Beware snakes & spiders … and especially bees!

Published: March 8, 2021
bees stings for grey nomads

While grey nomads are rightly wary of snakes and spiders, it seems that it is actually the prospect of a bee sting that poses a bigger threat to their wellbeing on the road.

New research from a specialist unit bases at Flinders University reveals that, of the 3500-plus Australians who were hospitalised due to contact with a venomous animal or plant from 2017-18, 26% or 927 of them were caused by bee stings.

The National Injury Surveillance Unit of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare said most hospitalisations for bee stings were due to allergic reactions, with bees and wasps responsible for 12 of the 19 deaths related to venomous bites and stings in the survey period.

“Australia is home to some of the most venomous animals in the world-including spiders, ticks, and 20 of the 25 most venomous snakes in the world,” said Professor James Harrison from the specialist unit. “Alongside land-dwelling animals, Australia also has some of the world’s most venomous marine animals, including the Irukandji jellyfish.”

Spiders accounted for 19% or 666 cases of all venomous bite and sting related hospitalisations. Of those 666 cases, redback spiders were responsible for 42.5% or 283 cases of hospitalisations, followed by white-tailed spiders (38 cases), and funnel web spiders (25 cases).

The type of spider was unknown in almost half of all cases.

Venomous snakes were chiefly responsible for 17% or 606 cases of hospitalisations. The type of snake was unknown in 34% of those cases. Brown snakes accounted for 36% (215 cases) of hospitalisations due to venomous snake bites, followed by black snakes (83 cases) and tiger snakes (65 cases).

Of the 19 deaths recorded in 2017-18, seven were attributed to venomous snakes.

Contact with venomous marine animals accounted for just under 400 hospitalisations and no deaths, with stinging fish (including stonefish and stingrays) responsible for 320 hospital admissions, followed by jellyfish (73 cases). However, just last week, a 17-year-old boy has died in hospital a week after being stung by a box jellyfish while swimming at a beach at Patterson Point near Bamaga on Queensland’s Cape York. It is the first recorded box jellyfish fatality since 2006, and the 79th since Australian records began in the late 1800s.

The rate of hospitalisations for all venomous bites and stings varied by states and territories across Australia.

The highest rate occurred in the Northern Territory (31 cases per 100,000 population) and the lowest in the Australian Capital Territory (nine cases per 100,000).

“Residents of the ‘very remote regions’ of Australia had the highest rate of hospitalisations (49 cases per 100,000) while the lowest rate was observed for residents of the major cities of Australia (9 cases per 100,000),” Professor Harrison said.

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Pat from the Top End.
1 year ago

Australian native bees are stingless and harmless.
You photo is of a Caucasian Honey Bee that stings then dies.

Stephen McCutcheon
1 year ago

What Pat said was not entirely correct.
With the exception of the highly social and stingless native bees in the genera Trigona and Austroplebeia, all other native bees have functional stings.

With the smaller species, the tiny sting would be unlikely to penetrate the thickness of human skin. Unlike the introduced honey bee, these stings are not barbed, so the act of stinging is not fatal to the bee.

Stephen McCutcheon
1 year ago

I should have quoted my source,

David Britton, at the Australian Museum.

Stephen McCutcheon
1 year ago

Not exactly Pat,
Australia has over 1,700 species of native bees. Only eleven of these species are stingless! These are the social native Stingless Bees, Tetragonula and Austroplebeia ).

All the other native bee species in Australia can sting. Most are too small to deliver an effective sting and Australian native bees are not aggressive. However, if one of the larger native bees is picked up or trodden on, it could be quite capable of stinging.

Most stings are not as painful as those of a bull ant or paper wasp and last only a few minutes. However, a native bee can sting more than once and it is possible to be allergic to the sting of a native bee. So please treat native bees with respect.


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