Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 11, 2021

It’s not all fun and games Down Under

By SOPHIA GAUTHIER | October 4, 2012

"That wombat is ugly as f!"

Well, that’s a phrase you don’t hear everyday. Partly because it’s absurd. Mostly because wombats are actually adorable. But that’s the deception! Those little guys can bite your fingers off.

Back in July, I hopped on a plane with a carrying capacity of half the population of a small country, content to immerse my mind in the colorful, yet murderous fauna of the land down under. As they say, everything in Australia wants to eat your face.

Well, no. Nobody says that.

But seriously, literally everything here can kill you. Let’s start with the marine biology. All right, we’re talking not even on the actual continent yet. Excuse my digression while I go all National Geographic — first let’s take a look at the box jellyfish. They’re sneaky and pretend like they’re regular jellyfish, drifting helplessly along, when in fact, they can actively swim, have over twenty eyeballs, and wield tentacles up to ten feet long oozing enough toxin to take out multiple fully grown adults. They feed on small fish so you’ve got to wonder why the heck they’re so potent.

And the same goes for the blue-ringed octopus. Those guys are the size of golf balls, are absolutely gorgeous, and produce venom that causes motor paralysis and cardiac arrest. Oh, and Australia is home to the saltwater crocodile, the largest living reptile today, which basically equals the largest pair of alive and chomping reptilian jaws. Also, I cannot forget the stonefish, which is the most venomous of all the fish in the world. And sea snakes. And the cone snail, a snail, mind you, with nineteen reported cases of fatality among human. I’m not even going to talk about sharks.

That’s just in the sea. On land, there are long lists of poisonous snakes and spiders, which would scare you to death just from reading about them. The query, “kangaroo attack”, yields over fifteen-hundred hits on Youtube, Tasmanian devils (according to Wikipedia) manage one of the “strongest bite per unit body mass of any extant mammal land predator”, and dingoes really can eat your baby.

Another bizarre threat is the swooping magpie. Magpies are these extremely common, crow-sized birds with an uber territorial streak. If you so much as think about the thirty-foot radius around their nests, they essentially dive-bomb you until you run away screaming (or, as my safety lecturer advised, “walk away quickly”). So far, I’ve seen magpies ambush two civilians and one small dog, who was literally barking up the wrong tree (ba-dum, chhh). Most bicyclists—and I kid you not—actually attach a series of vertically aligned zip-ties to their helmets just to ward off the dang birds.

As a touristy tourist, I just had to visit the wildlife park where they let you cuddle a koala. His deceivingly cuddly name was Wendell, he had claws that left puncture wounds on my stomach, and he refused to leave my arms until he finished answering nature’s call. The keeper said that he was “moody.”

Alright, I’ve been painting a rather bleak picture. Australia is an incredible continent, and a fantastic place to immerse oneself in nature.  I’ve cuddled kangaroos, pet emus and swum with sharks. But wildlife is wildlife for a reason. You learn to respect it. So don’t tell the wombats they’re ugly.

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