Danger Down Under: Creepy Crawlies to Watch Out For

From croc sightings to avoiding box jellyfish, Katherine Scott expels a few danger Down Under myths, and reveals the legitimate hazards in Australia.

Croc warning signs in Cairns Photo © Milly Brady/wheresmildo.com

I am from Australia and am terrified of spiders and snakes. And sharks. I squeal when large cockroaches come near me.

Frankly, butterflies give me the creeps. I'm an eight-legged-loathing city slicker down to my very last deet-smothered fingertip. This may or may not surprise you, depending on how realistic your view of Australia is, "land of the world's most deadly creatures."

Nothing saddened me more on my travels around Europe and Southeast Asia than the all-too-frequent decree of locals, that they were "too scared" to visit our little island hotbed of killer critters. "Oh, I would love to visit," they'd say, "but I can't, I'm too scared of [insert deadly creature here]." Everyone seemed to have a friend with a horrific fear-mongering story.

So, it wasn't the pricey airfares, the long-ass commute or our nauseatingly nasal Aussie twang that were keeping the masses at bay (all acceptable excuses). No, it was the danger factor. Big, bad Australia, brimming with its deadly serpents, slipper-stalking funnel webs and 15-foot crocs with a taste for tourists.

I get it, foreigners, I get it. I've avoided the Amazon for the same reasons. Who's got the time or energy to contend with poison dart frogs and anacondas? Answer: no one. No one has that kind of time.

But here's the thing; you can explore a good deal of Australia before having to worry about killer box jelly fish, or baby-thieving dingos. I swear. In my opinion, visitors should spend less time worrying about deadly animals and more time applying sunscreen and deet.

I thought I would take this time to expel a few danger Down Under myths.

1. Spiders Hide in Shoes, Beds and Under Toilet Seats

If you're not camping or residing in the outback you can probably slot this one in at the bottom of your worry list. Admittedly, there has been the odd time during rainy Sydney weather when a Huntsman spider has managed to sneak into my warm, dry Hyundai and surprise me on a busy freeway. They're creepy as hell but they aren't deadly. As for the toilet seats, we're talking outback outhouses here, not your run-of-the-mill WCs. I'd like to think most people would take a quick look at what they're about to sit on, regardless of any spider hiding prospect present.

2. Crocs, Snakes and Other Icky Stuff

My cousins grew up on acreage. 'The bush' we called it. There were no actual crocodiles there, although there was a giant rock we used to climb called Crocodile Rock. We'd never heard the Elton John namesake ditty at the time. My cousins, of course, had their share of snake and spider anecdotes to torment me with growing up, featuring red-back spiders and brown snakes. Some of them may even be true. But I can't recall in all my decades of visits ever having seen one of these sinister beasties in person. And for the record, crocs only live in the tropics. If you head to the far north and visit a national park you may spy a croc or 10, though I'm hoping you'd have enough smarts to keep your distance and observe any 'Danger crocodiles, no swimming' signs.

3. Jellyfish

I tend to view everything that lives in the ocean with a healthy degree of suspicion. I see myself as a trespasser when I take a dip in the deep blue. Jellyfish are high on my list of suss sea creatures, mostly because they're see-through (weird) and I don't know squat about them. Coast dwellers are no strangers to our native blue bottles (small blue jellyfish with long tentacles). Depending on the season and the tide, they might pepper the entire beach or not appear at all. Some lifeguards will even close the beach when there are too many. A brush with one of their long wavy tentacles will leave an impressive mark, however their stings may be nasty but they're not fatal. Surfers deal with these azure little nuisances on the regular. There are also small pink jellyfish I am constantly snorkeling into on Sydney beaches. They spook me a little, but as far as I can tell these gelatinous blobs are completely harmless. The box jellyfish, however, are not harmless. You'll only need to concern yourself with these toxic invertebrates if you're planning a visit to the Great Barrier Reef. The high risk period is between October and May, though they have been spotted all year around.

4. The Great White

I think it's intelligent to fear sharks. They're scary. Have you seen Jaws? The infamous Great White is a southern coast native, but honestly, shark attacks are so rare they're virtually non-existent here. Plus most attacks aren't fatal. I realize this probably serves little comfort, since non-fatal attacks from a ocean predator with jutting serrated rows of teeth are probably still pretty nasty. As a personal means of comfort, I like to imagine that if a Great White were to get a little nibble-happy while I'm swimming in the ocean they'd probably hit the surfers first, since they're always way further out, right? Surfer bait, try it.

About the Author

Katherine Scott is a writer, web producer, unsolicited food critic and avid hater of commemorative international party T-shirts, à la "I survived the Full Moon Party, Thailand 2004". From simple beginnings in the Sydney 'burbs to tarantula tastings in Cambodia, she now documents her various global explorations of stuff in her inventively titled blog, i explore stuff.

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