Australian snakes, spiders and other nasties

redbackspiderIt’s easy to worry about all those creepy crawlies in Australia, especially if you’re camping.

Many of the world’s most poisonous creatures live here – not exactly a comforting thought for cyclists who enjoy sleeping in the wilderness.

The good news is that while venomous snakes and spiders certainly exist, along with biting ants, ticks and stinging bees, the risk of falling victim to their bite is quite low.

Across all of Australia, about 3,800 people go to hospital each year because of a bite or sting, according to an article in the West Australian. Out of those thousands, only 2-3 people will die after a snakebite and 3-5 from a sting. Still, it pays to be cautious and be aware of the biggest risks.

  • When walking through the bush, wear shoes and socks and make lots of noise to scare off snakes.
  • Take your shoes in the tent at night so nothing sleeps there and surprises you in the morning.
  • Don’t leave bags unpacked or open, making it easy for spiders to crawl inside.
  • Check under chairs for spiders that may be lurking beneath the seat.
  • Keep your distance from anything that does happen to wander by.

Don’t panic if you are unlucky enough to be bitten. Fear sends adrenaline rushing through your body and spreads the venom more quickly. Instead, firmly bandage (and consider splinting) the entire limb. This will slow the flow of the poison.

Do not suck, cut or disturb the bite in any way. The old myth that you can suck out the venom isn’t true. Sucking the bite could make it harder to identify which anti venom to use when you get to hospital.

Do not cycle to the hospital. The extra effort will circulate the poison more quickly. Get someone to drive you to medical help. Carry an Epipen if you know you’re prone to severe allergic reactions but also know when to use it. In some cases, it could do more harm than good. Consult a physician before you go.

Some things to watch out for:

Bees are by far the biggest danger when it comes to bites and stings. Allergic reactions to their stings are the main reason people are hospitalized.

Redback Spiders, in the same family as the Black Widow, are another likely cause of suffering for campers. About the size of a U.S. quarter, they are easy to spot from the large splash of red colour on their backs. Although their bites can be extremely painful, it’s not believed that anyone has died from a Redback bite since the anti venom was introduced in 1956. We saw them most often in residential gardens. When camping, take your shoes in your tent at night to make sure none crawl in and surprise you in the morning!

jackjumperantAnts are another common feature across Australia, with several different varieties from region to region. Bull ants are particularly large. Like the Redback Spider, their sting can be eye watering but usually not life-threatening. Jack Jumper ants are a more aggressive species, mostly found in the east of Australia. Check for anthills when you set up your tent.

Ticks are something you should check for every night if you’ve been wandering through the bush in search of a good tent site. We discovered one stuck to Andrew in Western Australia but thankfully in this region they don’t carry any diseases. Ticks, including paralyzing ticks, in other parts of the country can be more of a threat.

Snakes aren’t a big problem for the camper. As long as you make enough noise, the snake is likely to take off before you even see it. Brown Snakes account for about half of the roughly 800 cases of snakebite a year but according to one emergency physician, only 10-20 percent of snakebites have enough venom to hurt the recipient. The rest are ‘dry bites’ and just a warning from the snake to stay away.

“A large number of people who have snakebites are seriously pissed at the time and are misbehaving with a snake,” says Associate Professor Simon Brown, who works in the emergency room of a Perth hospital, quoted in the West Australian newspaper.

Marine animals can also pack a punch. Everyone has heard of shark attacks. They attract a lot of attention but are very rare. Of the 1,000 people hospitalised between 2002 and 2005 from problems with ocean life, about 400 were stung by a jellyfish. Another 200 had a bad encounter with a stinging fish and about 170 people met up with stingrays.