You’ll Never Guess Australia’s Second-Deadliest Animal

“AUSTRALIA, n. A country lying in the South Sea, whose industrial and commercial development has been unspeakably retarded by an unfortunate dispute among geographers as to whether it is a continent or an island.” —Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

In A Nutshell

If we know anything about Australia, it’s that it wants us dead. From box jellyfish to crocodiles to deadly funnel-web spiders, it seems everything in Oz has been lifted straight from H.R. Giger’s nightmares. But when scientists decided to rank Australia’s fauna by number of deaths per year, they got a surprise. The second most murderous animal wasn’t a snake, shark, or jellyfish, but the common honeybee.

The Whole Bushel

In 1822, European colonists had a problem. Their new home on the southern continent lacked insects capable of pollinating the plants they’d brought over for food—meaning the work had to be done by hand. Then one day someone hit on an excellent idea: Why not just bring some bees over? Fast-forward to 2014 and the European honeybee has spread all over Australia, bringing with it death on an unprecedented scale.

Like most of Australia’s insects, honeybees are venomous. Unlike their indigenous cousins however, that venom doesn’t affect humans equally. While most of us can shrug off a beesting, it’s estimated that up to 3 percent of the population has a severe allergy to their venom; for some, a single sting is almost certainly a death sentence. And unlike most Australian creepy-crawlies, honeybees are everywhere.

In Western Australia alone, there are over 50,000 honeybee hives, with one 4-kilometer (2.5 mi) stretch of river discovered to be housing 175. By comparison, the media went into panic mode after 40 funnel-webs were spotted in Sydney in a single summer. As a result of this uneven distribution, the deadly funnel-web is known to have killed only 13 people in recorded history. The inland taipan—the world’s deadliest snake—isn’t thought to have killed any. Honeybees, on the other hand, kill two Australians a year.

In fact, the only creature statistically more likely to kill you is the box jellyfish which, being a jellyfish, is only a problem in coastal areas. So next time you’re in inland Australia, remember it’s not the crocodiles or snakes or dropbears you should be watching out for, but that innocent little honeybee.

Show Me The Proof

Australian Geographic: Bees more deadly than spiders in Australia
Australian Geographic: Australia’s dangerous animals: the top 30
Western Australian Museum: Feral Bees
Australian Museum: Spider facts
The Independent: Killer funnel-web spiders invade Sydney