Australia has the reputation of a country full of animals that want you dead. But while you might expect that it’s snakes more than anything else you have to worry about down under, it seems that perhaps you should really be concentrating on the skies.
A new analysis looking into data on which venomous critters bit and stung the most people in Australia over a 13-year period found that bees and wasps are by far its most prolific antagonists. From 2000 to 2013, the striped adversaries hospitalized over 12,300 people, of which 27 died. This is twice as many as were admitted for snake bites, although the danger noodles also killed 27. Ticks and ants were responsible for five deaths, while the infamous box jellyfish caused the demise of three people.
In total, almost 42,000 people were admitted to hospital after being bitten by venomous creatures, most frequently with anaphylactic shock, and 64 people died over the study period. It probably comes as no surprise that men aged between 30 and 35 were most likely to be bitten. But what is interesting is that more than half of the deaths occurred at home, and close to two-thirds occurred not in rural areas, but in major cities.
The high number of deaths in built up areas, particularly by bees, could simply be down to perceptions of danger. “Perhaps it’s because bees are so innocuous that most people don’t really fear them in the same way they fear snakes,” explained Dr Ronelle Welton, co-author of the report. “Without having a previous history of allergy, you might get bitten and although nothing happens the first time, you’ve still developed an allergic sensitivity.”
The report only looked into deaths caused by venomous animals, meaning that sharks and crocodiles – frequently seen by many as the most dangerous antipodean animals – were not included. But how do they compare? Well, over the same period there were 26 shark-related deaths, while the largest reptiles in the world have taken 19 unfortunate souls, showing that you actually have more to fear from the insects and snakes.
But what is deadlier than any of these critters? Horses, apparently. It turns out that the treacherous equines killed 74 people over the 13 years that the study looked at, more than those who died from the all the venomous creatures, or the sharks and crocodiles combined.
There are, obviously, other factors that contribute to these findings. People are more likely to actively engage with a horse than they are with a jellyfish or crocodile, for example. But it still goes to show how misplaced some of our fears might actually be. Fear the bees, or at least follow the advice about the rest of Australia’s animals and just leave them alone and let them get on with their own thing.