Growing up in Australia has given me a healthy respect for dangerous wildlife. Sometimes it feels like every animal is trying to eat or poison you which is unsurprising given the country has more animals with deadly venom than anywhere else. I find it funny how the same animal in Scotland is relatively harmless. It’s like Australia has taken the same creature, given it weapons, and put it on steroids to produce a monster. Let’s consider three animals, all found in both places.
Scotland has ticks. The worst these can do is spread lyme disease which although not trivial and definitely a concerning disease, is nothing compared with the levelled-up Australian version. Australia has the paralysis tick which can cause paralysis in humans, dogs, cats, sheep, cattle goats, pigs, and horses. A single tick can kill a large dog or sheep and one species is capable of causing respiratory failure in humans. Ticks have killed 20 people in Australia, all before 1945.
When we were in Braemar, friends of our suggested swimming at the Linn of Dee. I asked whether there were any fish there and was told there are eels. My jaw dropped because my experience of eels in Australia is of huge, long slippery things that eat birds and bite. It turns out the eels in the Linn of Dee are small, harmless things that are critically endangered.
Toads have a very different connotation in the UK compared to Australia. In the UK they are a welcome addition to the garden because they eat slugs. They also feature as characters in children’s books: think Mr Toad from The Wind in the Willows and Trevor the toad from Harry Potter. By contrast, Australia has a cane toad which can kill dogs. Their skin is toxic and if eaten by humans can kill them. Unlike eels and ticks, cane toads are not native to Australia and are considered a pest. Cane toads were introduced in 1935 to try to control a beetle that was decimating sugar cane crops. Unfortunately they have thrived in Australia and their population exploded while having virtually no impact on the cane beetle.
So there you are: ticks, eels, and toads. Three animals that have evolved very differently in different parts of the world.