Creepy Biting Scary Nasty Nature


Text by Liz McKenzie and Photos by Richard Nelson

An outhouse in a wild, remote Australian national park should be a peaceful and undistracted place to reflect on…well, nature. 

A few days ago, I visited one such facility, where the toilet paper dispenser was a tall, rectangular steel box with several rolls stacked vertically inside. The bottom roll was empty, so I removed the cardboard tube and stuck my fingers into slots on either side of the box to pull down a fresh roll.  

At the same instant, a spider about the size of my palm erupted from the box, scrambled around to the front. It perched starkly on the pure white surface of the new toilet paper, so if I had tried to unroll a bit, the spider might have sprinted straight up my arm. 

I didn’t yell or thrash around, just stared in astonishment at the brown, hairy, outsized, kinky-legged arachnid a few inches from my elbow. Like a lot of people, I appreciate spiders most when they’re small and colorful and about six feet away. 

This was unmistakably a Huntsman—common in Australia, much like a tarantula but lightning fast, and capable of delivering a painful but not dangerous bite. 

It was a startling reminder that Australia, for all its uniqueness and beauty, also offers some creepy possibilities. There are a few nasty spiders here—the very aggressive and deadly Sydney Funnelweb, the bright and bulky Mouse Spiders, and a Down Under version of the black widow called the Redback. 

If you tromp around the Australian bush, you’re also likely to come across scorpions, giant centipedes, blood-sucking leeches, disease-carrying ticks, and big ants that deliver extremely painful bites. 

Australia’s vast and alluring coastline opens endless possibilities for trouble in the water. Of course there’s the Great White Shark, sometimes called “the man in a grey suit”, plus many other big dangerous sharks. Also keep in mind the stingrays, the long-spined venomous Stonefish and Lionfish, the beautiful but deadly Cone Shells, the notorious Blue-Ringed Octopus, and the nearly invisible but profoundly lethal Box Jellyfish that keeps most swimmers out of tropical seas in the summer months. 

In the steamy Australian north, you wouldn’t want to forget the biggest reptile on earth—the Saltwater Crocodile—which occasionally snatches someone foolish enough to wade or swim in a deceptively placid waterway. 

Most famous, of course, are Australia’s poisonous snakes—including the taipan, brown snake, death adder, and tiger snake. About 25 species living Down Under are considered potentially lethal to humans. 

But before you cross Australia off your list of places to visit, consider the reality: 

There’s almost no chance you’d ever encounte a truly dangerous animal in Australia. Anyone determined to see a snake, crocodile, shark, or other potential nasty should add a zoo or wildlife park to their itinerary. 

As in North America (which has its own assortment of spiders, scorpions, snakes, sharks, and so on), the uncontested champion among all dangerous animals is our very own species. Especially when combined with a motor vehicle. For example, road accidents took almost 33,000 lives in Australia from 1980 to 1990. Over the same ten years, wild animals accounted for a total of 70 fatalities—including bee stings (20), snake bites (18), small marine critters (12), sharks (11), crocodiles (8), and just one from a spider bite. 

Interestingly, Alaskan friends often tell me they’re reluctant to visit Australia because of all the deadly snakes. While Aussie friends tell me they’re hesitant to visit Alaska because of all the dangerous bears. Ultimately, I guess this comes down to our overactive imaginations. 

Today I was thinking about that startling Huntsman during another outhouse visit in a completely different national park. It had an identical toilet paper dispenser, and as luck would have it, the bottom roll was empty. A moment of déjà vu made me hesitate, but again I poked my fingers in to pull down a new roll. 

And incredibly, another oversized Huntsman spider burst out! 

I was even more startled this time, but calmed down enough to take a picture. Then, as I’d done with the first huntsman, I found a stick and flicked the big spider down onto the floor. 

It dashed for the underbrush…and I vowed to bring my own toilet paper to these wild Australian outhouses from now on.  RN

Mark Bethka