Snakes, spiders and sharks probably represent the unholy trinity of creatures that new migrants fear the most (notwithstanding those spoof stories about drop bears – and they are spoofs). But what’s the reality of living cheek by jowl with Australia’s deadliest animals, and how much do they actually figure in our everyday lives? In reality, not much.
True, we live in Canberra, which most Aussies will freely tell you is pretty chilly by Aussie standards. That means that compared with, say tropical Queensland, there are far fewer varieties of snake here than there are further north.
In our 14 months here, we’ve only ever seen one snake in the wild, and that was when we were on holiday in Wilsons Promontary National Park – even then, it was only crossing the road that we were driving along, so it doesn’t really count as a close encounter.According to the ABC, the Eastern Brown is the most common snake in the Canberra region. It’s highly venomous, but it’s also extremely shy, which is why most snake bites in the ACT seem to affect pets – curious snuffling dogs or territorial cats that don’t have the sense to back off when they see one. Thankfully, Mr Pup hasn’t encountered one either, but we’re very watchful when he’s off the lead, especially in more rural areas, such as his favourite swimming creek. Spiders are a different story altogether however. They are everywhere. When we first moved into our rental house, it had been empty for a few months and it seemed that not a day went by when we weren’t squirting insect killer at some creepy-crawly or other. As a non-native, it’s hard to know which ones are the most dangerous, so we operate a ‘spray first, ask questions later’ policy.
What I do know is that the scariest spiders are probably among the least harmful. The huntsman spider is big by European standards – think tarantula sized. It does bite, but a nip will usually only result in a bit of soreness and swelling. In fact, the huntsman is a pretty good spider to have around because they actually eat the smaller, more dangerous arachnids that you really don’t want to encounter.
That’s all good and rational but, as this chap will testify, big spiders are scary, however harmless you many know them to be. I had a similar experience to the man in the video last week. I went to let the dog out for his late night wee when, as I slid the patio door open, something fell onto my arm. I looked down and flicked it in response, and a huntsman as big as my hand fell to the floor in front of me. Cue much running around for the big can of spider-death chemicals.As I found, the huntsman spider likes to tuck itself away in little hidey-holes such that it can often catch us unaware, like this one which decided to take up residence under a car door handle. Similar stories abound of them emerging from under toilet rims or falling out from behind car sun visors.
When it comes to sharks, the more observant among you will have noticed that Canberra is not by the sea and, to my knowledge, there are no sharks in Lake Burley Griffin. But on a hot weekend, Canberrans love nothing more than to high-tail it, often in convoy, to the coastal towns of southern New South Wales where, just this week, several holiday resort beaches were closed following sightings of sharks close to shore.The Aussie media loves a shark story and will often blow the danger out of all proportion. In fact, when it comes to dangerous animals, nothing trumps a shark tale, except perhaps a croc story, but then we don’t have crocodiles this far south.
In truth, very few people are killed by any of these animals and, as long as you use common sense, your chances of them presenting any danger to you is pretty low.
According to statistics, since 2010, snakes have killed one person in New South Wales. In the same period, there have been four fatal shark attacks in the state’s waters. Meanwhile, the last record of a fatal spider bite was in 1979 – largely thanks to the anti-venoms that are now available.
So, if the snakes, spiders and sharks aren’t going to get you, what will? Well, according to an old article in the Sydney Morning Herald, the most common animal-related death is caused by horse-riding, which caused 40 deaths between 2000 and 2006.But even with an avid horse rider in the family, against a population of 23 million, those are pretty small numbers, so there’s no reason to hang up the hat and crop just yet. In fact, none of these numbers add up to anything like the hysteria that is attached to the animal in question and, with a good dose of common sense and a can of insect spray to hand, you should survive a move down under just fine.