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How dangerous is Australia's wildlife?

Huntsman SpiderFor more than 80 million years Australia has existed as a separate continent and life has developed largely independent from what happened elsewhere on the planet. To put that into perspective, let me just say the dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago. That explains why you can find animals here that have no relatives anywhere else on earth.

Due to its size and climate, large parts of this continent are only sparesly populated. Unlike in Europe where most species are extinct that could pose a threat to humans, in Australia such animals still exist.

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Poisonous Spiders

St Andrews Cross SpiderSome 2,900 species of spiders live in Australia, but only few of these can harm humans and only three species are known to have caused deaths. While from a scientific perspective all spiders have toxins, most spiders are very small and their bite cannot even penetrate the human skin. Of those which are large enough, most don't have a venom potent enough to cause more than a mild local reaction similar to a bee sting. The largest spider in Australia - and the second largest in the world - for example is the Huntsman spider which can reach a leg span of 30 centimetes, the size of a dinner plate. But apart from scaring the hell out of you, it won't do much harm. And there are even some colourful and quite beautiful spiders, like the St. Andrew's Cross Spider which again is harmless for humans.

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Venomous Snakes

Photo of Eastern Brown SnakeSnakes are reptiles and as such unable to actively control their body temperature. Instead they rely on sunbathing. No surprise that in hot Australia snakes exist in large numbers. There are around 140 species of land snakes of which around 100 are venomous and more than 30 species of sea snakes all of which are venomous.

Given these numbers I am obviously unable to write about every snake here and will only introduce a few species for which the likelihood of encountering them is not minimal. If you are interested in snakes, I can highly recommend some books (see box on the right).

In spite of the large number of snakes, since antivenom became available only one fatal case occurs every 2-3 years, not counting of course bites causes by handling domestic snakes or deliberately provoking them.

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Sharks, Crocodiles and Jellyfish

Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias)

Great White Shark - Photo by Terry GrossWell known from the novel and movie "Jaws", this shark is one of the most powerful predators of the ocean. It can reach a length of more than 6 metres and a weight of well over 2,000 kg. Unlike the image of a man-eater painted in the novel / movie, great white sharks do not typically attack humans and certainly humans are not a typical prey. But sharks do have the habit of talking a test-bite on objects they don't know like buoys, floatsam or in some cases surfboards and humans.

Read more: Sharks, Crocodiles and Jellyfish

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