Australia is renowned for its sunny weather, outdoor living and beautiful beaches. However, it is also notorious for its creepy-crawlies. The country is home to a variety of creatures that can simultaneously fascinate you and freak you out!Spiders
Australia has a reputation for harbouring some of the most venomous spiders. However, spider bites are a rare occurrence, and scientists maintain that death by a bee sting is more likely than by a spider bite. In fact, reports indicate that the last fatal spider bite occurred as far back as 1981, the year in which an antivenin was introduced. Not all species of spiders found in Australia are toxic.
Spiders inhabit different ecosystems across the country, and can also be found in urban areas. The venom of spiders is made up of chemicals that can cause harm to humans. But humans are rarely the target of a spider’s bite. The venom is meant for small prey.
Of the more dangerous spiders, the infamous Sydney funnel-web is the most common, of which there are about 40 species. These spiders, through their powerful fangs, spew venom that is highly toxic and fast acting. The spider gets its name from the conical ‘spur’ beneath the second leg. The Sydney funnel-web mainly lives in forests and rural populated regions in New South Wales.
Another spider species to be aware of is the redback spider, found in dry, sheltered places. The deadlier bites come from the female. The redback spider’s venom can potentially harm a human, but since it is delivered through its small fangs, most of the bites are not dangerous. Depending on how sensitive one is to the venom, bites can lead to symptoms such as persistent pain, nausea and lethargy.
Some of Australia’s other spiders include the mouse spider, found near rivers; trap door spiders, found in natural and urban areas; white tailed spiders, found in southern Australia; and the huntsman that looks scary, but can actually serve as an ally in homes, as it helps in pest control by feasting on smaller insects.
Spider bites can cause an allergic reaction in some people. In severe cases, the body can respond quickly with symptoms like swelling of the mouth or tongue, shortness of breath, difficulty in swallowing, rash, flushing, weakness, stomach cramps and fainting. These cases require medical assistance (the number for emergency ambulance services in Australia is 000). First aid for spider bites includes measures such as applying a pressure immobilization bandage, keeping the affected limb down and helping the individual to stay calm until an ambulance arrives.
Australia has nearly 140 species of land snakes, some of which are the most venomous in the world. But like spider bites, snakebites too are a rare occurrence. Since antivenin became available, fatalities due to snakebites reduced to four to six deaths in a year.
Most cases of snakebites can be attributed to the eastern brown snake, a swift and aggressive variety found in populated areas, mainly on farms. An eastern brown snake’s venom is the second most toxic of any land snake in any part of the world. When disturbed, this snake gets ready to bite by maneuvering itself into an ‘S’ shape and opening its mouth, ready to deposit its venom into the victim. The attack can lead to progressive paralysis.
Some of the other venomous Australian snakes include the inland taipan snake, whose bite can kill an adult human in just 45 minutes; the mainland tiger snake, which accounts for the second-highest number of bites in the country; and the mulga snake, the heaviest venomous snake in Australia and one that delivers almost 150mg of venom in a single bite. Not all Australian snakes are venomous, but it is useful to take some necessary precautions.
In case of a snakebite, the first step is to call an ambulance (dial 000). Then a pressure bandage may be applied over the bite to prevent the venom from entering the blood stream. If a bandage is not available, a piece of clothing or a towel may also be used. The victim must remain still, especially the affected limb. It is important not to cleanse the bitten area since the type of snake needs to be identified so that antivenin can be administered.
To prevent getting bitten by one of Australia’s venomous snakes, wear proper footwear when going on a bushwalk. Avoid walking in areas with very long grass and take heavy steps in grassy areas, as this can cause snakes to move away. If you detect a great deal of activity from birds overhead, it is likely that a snake is present in the area.
Unlike spiders and snakes, instead of fangs, jellyfish use other appendages to attack while hunting or in self-defense. Their venom can shock, paralyze and even kill. Among the most potent creatures in Australia is the box jellyfish found near the coast of Darwin and northern Queensland. It tends to attack during the summer months, between October and May. The severity of its sting depends on how much of the tentacle touches the victim’s skin. Jellyfish bites can be extremely painful, and the venom affects the muscles surrounding the heart and lungs. Most cases of death by jellyfish sting occur when these vital organs become paralyzed due to the venom.
Jellyfish usually attack when someone brushes up against their tentacles, or when someone steps on them. The tentacles bear nematocysts that lodge into a person’s skin. This most commonly occurs in the water, but can also happen on the wet sand at the water’s edge. Australia’s spectacular beaches are irresistible and regular beachgoers know what to do in case of a jellyfish sting.
Firstly, the tentacles must be removed by lifting them off the skin using a stick. Avoid scraping them off as this could lead to further stings. Gently rinse the area with seawater, without scrubbing. White vinegar is known to be effective in deactivating the nematocysts. Most beaches in Australia sell vinegar, since jellyfish attacks are so common. Veteran beachgoers also carry vinegar along so that potential stings can be treated. Remove the stingers using an object with a dull edge such as a butter knife or even a seashell. Sunburn treatments can be used to treat the pain and redness arising from a jellyfish sting.
Australia’s list of creepy-crawlies is incomplete without these household pests. There are over 400 species of cockroaches found in the country. They thrive in the warm climate and reproduce fast, making it hard to control them. Cockroaches tend to inhabit areas where food is prepared or stored, as they feed on crumbs and spills. You are most likely to detect them in wall cracks, behind the refrigerator and cupboards, beneath sinks or in pantries. Areas near water heaters, drains, grease traps and gardens also commonly harbour cockroaches. The local councils usually provide advice on dealing with cockroach infestations.
Some of the steps you can take yourself include performing a weekly cleanup of the home, especially tackling the areas where food is kept, and repairing the cracks in walls. Also, avoid leaving food or scraps in pet bowls. Cockroaches need a supply of water for their survival, so it is best to fix any dripping or leaky taps. Food should be stored in sealed containers, and any food spills must be cleaned up quickly.
There are insecticides available for dealing with cockroach infestations. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Cockroach baits are another useful measure as the insects take the poison back to the nest, helping to kill off other cockroaches. A home remedy for dealing with an infestation is a trap made out of a greased margarine tub with a dab of honey as bait. Once they climb into the tub, the grease will prevent them from escaping.
Australia has leeches that live on land, and are a common risk during bushwalks. Leeches thrive in wet or moist forest areas, and many Australian species are found on the east coast. Leeches are a form of segmented worm and have both female and male reproductive organs. Leeches are able to feed on blood due to an anticoagulant substance present in their saliva. Leeches are known to suck on blood, growing to up to ten times their own weight. A bite from a leech is painless and you are likely to become aware of it only when you notice a spreading blood stain on your clothing.
For expats who love bushwalking, special leech socks serve as a handy measure against these parasites. These are made from tightly woven cloth to which leeches cannot attach. You can also keep your feet leech-free by spraying mosquito repellent on to regular hiking socks. The easiest way to get rid of these pesky bloodsuckers is to sprinkle them with some salt. This causes most leeches to simply drop off. Vinegar and tea tree oil can also have the same effect. It is advisable to apply some tea tree oil with the help of cotton wool to the affected area to prevent infection. Leeches are not disease carriers, but they do contain bacteria in their stomachs, which can pass on to a host.
Grubs are the larvae of moths and found mainly in central Australia. Witchetty grubs is the name given to the grubs that feed on the root system of the Witchetty Bush. It serves as the most important source of insect food in the desert regions, and has been a staple food for Aboriginal Australians. There are also lawn grubs that feed on grass roots, causing damage to the lawn and inviting other creatures that feed on them.
Grub infestations can cause brown patches to occur on lawns, and can be tackled by applying grub worm treatment. The best time to carry out this treatment is during late summer or early fall, as this is when the grubs are smaller and near the surface of the lawn.
There are approximately 500 species of lizards in Australia, ranging from geckos to monitors. Lizards generally cause no harm to humans, apart from creating a scare. Not only does Australia have a wide variety of lizards, but also has more lizards than any other part of the world. The blue tongue lizard is the most popular type of pet lizard.
Over 100 species of scorpion inhabit the Australian environment. These prey on smaller insects such as spiders and beetles. Australian scorpions are usually nocturnal and live in burrows during the day. They also tend to live in remote habitats, and therefore scorpion stings do not occur very frequently. In some cases, scorpions do enter homes. Scorpion stings can lead to painful irritation of the affected area. None of the Australian species of scorpion are known to be fatally venomous.
Although not technically creepy-crawlies, Australia’s bat population can give newcomers a fright. Rabies may be present in bats, and while this is not a major risk for most since all Australian bats are either insect or fruit eating, it is advisable for those engaged in outdoor activities and wildlife professionals to take some precautions. The disease is spread through the bat’s saliva. It is important to avoid approaching an injured bat, as it could defend itself by biting. It’s a better idea to alert an animal rescue center instead.
The toxic cane toad was introduced into Australia in order to deal with a pest problem. They possess glands that secrete venom when they are threatened. Ingestion of the venom can lead to an elevated heartbeat, and even paralysis in some cases. The venom of a cane toad can be highly toxic for cats, dogs, and also humans. In humans, it can lead to skin irritation. Cane toads can be kept out of yards by physically removing the eggs from water and throwing them away or drying them in the sun, and properly fencing off the area.