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Get yourself familiar with some of the local wildlife
One of the main things that people worry about when they think of moving to Australia is the dangerous creatures. It’s true that Australia does have a high proportion of deadly creatures both on land and in the sea, but to put things in proportion, they rarely impact our lives, and even more rarely cause death.
Spiders, snakes and sharks are at the top of peoples worry list, and while everyone should have an awareness of their environment, we want to reassure you that actually you will rarely come in to contact with these things in your everyday life. Obviously, there are people and professions who will see the local wildlife more, for example tradies working on building sites are likely to come across Redbacks on a regular basis, and you should check your children’s outdoor toys regularly especially if they haven’t been used for a while.
Most spiders in Australia are venomous, but will only bite if threatened, and only 2 species have caused deaths – the Redback (found throughout Australia) and the Funnel Web (only found in Eastern Australia), but no deaths have occurred since the introduction of the anti-venom for both species.
Redback Spiders – are the most commonly known and found in all areas of Australia. They will live almost anywhere as long as there is adequate food, a sheltered web site and it’s warm enough for breeding. They are especially common in disturbed and urban areas, in association with human habitation.
Only the female bite is dangerous, and can cause serious illness, however, since Redback Spiders rarely leave their webs, humans are not likely to be bitten unless a body part such as a hand is put directly into the web, and because of their small jaws many bites are ineffective. The venom acts directly on the nerves. Common early symptoms are pain (which can become severe), sweating (always including local sweating at bite site), muscular weakness, nausea and vomiting. Antivenom is available, and no deaths have occurred since its introduction in 1956.
Apply an ice pack to the bitten area to relieve pain. Do not apply a pressure bandage (venom movement is slow and pressure worsens pain). Collect the spider for positive identification. Seek medical attention.
Golden Orbs – get their name from their beautiful golden webs, they are common throughout Australia and are harmless to humans.
They are found in dry open forest and woodlands, coastal sand dune shrub land and mangrove habitats. All orb weaving spiders make suspended, sticky, wheel-shaped orb webs, that are placed in openings between trees and shrubs where insects are likely to fly.
Huntsman spiders – are big hairy and scary, however they are timid and will run very fast away from humans they are also harmless, and found throughout Australia. Huntsman Spiders are found living in dark places such as under loose bark on trees, in crevices on rock walls and under rocks and slabs of bark on the ground, they will also sometimes enter houses.
White Tailed Spiders – are small with dark bodies and a white tip at the tail, hence the name. They are found throughout Australia living beneath bark and rocks, in leaf litter, logs and detritus in bush, gardens and houses, where they eat other spiders.
White-tailed Spider bites can cause initial burning pain followed by swelling and itchiness at the bitten area. Occasionally, there are unconfirmed reports of weals, blistering or local ulceration – conditions known medically as necrotising arachnidism. However a recent study carried out of 100 confirmed white tailed spider bites found not a single case of skin ulceration.
Wolf Spiders – are found throughout Australia and are ground dwellers, living in leaf litter and burrows in gardens. They are non-aggressive and rarely bite, but if they do symptoms are usually minor, restricted to local pain or itchiness. Less commonly, symptoms can include swelling, prolonged pain, dizziness, rapid pulse and nausea.
Funnel Web Spiders – are only found in Eastern States of Australia, they have large dark brown/black bodies and are highly venomous, although no deaths have occurred since the introduction of antivenom in 1981. They burrow in moist, cool, sheltered habitats – under rocks, in and under rotting logs and crevices. In gardens, they prefer rockeries and dense shrubberies, and are rarely found in more open situations like lawns. A characteristic sign of a Funnel-web’s burrow is the irregular silk trip-lines that radiate out from the burrow entrance of most species. These trip-lines alert the spider to possible prey, mates or danger.
The recommended first aid technique is pressure/immobilisation (as for snake bite) and this must be done as quickly as possible. Spider bites usually take place on a limb. A pressure bandage should be applied as soon as possible after a bite has occurred. This should be applied as tightly as for a sprained ankle, starting from the bitten area and binding the entire limb above the bite. A rigid splint should be bound onto the limb to prevent limb movement. The patient should be kept as quiet as possible and medical attention sought. If possible, keep the spider for positive identification.
Reptiles emerge in the spring and summer months to bask in the sun. During this time you should take precautions to minimise the chance of encountering snakes. Take care in bushland and grassy areas and keep an eye on the ground in front of where you are walking. Walk and cycle in cleared areas only where you can see the ground clearly. Around your home remove long grass and items lying on the ground which can provide cover for snakes.
Remember, snakes are an integral part of the natural environment and play an important role in wildlife ecosystems and most snakes would rather slither away from humans than fight them. Although all species are potentially dangerous, here’s some of the most dangerous snakes in Australia.
Dugite – the Dugite has made itself at home around urban and semi-rural areas, drawn to the prevalence of its favoured prey – the house mouse. The average size is around 1.5m and it is a similar species to the Western Brown. They are most active from October to April.
It is found in a wide variety of habitats including coastal dunes, heathlands, shrublands, woodlands and forests, as well as habitats such as golf courses, industrial parks and open agricultural country. Around the Perth area, the Dugite is one of the most common reptiles found near buildings. In areas of human habitation the snakes take temporary shelter under refuse such as concrete slabs, fibro sheets, roofing tin and the like, but in more “natural” surroundings they will shelter under rocks and in abandoned termite mounds, abandoned stick ant nests, and rabbit and rodent burrows.
The Dugite is considered to be very dangerous to humans. Its prevalence in residential areas and nervous disposition have helped make it responsible for approximately 70% of all snake bites reporting to Perth hospitals, but thanks to prompt and effective intervention, there has been only one recorded fatality.
- If bitten call emergency services: Mobile phone: 112 Landline: 000
- Apply pressure-immobilisation bandage over the injury and along the limb or affected area to prevent the venom from spreading throughout the body:
- Wind the bandage around the bitten arm or leg, starting from the bite.
- The bandage should not be so tight that it restricts blood flow.
- Wrap the entire limb, then apply a splint to prevent movement.
- Keep the victim as still as possible.
- Do not remove the bandage.
Seek medical attention as soon as possible.
First aid guidelines were correct at time of publication however these guidelines change over time. For up to date first aid information consult medical professionals such as St John’s Ambulance.
Tiger Snake – Most Australians know of tiger snakes and are aware of their fearsome reputation, though few people will ever encounter one. They are found in watery environments such as creeks, dams, drains, lagoons, wetlands and swamps. They can also occur in highly degraded areas e.g. grazing lands, especially where there is water and local cover. Tiger snakes will shelter in or under fallen timber, in deep matted vegetation and in disused animal burrows.
They are extremely dangerous to humans. Although generally shy and preferring escape over conflict, a cornered tiger snake will put on a threatening display and if provoked will lash out and bite forcefully. The venom of the tiger snake is strongly neurotoxic and coagulant, and anyone suspected of being bitten should seek medical attention immediately.
Western Brown Snake – widespread over most of mainland Australia, the western brown snake is highly dangerous and part of the group of snakes that causes the most fatalities in Australia. Western browns tend to be fast moving and nervous in temperament. When disturbed, they will run for cover, striking quickly if cornered, then making a quick getaway.
Bites are usually painless and difficult to see due to the small fang marks. Victims will experience headache, nausea, abdominal pain, severe coagulopathy (blood clotting disorder) and sometimes kidney damage.
If you find a snake
Do not approach or aggravate it in any way. Most bites occur when people accidentally step on snakes, or while attempting to kill them.
If you find a snake in a garden or a house, contact Wildcare Helpline (08) 9474 9055 to be referred to a volunteer reptile remover. If volunteers are unavailable, there are commercial snake removal services. Advice can be provided by phoning the Department of Parks and Wildlife on (08) 9219 9840.
Snake photo’s credit goes to Pests Out WA, thank you to Richard Lawrance for supplying the photo’s – http://www.pestsoutwa.com.au
More than 100 species of shark live in Western Australian waters. These range from the 30cm pygmy shark to the world’s biggest fish, the gentle whale shark, which grows up to 12m long and is a popular feature of the WA aquatic tourism industry.
The presence of many species of shark is an indication of a healthy marine environment. Despite their reputation, sharks seldom cause harm to humans, however, when incidents do occur the results can be life threatening.
Most of the 100 or more shark species in WA are capable of injuring humans, however the majority of them are not aggressive under most circumstances. White, Bull and Tiger sharks are considered the most significant threat.
Beach enclosures are designed to prevent sharks moving into enclosed swimming areas.
The Western Australian Government has funded five enclosures. These include Old Dunsborough and the Busselton foreshore in the south-west, Middleton Beach in Albany, Sorrento Beach and Quinns Beach, north of Perth.
The City of Cockburn has funded its own enclosure at Coogee Beach near Fremantle.
There is a Shark Response Unit that conducts research into sharks and works on ways to improve public safety. Click here for more information about being Shark Smart. Click here to view the shark factsheet on the Department of Fisheries website.
Common Sharks in WA Waters
Great white – Size: up to 6m
Protected throughout Australian waters, the largest flesh-eating shark in the world’s oceans is responsible for the majority of unprovoked attacks on humans. It favours cool, shallow, temperate seas, and is most commonly found in southern Australian waters from Exmouth, WA, to southern Queensland. Feeds on fish and marine mammals such as seals.
Whale shark – Size: up to 14m
The world’s largest living fish, this gentle giant is often found near the surface, where snorkellers can swim alongside it. Highly migratory and found in tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide, it appears alone or in large groups. It filterfeeds on plankton, but also eats prawns, crabs, schooling fish and occasionally tuna and squid.
Port Jackson – Size: up to 1.65m
Is a distinctive-looking shark. Frequently seen by divers in rocky gullies and caves throughout its range – south from the Queensland-NSW border to the Houtman Abrolhos, WA, including Tasmania – it feeds at night on starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and molluscs. It poses no threat to humans unless provoked.
The most important thing to remember when visiting the beach is to take notice of conditions, as it’s actually the ocean that is the greatest threat to life, not what’s living in it!
Rip Currents – are strong currents of water flowing away from shore through the surf zone, and are the number 1 hazard on Australian beaches. The best way to avoid a rip is to swim at patrolled beaches between the red and yellow flags.
The signs to look for are deeper, dark-coloured water; fewer breaking waves; a rippled surface surrounded by smooth waters; and anything floating out to sea or foamy, discoloured, sandy, water flowing out beyond the waves. Rips don’t always show all of these signs at once.
If you find yourself caught in a rip stay calm and consider your options. Raise an arm to seek help. Try floating with the current, it may bring you back to shore. Swim parallel to the shore or towards breaking waves and use them to help you in. Reassess your situation. If what you’re doing isn’t working, try one of the other options until you’re rescued or return to shore.
Visit the WA Surf Life Saving Beachsafe website for valuable information including the location, facilities, weather, conditions and lifesaving services for all Australian beaches to help you find the right beach. Beachsafe also provides expert advice about flags and signs, waves, rip currents, marine creatures, surf skills and more.
The Cute Aussie Wildlife
Western Grey Kangaroo – These are the most common kangaroo’s found throughout Australia. You are likely to see them in any bushland areas, and early morning and late afternoon are the best times as during the day they will be laying low out of the heat. Some great places for photo opportunities around Perth are Yanchep National Park, Pinneroo Memorial Park, Whiteman Park, John Forrest National Park, Heirisson Island.
Koalas – Koala ‘bears’ aren’t actually bears but marsupials, the female carries her baby in a pouch for about 6 months. They are only found in the Eastern and Southern states, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. There are several places in Perth that you can see Koalas – Yanchep National Park, Caversham Wildlife Park, Adventure World, The Maze.
Quokkas – are small marsupials the size of a small cat. They primarily live on Rottnest Island, but there are small groups living on the mainland in bushland surrounding Perth.