Something a little different today. I received a long and descriptive email from one of our regulars — Peter Tibbles in Australia — relating to the ‘spider’ post that I wrote a while back. His cautionary tale of dangerous Aussie creatures is so full of good info — and fun — that I had to share it. I’ve added a few pictures, but the text is all Peter’s.
I thought I’d email this to you as it turned out much longer than I thought, so I wouldn’t leave it as a comment on the spider column.
In this country we don’t have any mammals that’ll do you any damage. Okay, none that’ll eat you, at least. No lions or tigers or leopards or bobcats. No bears. Nothing like that. Although, I wouldn’t want to take on a big red kangaroo in a fair fight.
There are some birds, though. Well, a bird. The cassowary. It’s related to the emu, but it has a 6″ long spike on each foot it uses to disembowel anyone it doesn’t like. Mainly dogs and feral pigs, but people have been known to be attacked.
Then there are the snakes. This is probably what we’re most famous for.
There are the prosaically named black snake and brown snake (but don’t let their boring names fool you). Or the wonderfully (and appropriately) named Death Adder. These all pale next to the Tiger Snake. People always say about animals that they won’t attack you if you leave them alone. Not so with this bugger. They’re just naturally aggressive. They are also the most dangerous snake on the planet (talking about the venom), although some say the Taipan (another one of ours). In the interest of this missive I looked up my book on dangerous things. It said there are more than 85 varieties of venomous snakes in the country (and 27 known venomous sea snakes). It’s a wise thing to treat any snake as dangerous (even if you encounter one of the rare ones that isn’t) as most of them are.
Okay, a topic I like to avoid – spiders. There’s the red-backed spider and the funnel web spider that have both caused fatalities. And there’s the white-tailed spider, which, although it doesn’t cause fatalities, I believe those bitten by it wish it had. There are others but I don’t want to dwell on them.
There are many species of box jelly fish. They’re all very nasty (and virtually invisible). Some can cause cardiac arrest in about 15 minutes. They’ve recently found another jelly fish that doesn’t take anywhere near that amount of time to do the same. Fortunately, for we folks down south, these only occur in northern waters, off the coast of Queensland, Northern Territory and the north part of Western Australia. It means you can’t go swimming there between about November and April. Well, you can but you’d be pretty stupid. We folks down south don’t have that problem.
Okay, there are sharks (and sting rays) down here, but they don’t attack too many people, so it’s alright (apart from the people they gobble up, of course).
Let’s not forget the stone-fish. These are found all around the coast and, as their name suggests, look like stones. They like shallow areas of the sea and remain stationary on the bottom until someone steps on them. I defer to the book again. It says “The stone-fish is the most venomous fish known. It immediately causes fearful pain and a person can become almost demented and thrash around in agony. A number die.” It also says that they can live out of the water for surprising lengths of time.
There’s the Blue-Ringed Octopus, which is very pretty. Its bite is painless and may seem harmless. However, the neurotoxins begin working immediately causing muscular weakness, numbness, cessation of breathing and death. This happens in minutes. There is no antidote.
There are crocodiles, of course. Again, only in the north. It’s only the salt water crocodiles that are a problem. They are protected, so they’re having a fine old time breeding like mad. They’ve been known to turn up in swimming pools in Darwin. That’d rather startle you, I imagine: wandering out of the house, diving into the pool and half way down thinking “Oh s**t”.
The fresh water ones are vegetarians (okay, not really, and smaller – the salties are BIG buggers) and won’t attack unless you annoy them. Now, of course, who in their right mind would think “Lordy, I’m bored, I think I’ll go out and annoy a crocodile”?
Ah, let’s consider the plant kingdom. Not those poisonous berries and the like that every country has. No, we’ll travel north (yet again) to FNQ (far north Queensland), somewhere around Cairns. I didn’t know about these until about 20 years ago when I was up there. We went for a trek through a national park. This had to be with a ranger. She pointed to a plant and said “Take a good look at this and don’t touch it. I mean it. DON’T TOUCH IT”. It seems that it’s an interesting evolutionary product. Its leaves are covered in tiny silicon barbs and you only have to touch them and they stick into your skin. They are apparently extremely painful. As they are silicon based rather than carbon they don’t rot away and over time some people have been known to have them stuck in their skin for years, driving them crazy with the pain.
It’s been said that it’s a wonder that any Australians manage to live to adulthood.
After all this, I can see you packing your bags, ringing Qantas, and winging off to try the wonderful adventures in the land of Oz.