Tuesday, November 24, 2015

8 Unlikely Australian Animals to Avoid

Do you fancy the idea of cuddling a koala or patting a kangaroo when next you visit Australia? Sure, they're cute and they look harmless, but even these iconic critters can give you a bad scratch -- or worse. Never mind poisonous snakes and deadly spiders; the average overseas traveler might run into more trouble if they cross paths with some of Australia's more unusual garden wildlife. To stay safe, simply keep in mind these common-sense tips, and you should have no trouble with these animals that tend to bite, scratch, sting or claw any unsuspecting and trusting tourist.

Ixodes Holocyclus / paralysis tick by Alan R Walker
 under CC BY- SA 3.0
 1. The paralysis tick, a member of the arachnid family, is similar to scorpions and spiders. It hitches a ride on the fur of small marsupials like bandicoots and numbats. As part of its life cycle, a female needs to feed on blood before laying her eggs. Ticks burrow their sharp mouth-parts into the soft skin of their unsuspecting human host, usually in the neck or the groin. If a tick is disturbed by scratching, it can quickly secrete infected saliva into the wound and cause a reaction, such as simple itching, a form of Lyme disease, paralysis, meat allergy or even life-threatening anaphylactic shock. Ticks are found in most bushy Australian backyards, so before you venture outside, make sure you use a high-quality personal insect repellent and check    your skin for ticks afterwards.  

2. Kangaroos are usually docile creatures. Both red and gray kangaroos are a staple of many wildlife parks and zoos, and they usually love a scratch behind the ears. However, all kangaroos tend to get antsy during mating season, especially the big-muscled males. When provoked, they can hold their victim tight with their arms and rip the soft belly skin open using the large claws on their toes. Even a female kangaroo is willing to attack anything that endangers her defenseless joey. Dogs have been known to have been held underwater and drowned in lakes or dams after chasing after a large kangaroo. So go ahead and give "Skippy" that ear scratch, but don't approach big males or mothers with young in the pouch.  

3. The duck-billed platypus lives in quiet streams and billabongs. It's a strange-looking and shy, elusive creature -- which is just as well, as both sexes carry a sharp spur on their back legs. The male's spur contains a poison that won't kill a human, but nevertheless it causes excruciating and incapacitating pain and swelling at the puncture site. The platypus will likely keep out of sight if you wander nearby, but it's best to stay out of any billabong you come across, just to be sure.  

4. Wombats are heavy, slow-moving marsupials that dig big burrows and come out at night to eat native grasses and roots. Though usually placid in nature, they have been known to claw and bite if cornered. They can even display a surprising turn of speed, and despite its heavy bulk, an enraged wombat could easily bowl a person over and cause significant injuries. The rule is: give all wombats a wide berth, and definitely don't put them in a corner.  

A cassowary Wiki Commons CC BY 2.0
5. The cassowary is a large and flightless bird that lives in thick, tropical rain forests and forages on berries and fruit. Their wings are almost non-existent, but they sport long and powerful legs ending in sharp claws on their toes. Although they'd much prefer to live a peaceful life, the cassowary when threatened has a reputation for attacking people and domestic animals. It leaps up and kicks out like a kung fu master and can cause serious injury, and occasionally, death. Next time you are exploring Australia's jungles, keep in mind that this angry bird can run faster than any panicked human. Climb the nearest tree and hope it soon gets bored and goes looking for food.  

6. Butcher birds and the Australian magpie enjoy fearsome reputations during nesting season. To protect the young chicks in their nests, they swoop down from tall gum trees toward passing humans and strike with their sharp, hooked beaks. This often results in a bleeding cut to the head, or much worse, damage to vulnerable eyes. Wary locals take to wearing bike helmets with large cartoon eyes painted on the back as a way to deter the attacking birds. This works for a while, but these animals are no bird-brains. Both the butcher birds and magpies will soon cotton on to this ruse and attack you anyway.  

7. Fruit bats, as their name suggests, don't drink blood. But these cute and fox-like mammals can carry rabies-like diseases called Lyssa virus or Hendra virus. Well-meaning people attending to an injured bat are at risk of being bitten or scratched and therefore contracting these dreaded conditions. Unexpected contact with infected bat urine or blood can also transfer the diseases. One unlucky person was even attacked by a deranged, sick bat that deliberately flew down from a nearby tree to viciously bite them! Three people have been recorded as contracting Lyssa virus and all three have since died. Stay safe; don't touch any injured bats and give all fruit trees a wide berth.  

Bull ant closeup By Matt Inman under CC BY-SA 3.0
8. Australia hosts many of the biggest carnivorous ants in the natural world. Some large and aggressive species, including bull ants and jumping jack ants, can swarm over their victim and cause multiple painful bites and stings. These can result in simple redness and swelling at the sites or a serious case of anaphylactic shock in susceptible individuals. If you are planning a picnic, try not to spread your blanket over an ant nest by mistake. Also, forget bringing along meat sandwiches unless you are prepared to share them with a ravenous horde of very large and angry biting and stinging ants.    

Australia is a vast and varied wonderland and a magnet for many an overseas traveler. When you next drop in for a visit, by all means avoid the usual suspects like sharks, crocodiles and red-back spiders. But don't forget to add creatures like kangaroos, bats and the platypus to your list of animals to avoid. Even the most ordinary of Australian suburban backyards can host huge meat-eating ants, infected fruit bats and swooping, sharp-beaked butcher birds. But don't let any of these critters put you off your holiday in Australia. Simply follow some basic safety tips and you should be fine.


  1. You'll be safe in my backyard Nathalie. No swooping magpies or vicious koalas here

    1. Well then maybe I'll visit you one day. Australia is on my top 5 to visit anyway, and the only critters that really bothers me are spiders (yes I know Australia has some nasty ones....)

  2. Thank heavens I live in England...the worst I've had is bites from an Adder and some type of small spider (yeuerkk!), both of which were itchy and painful but not remotely life threatening.