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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 October 2005, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
'We Aussies love scaring tourists'
Martyn Robinson
Martyn Robinson: 'Listen to local advice'
Last week we featured some of the natural dangers that exist in that most enticing of countries, Australia - a truth highlighted with a further crocodile attack on Monday. The debate prompted Martyn Robinson, a naturalist at the Australian Museum in Sydney, to get in touch to explain the risk in greater detail.

Enjoy yourself and read up on Australia's fauna and flora. Even the dangerous ones can be stunning to see. People do, after all, travel to Africa to see the dangerous lions, elephants and hippos, and they kill the most people in Africa.


The most dangerous animal in Australia is probably the feral European honey bee which has a sting many people are allergic to. Between 1980-1990 there were 20 deaths from bee stings.

20: Bee stings
18: Snakes
12: Marine animals (excl. crocs and sharks)
11: Sharks
8: Crocs
1: Spider
SOURCE: Australian Museum

A total of 70 deaths were caused by "wild animals" from 1980-1990 (see table).

Perhaps the next most deadly are the snakes (18 deaths), although there are many species involved here.

Next are the marine animals (12) other than sea snakes, sharks, and crocodiles. This group includes box jellies, stonefish, blue-ringed octopus and cone shells. Then come sharks (11), crocs (eight), and spiders (one).

During that same time period 32,772 people died in road accidents and 19 were killed by lightning.

Strangely, people love to be frightened of death by an animal and it has been well known for many years that a crocodile death actually increases tourism to the Northern Territory or Queensland where it occurred.

By feeding some of the larger animals, like crocodiles, cassowary, kites and dingoes, they lose their fear of humans.

Once they get used to being fed and the food stops coming, they see people eating but not giving them any, they attack the way they would a member of their own species.

The Australian magpie during its nesting season can also cause accidents and there is a seasonal problem in Sydney with ticks, so there are several others that can be added to the list.


There are bindii in many suburban lawns but these are an annoyance rather than a danger. Postal workers unwittingly spread the seeds on the tyres of their motor bikes or their boots as they travel from letter box to letterbox.

Three Corner Jacks are a bit more ferocious but aren't as widely distributed in urban areas, probably because people are more diligent about removing them. They can make you bleed if you step on them.

In the bush, the introduced blackberries from the UK can make life a problem but around Sydney there are relatively few other problem plants.

Keep the fear of humans
Up in northern New South Wales and into Queensland, however, there are several species of stinging tree which could be regarded as potentially dangerous. They give a sting similar to nettles except that it lasts for a week or more and the sting flares up again whenever the area gets wet.

Being tree-sized, the stings cover a wider area and can be on your face and arms. Some people can go into shock as a result and need hospitalisation.

There are a few spiny or thorny species too but you soon learn to avoid them - a rainforest walk will often teach you to avoid "wait-a-while" vines.

There are also a number of plants here and in the UK with poisonous fruit but you just warn kids and tourists not to try anything they can't identify. It's basic common sense. Doubly so for mushrooms and other fungi.


We love scaring tourists and tourists love to be scared. Remember that tourism increases in an area after a crocodile attack. Similarly the great white shark spotting tours are very popular off Port Lincoln in South Australia.

This is not just about worrying Poms. It's people who have a fear of the unknown in general.

Once the real likelihood of the danger is known, the fears normally drop but there are always some people, including born-and-raised Australians, who have almost a paranoia that the inhabitants of the natural world are out to get them.

Arachnophobia is just as common here as overseas.


The snake with the most potent venom in the world lives here - the inland Taipan or fierce snake. Not only that, it can inject a lot of venom in a single bite and is regarded as the deadliest snake in the world by many people.

It has never killed anyone since records have been kept. It lives in very remote areas and rarely encounters people - only a few of these have ever been bitten and most, if not all, were snake handlers and had Taipan antivenom on hand.

I'd be more worried about the motor traffic than the natural world.


In an area where snakes are likely, wear sturdy boots and jeans. Watch where you put your feet. A snake you can see is no danger - they won't come and attack you - and usually they waste no time in leaving the area themselves.

If working in a garden where there are funnelweb spiders, wear gardening gloves and always shake out your clothing and shoes before putting them on. Put a draught excluder on the door as well, as this stops wandering male funnelwebs from entering the house.

Always swim in the designated areas and believe any warning signs. Never snorkel with seal or large shoals of spawning fish as sharks will be looking for them too and can make mistakes in identity. You can still die even though most spit you back out again.

Make sure you know what it is before you pick it up. Don't eat any bush food you're not sure you've identified properly. Listen to local advice but also see if you can get another opinion too as we love to tease tourists!


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