Danger Down Under: Australia’s Deadliest Creatures
When people talk about Australia, you tend to hear a lot of superlatives: the oldest this, the biggest that, and so on. It is truly a country of extremes.
Australia is vast and contains immense temperature and climate variations. The country boasts world-renowned beaches along its endless coastline, as well as multiple rainforests – one of which is the oldest in the world. Australia is also home to the oldest civilization on earth: Aboriginal Australians have lived there for approximately 50,000 years.
Yet another Australian claim to fame is that it’s the only country on earth that is also a continent. Because of this natural isolation from the rest of the world, life forms have evolved there over the eons that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. In other words, they’ve got some crazy animals down under! We’re about to introduce you to some of the weirdest and fiercest of Australia’s unique creatures.
You’re undoubtedly familiar with some of these critters: the iconic kangaroo, for example. Many others will likely be new to you. Some live in the Outback, the enormous parched desert that spreads across the middle of the continent, while others cozy up closer to humans in the more populated southeastern section of the country. All of them are fascinating as well as extremely dangerous (in their own way, at least).
1. Saltwater Crocodiles
Pro tip: If you’re looking deep into the eye of a crocodile, you’re too close.
Australia is renowned for its crocodiles, thanks to “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin. In fact, the country boasts two crocodile types. Freshwater crocs are relatively small; the largest are around ten feet or so. You don’t need to worry too much about them.
And then there are the deadly saltwater crocs. Also known as estuarine crocodiles or just “salties”, these beasts can reach nearly 25 feet in length. Saltwater crocodiles are one of the most dangerous animals on the entire continent. And they’re not just in coastal, seawater areas. They can be found lurking near every type of water, even deep in the Australian interior.
Pro Tip #2: When visiting Australia, always double-check that the log you’re about to sit on is actually a log. Crocodiles blend in with their surroundings and can remain completely still for a very long time.
But then all of a sudden: Lunge! Crunch! Snap goes that mighty jaw with all of its jagged, razor-sharp teeth sinking deep into the neck of some unsuspecting prey. You don’t want to be a crocodile’s afternoon snack.
2. Great White Sharks
Sharks are just plain terrifying. Jaws didn’t help their image, either. For anyone swimming in Australia’s oceans, the possibility of a shark encounter is lurking somewhere in their mind.
Australia is home to 180 shark species, the widest variety of sharks in the world. Most fearsome of all is the great white, which favors the cooler ocean temps off Australia’s southern coast. Reaching up to 2,400 pounds, great whites are the largest predatory fish on the planet. In other words, we have a right to be scared.
Thankfully, shark attacks are rare. According to the International Shark Attack Files, Australia averages about 16 attacks per year; statistically, only one of those will be fatal.
If we’re being rational, we should be far more scared of driving to the beach than getting in the water. Once you’ve taken the plunge, you’d be wiser to keep an eye out for riptides rather than dorsal fins. When it comes to sharks, however, rational is not the first emotion that comes to mind.
3. Thorny Dragons
The thorny dragon is a terrifying-looking lizard that is native to Australia. Its awesome Latin name, Moloch horridus, comes from the jagged spikes that cover its scaly body. These “thorny” peaks provide fairly good protection from its predators out in the arid deserts of Central Australia.
Another defensive trick up this lizard’s sleeve is a “false head” made of soft tissue on the top of its neck. When a suspected predator nears, it will quickly tuck its real end under and present the false head. Pretty sneaky, huh?
Admittedly, the thorny dragon doesn’t really pose much of a threat to humans. It would hurt like hell to step on one, but that’s about all we have to be concerned about. They make the list on fearsome looks alone.
In fact, we’re a far bigger threat to them than they are to us. Think lonely highway crossing the wide-open desert… Enough said.
4. Box Jellyfish
There are more than 2,000 identified jellyfish species — and 97% of them are completely harmless to humans. Australia’s box jellyfish is not one of them. In fact, Chironex fleckeri (as they are known in Latin) is not only the deadliest jellyfish of all but also the most venomous creature in the sea. In fact, it’s the most toxic being on earth.
Don’t let its delicate, translucent appearance fool you; the box jellyfish causes more deaths in Australia than snakes, sharks, and saltwater crocodiles. This creature is a finely tuned killing machine. Although only about one foot in diameter, their 15 or so tentacles can extend up to ten feet — and each one has 5,000 stinging cells at the ready. One jellyfish can contain enough poison to kill 60 people.
A single sting from a box jellyfish can be deadly. The toxins released immediately go to work attacking the heart, nervous system and skin cells. Even when it isn’t a fatal dose of venom, it can be enough to cause near-instantaneous paralysis and subsequent drowning. The sting itself is so excruciatingly painful that some people go into shock and drown or die of heart failure before they can even get to shore.
In addition to its venom, the box jellyfish has a couple of unique features that make it especially treacherous. One is that they can swim fast. How fast? Up to 4.6 miles per hour — in other words, faster than you. Unless you’re Michael Phelps, of course, who’s been tracked at 6 miles per hour (regular humans average around two mph).
Another singular characteristic of Chironex fleckeri is that they can see, with clusters of six eyes located on each side of their body. How creepy is that? Each cluster has a pair of eyes that are highly advanced, with lenses, corneas, retinas, the whole nine yards.
To summarize, a box jellyfish can see you, swim faster than you and kill you. Consider wearing a wetsuit next time you’re taking a dip along the northern Queensland coast.