New Zealand is famous for being one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Lakes surrounded by mountains, fiords, beaches and forests are all well-known features of the New Zealand landscape.
But are there any dangerous animals in New Zealand? It’s a question that a lot of visitors have, and the answer is simple: fewer than you might expect.
Warning: I am including images of the animals that you are less likely to recognise, such as the species of spider but I’ll keep the pictures small so they don’t suddenly fill up your screen. We all know what a shark looks like so I’ll intersperse some pretty pictures where an animal image isn’t necessary.
New Zealand’s neighbour, Australia, is famous for its wide variety of dangerous animals, and so it isn’t surprising that people think the same might be true of New Zealand. Despite being similar in many ways, they have very different wildlife.
Australia is home to many of the world’s most deadly snakes and spiders. New Zealand doesn’t have any snakes at all in the wild. There are a few species of potentially dangerous spiders in New Zealand, but overall the wildlife is far less dangerous than in Australia.
So, here is a list of the animals you should be aware of in New Zealand, and if you keep reading I’ll give you an insight into why New Zealand’s wildlife is so unique.
Animals to Be Aware Of
New Zealand has several thousand species of spiders, but only 3 species are potentially dangerous. Two of these spiders are considered venomous, but bites are very rare and there is an available anti-venom. In the unlikely event that you do suspect you’ve been bitten by either a katipo or redback spider, you should seek medical assistance as quickly as possible.
Katipo Spider: The only native venomous spider in New Zealand, with bites that can cause severe discomfort and medical issues, though extremely rare. Katipo spiders can only be found near the seashore, typically near sand dunes and driftwood.
They are now rare enough to be a protected species under New Zealand’s Wildlife Act, and harming them is a criminal offence. The chances of being bitten are very unlikely.
Redback Spider: An introduced species from Australia, capable of delivering a painful and potentially harmful bite. They are a relative of katipo spiders with similar markings. As with the katipo spider, bites are very rare.
The redback spider is more likely to be found near homes looking for a dry and warm environment, but they aren’t common and you are unlikely to come across one.
White-Tailed Spider: Introduced from Australia and known to bite, though their bites are typically not serious but can cause irritation and discomfort. The White-Tailed Spider is not considered to be venomous, but bites can be temporarily painful.
Like the redback, they prefer a warm environment so they can be found in houses and gardens. They are more common in the South Island, but even if you do come across one their bite is painful rather than dangerous.
Great White Sharks: Shark attacks are a fairly common fear, partly thanks to a few well-known films, but attacks are rare. There was a fatal attack in 2021 at Waihi Beach in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty but swimmers are far more likely to die from drowning than from a shark attack.
To stay safe in the ocean only swim at beaches with lifeguards, during the day, and between the marked flags where the water is being monitored. Other species of shark may also bite humans in some circumstances, but again shark attacks are generally very rare.
Bluebottle Jellyfish: The bluebottle jellyfish is also known as a Portuguese Man O’ War. Technically they aren’t actually jellyfish. They are part of the Siphonophora genus, but that won’t be the first thing on your mind if you encounter one!
A bluebottle sting is extremely painful, but serious injury usually only occurs if there is an allergic reaction, in which case an ambulance should immediately be called (the emergency number in New Zealand is 111).
Bluebottles also occasionally wash up on shore, and as they can still sting long after they have come ashore and the animal has died – if you see one, don’t touch it!
Sea Snakes: Sea snakes occasionally appear in the waters around New Zealand. As they arrive naturally on ocean currents rather by human action they are considered native species and are protected under the Wildlife Act, so it is illegal to harm them.
Sea snakes are highly poisonous, but generally not aggressive and there are no confirmed reports of humans being bitten by them in New Zealand. Medical assistance should be sought by anyone who is bitten, but as it is yet to happen in New Zealand, the likelihood of it happening are pretty remote.
Sea Slugs: There are many species of sea slugs, but there is one in particular that is dangerous – the grey side-gilled sea slug. They produce a toxin called tetrodotoxin (TTX), the same poison found in puffer fish which is deadly if ingested. Humans are very unlikely to consume a sea slug, so the main danger is actually to dogs.
There have been several dog fatalities linked to this slug species, and so if they are seen on a beach then dogs should be kept well away from them.
There is no antidote to TTX, so this is one animal to be very cautious of, but again, humans aren’t likely to consume slugs…
Seals and Sea Lions: These animals are not inherently dangerous, they can become aggressive if provoked or if humans come too close, especially during the breeding season.
You can see these mammals in various places around New Zealand, but make sure you observe them from a distance, don’t try to approach them.
Mosquitoes and Sandflies: These biting insects can cause of lot of irritation, but as the species of mosquito in New Zealand do not carry diseases, they aren’t really dangerous. Sandflies are smaller than mosquitoes and are named for their colour rather than habitat.
They prefer humid environments and are generally found near water, making them particularly annoying in areas like Fiordland (wear insect repellent when visiting Milford Sound!), and the West Coast of the South Island.
If you are in areas prone to sandflies, keep your skin covered and use a strong insect repellant. Sandflies might be smaller than mosquitoes, but they are also more likely to spoil your time outside with a painful, but not dangerous, bite.
Kea: This South Island parrot species is very curious and intelligent, and while not posing a threat to humans, they can tend to be destructive to human property. If you are fortunate enough to encounter these beautiful birds, keep an eye on your belongings!
Why Is The Wildlife So Different To Australia
Although Australia is New Zealand’s neighbour, they aren’t actually that close together. New Zealand was the last major landmass to be settled by humans, and so the wildlife was unaffected by animals that humans tend to introduce and evolved in isolation.
As a result, the nation is home to an extraordinary number of endemic species, animals, and plants that are found nowhere else on Earth.
One of the most remarkable aspects of New Zealand’s wildlife is its bird population. The absence of predatory mammals allowed bird species to thrive, many of which became flightless, such as the kiwi, the kakapo, and the takahe.
This lack of natural predators is a double-edged sword; it has made these unique species particularly vulnerable to threats introduced by humans, such as rats, stoats, and domestic cats.
The introduction of mammals, both by the Māori and later by European settlers, has had a profound impact on New Zealand’s native wildlife. Efforts to control invasive species and protect the native ecosystem have become a significant focus of conservation work in the country.
New Zealand’s approach to conservation is proactive, with ambitious projects underway aimed at preserving its unique natural heritage. The Predator Free 2050 initiative, for example, is a bold effort to eradicate the most damaging invasive predators from the country, showcasing New Zealand’s commitment to its natural environment.
For visitors, this unique ecosystem means that you won’t find the venomous snakes, spiders or large predators common in other parts of the world. The main exceptions are spiders introduced from Australia accidentally.
This is one of the reasons why New Zealand is very strict on controlling what comes into the country, both in terms of wildlife and also plants that might bring disease to native species.
Misconception 1: New Zealand is home to dangerous snakes and spiders like Australia.
Reality: New Zealand is remarkably free of snakes; in fact, it has no native snake species. While there are spiders, very few are venomous and bites are very rare. The native Katipo spider, often cited as dangerous, is extremely rare and shy, making encounters with humans infrequent.
Misconception 2: The wilderness is teeming with large predators.
Reality: Unlike many parts of the world, New Zealand does not have any large mammalian predators. The country’s most formidable native creatures are birds, many of which are endangered and pose no threat to humans.
Misconception 3: New Zealand’s waters are as shark-infested as Australia’s.
Reality: While New Zealand waters do host shark species, shark attacks are extremely rare. The risk of encountering a shark is very low, and New Zealand’s beaches and marine reserves are considered safe for swimming, diving, and surfing.
Misconception 4: Hiking and outdoor activities are fraught with wildlife dangers.
Reality: The primary concerns for outdoor enthusiasts in New Zealand are not wildlife-related but rather related to weather conditions and terrain. Preparing for the weather and understanding the physical demands of your chosen activities are the best ways to ensure safety.
Misconception 5: Invasive species are not a concern for visitors.
Reality: While visitors may not directly encounter dangerous invasive species, the impact of these species on New Zealand’s native wildlife is significant. Visitors play a crucial role in preventing the spread of invasive species by cleaning hiking boots, staying on designated paths, and observing biosecurity laws.
Recognizing the critical importance of preserving its natural biodiversity, New Zealand has embarked on ambitious conservation initiatives aimed at protecting its native flora and fauna. These efforts are crucial not only for the survival of species but also for maintaining the natural balance that makes the country’s landscapes so special.
Predator Free 2050
One of the most groundbreaking conservation projects in New Zealand is the Predator Free 2050 initiative. This ambitious goal seeks to eliminate the most destructive invasive predator species, including rats, stoats, and possums, from the entire country.
These predators are responsible for significant declines in native bird populations and the destruction of native forests. The initiative involves a combination of trapping, fencing, and the use of bio-control methods, and has garnered widespread support from government agencies, conservation groups, and local communities.
Conservation in Action
On a more day-to-day level, conservation in New Zealand involves a wide range of activities, from reforestation projects to wildlife monitoring and habitat restoration. The Department of Conservation (DOC) manages over a third of the country’s land area, including national parks, marine reserves, and heritage sites, implementing conservation plans and working to ensure the survival of New Zealand’s native species.
The Role of Visitors
Tourists play a significant role in conservation efforts, both through the economic support provided by eco-tourism and through direct involvement in conservation activities. Many visitors participate in eco-tours that fund conservation projects, and some choose to take part in volunteer opportunities during their stay.
Visitors are also educated on the importance of biosecurity measures to prevent the introduction of invasive species, including cleaning gear before and after visiting natural areas.
Biosecurity also involves restrictions on what can be brought into the country by visitors. You must declare any food or plants when arriving in New Zealand so they can be inspected to ensure they will not bring in anything harmful to the native species. Failure to declare can result in fines at Border Control.
New Zealand’s reputation as a safe country extends to its wildlife, offering a natural environment that is remarkably free of dangerous animals. While there are certain species, such as the Katipo spider, redback spider, and various types of wasps and jellyfish, that can cause discomfort or require medical attention, these instances are rare and generally not life-threatening.
So don’t worry, New Zealand is a safe place to visit. As much of the country’s wildlife cannot be found in the wild in other countries encounters with local animals are to be enjoyed, not feared.