 25 venomous snakes in the world, 21 call Australia home. Still, you’re at little risk from wildlife in the cities and if you do find yourself in the outback, there are precautions that you can take to stay safe like avoiding wild camping, basing yourself close to amenities, and not littering. 

How many deadly animals live in Australia?

It is estimated that Australia is home to over 60 different venomous species from snakes to spiders and aquatic life. This might sound high, but it ranks beneath countries like Brazil and Mexico with numbers exceeding 75. 

What animal kills the most humans in Australia?

Spiders, crocodiles, and sharks might be the scariest creatures Down Under, but just like in Europe and the US, horses, and cows are responsible for more deaths than any other animal. Cattle killed 77 people between 2008 and 2017 in Australia, and this is mainly due to the huge farming industry and populations of cows and horses. Where Australia is unique is that kangaroos follow close behind, being responsible for 60 deaths in the same time period. Kangaroos, much like deer in the western world, cause a lot of traffic accidents in Australia due to their wild populations.

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Esmé is an English literature graduate and freelance writer. Originally from London, Esmé is lucky enough to call Bali home. Her travels have taken her from the far corners of the East to the islands of the Caribbean. When she's not writing, you'll find her lying on a beach somewhere, lost in a crime novel.