Fiji’s islands lie in the South Pacific, and most people assume they’re crawling with poisonous frogs, venomous snakes and no end of other nasty critters. However, the list of dangerous animals in Fiji is actually quite short — at least on land.
Under the sea, especially around the reefs, is a different story. Fiji’s waters harbour venomous sea snakes, spine-tipped stonefish and the world’s most paralysing octopus.
But don’t worry! Staying safe from bites and stings is easy, as long as you’re careful and respectful. Over the next few paragraphs, we’ll take a look at the most dangerous animals in Fiji, and how to avoid getting them angry.
1. Yellow-Lipped Sea Krait (Laticauda colubrina)
Of the three sea snakes in Fiji, the Yellow-Lipped Sea Krait, also known as the Banded Sea Krait, is the most dangerous by far.
This highly venomous black and white-banded sea snake is usually found swimming in shallow waters along the shoreline, where it hunts for eel. Males grow to an average length of 34 inches; females are significantly larger with an average of 56 inches.
Unlike most other sea snakes, the Yellow-Lipped Kraits only spend half their time in the water: at night they come ashore to rest and digest their food. From September to December the males spend most of their time ashore looking for a mate, and this is when they are at their most dangerous if disturbed.
Kraits are attracted by light and occasionally they’ll venture into people’s homes. But they’re most likely to be found sheltering in rock crevices, or near the roots of coconut palms. Another favourite haunt is inside the exhaust pipes of boats, so be on the lookout for them around any marinas you visit.
Although their venom is a powerful neurotoxin which affects the central nervous system, bites from Yellow-Lipped Kraits are very rare unless they feel threatened. And their mouths are so small that a full bite on a human is unlikely.
If someone’s bitten, the bite may go unnoticed for the first 30 minutes or so. After that, the initial symptoms will usually include headache, thirst and vomiting. If left untreated, the venom can go on to cause muscle spasms, paralysis, renal failure and cardiac arrest.
First-aid treatment should be a compression bandage and splinting of the affected limb, followed by a course of antivenin.
2. Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)
The world’s largest living reptile, saltwater crocs are the most aggressive and short-tempered of all the crocodiles, and they can and will kill humans that venture into their territory.
Unchanged for over 8.5 million years, the saltwater crocodile (or ‘Saltie’ to its friends) grows to an average length of 15 feet, although the largest recorded was a male with a length of 23 feet and a weight of over 2 tons. Whilst we’re on the subject of reptilian records, Saltie also has the strongest bite of any living animal.
Unlike other crocodiles, these are happy to spend long periods in saltwater, and have adopted a form of ‘body surfing’ the ocean currents, which allows them to travel great distances with minimum effort. This is why individual saltwater crocs appear occasionally in areas far away from their general range, including some parts of Fiji. So we’d advise you to keep away from brackish water, as this is where salties like to bathe and hunt for prey.
Saltwater crocs are hyper-carnivores, meaning that over 70 per cent of their diet is meat. Although they can exist on relatively little food over a prolonged period, they are opportunistic predators and will aggressively attack almost any animal that enters their territory, including humans.
Surviving a direct predatory attack is unlikely: most of the time you’ll never see a saltwater croc coming for you until it’s too late. The only recommended policy for dealing with saltwater crocs is to completely avoid their habitat. A quote from Australian environment minister Andrew Powell sums it all up quite succinctly:
“A two-metre croc won’t eat a human, but once you get an animal that is four metres long, humans are certainly on the menu.”
3. Blue-Ringed Octopus (Hapalochlaena lunulata)
These tiny sea creatures are remarkably beautiful, but they’re also remarkably deadly, carrying a toxin powerful enough to kill a human in minutes. And there is no known antidote.
There are three known species of blue-ringed octopus in the Indo-West Pacific, but the real number could be as high as ten. Affectionately known as ‘BRO’, this tiny creature lives a solitary life in tide pools and coral reefs, spending most of its time in burrows and only coming out to search for food or a mate.
Usually a deep-golden colour, BRO uses special muscles to change the pigment of up to 60 small rings on its body, which flash an iridescent blue when the creature feels threatened.
The blue-ringed octopus creates a deadly paralysing venom called tetrodotoxin, which is particularly harmful to humans. In fact, one bite can inject enough toxin to kill up to 26 adults and, as we’ve already mentioned, there is no known antivenin.
Similar to the neurotoxins found in pufferfish and poison dart frogs, BRO’s tetrodotoxin sting won’t be noticed for the first 5 to 10 minutes. But, after that, the symptoms appear very quickly, with muscle fatigue as the first sign that something’s wrong.
This is swiftly followed by excessive bleeding, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision and difficulty swallowing. After 10 minutes the victim may experience loss of all senses and a loss of motor skills, and ultimately the toxin will cause muscle paralysis, including the muscles that humans need to breathe.
By this point, the only chance left is for someone to start immediate CPR, until the victim can be rushed to a hospital. Usually, victims who survive the first 24 hours will make a complete recovery.
Despite its lethal toxin, the blue-ringed octopus is not an aggressive animal, and prefers to hide rather than attack. Most cases of bites are from someone picking up and handling the creature, or accidentally stepping on it, and in the last 100 years, only three fatalities from blue-ringed octopus bites have ever been recorded. The last was in the 1960s, and none of them were in Fiji, so you should be OK!
4. Box Jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri), aka Sea Wasp
Graceful and delicate, the box jellyfish has a strange ethereal beauty. It’s also the most venomous marine animal in the world.
The upper body of a box jelly (the ‘bell’) is roughly 8 inches square, and 95 per cent comprised of water. This makes the jellyfish practically transparent, which is bad news for its prey — typically small fish and shrimp.
Rather than just drifting wherever the tides take it, as with other jellyfish, the box jelly can actually swim at a speed of up to 4 knots, making it a lot more dangerous. Not only can box jellyfish swim, but they also know where they’re going! This is because they have four true eyes, with retinas, corneas and lenses.
The box jelly has up to 60 tentacles, each growing up to 10 feet long and each lined with upwards of 500,000 explosive cells that detonate when they come into contact with a chemical found on human skin (they are not triggered by touch, as previously thought).
These cells then fire out tiny, harpoon-shaped darts, (nematocysts), which inject a potent cocktail of venom that simultaneously attacks skin cells, the nervous system and the heart. Many victims have been known to go into shock and drown or die of heart failure before ever reaching the shore.
The number of actual deaths from box jellyfish venom is uncertain. In Australia, which sees the highest concentration of box jellies, there have only been 64 deaths since 1883, when records began.
Although box jellyfish have been sighted in Fiji’s waters from time to time, the Fijian Ministry of Fisheries regards them as rare. However, the treatment advice given in the same statement is now outdated: specifically the myth that you should urinate on a sting.
Applying vinegar to the sting is the best way to alleviate the pain, and many Australian beaches have ‘vinegar stations’ for just that reason. The immediate threat to a survivor is any tentacles that remain attached to the skin, as they will still be injecting toxin. These tentacles need to be carefully removed by someone wearing gloves, and then you should let the emergency services take over.
5. Irukandji Jellyfish (Malo kingi)
Another jellyfish that can be found in Fijian waters, the Irukandji measures only 1 cm across, but it’s almost as lethal as the box jellyfish.
Apart from it’s tiny size, the Irukandji jellyfish shares many of the traits of the box jelly, with the addition of stingers on the bell as well as the tentacles. A sting from the Irukandji is also similar, however there are additional symptoms.
These are mainly psychological, including sudden-onset anxiety and psychological phenomena, such as a feeling of impending doom. The complete range of symptoms has become known as ‘Irukandji Syndrome’.
When properly treated, a single Irukandji sting is normally not fatal, but two people in Australia are believed to have died from Irukandji stings in 2002. As with the box jellyfish, the best immediate treatment is the application of vinegar.
Jamie Seymour, an Associate Professor from the Australian Institute of Tropical Health, had this to say about applying vinegar: “You can decrease the venom load in your victim by 50 per cent. That’s a big amount, and that’s enough to make the difference, we think, between someone surviving and somebody dying.”
6. Cane Toad (Rhinella marina)
The first genuinely poisonous animal on our list, ingesting a cane toad can be fatal. And licking their backs is not a good idea – despite what you may have heard.
Introduced to combat insects that were ruining sugar cane crops, the Cane Toad was imported from Hawaii in 1953. Today, they inhabit most of Fiji’s 330 islands, and you’ll always see them hopping through puddles and splashing in the wet grass after a rainy day.
Many species prey on the cane toad and its tadpoles, and so it has developed a two-pronged defence. The skin of the toad is toxic, and knowledge of this is often enough to deter predators. But, if that fails, it can secrete a viscous, milky-white fluid called bufotoxin, which is fatal to a lot of animals: particularly dogs.
Human fatalities have been reported, but are probably confined to people who deliberately concentrate the toxin and then ingest it. This might sound foolish, but there is a long history of people interacting with the Cane Toad.
In Panama, women of the Embera-Wounaan tribe would milk the toads for toxin, which was used as an arrow poison. More recently bufotenin, which is a component of the toxin, has been used in Japan as both an aphrodisiac and a hair restorer (although not at the same time!).
But it’s the hallucinogenic properties of cane toads that are perhaps more famous. Under Australian law, bufotenin is a classified drug at the same level as heroin and LSD. Fiji has no such law (even if it did, it would be hard to police), and some people have seen this as an excuse to lick the back of cane toads in order to get high.
A bufotenin ‘trip’ lasts from 10 to 30 minutes. Users report that it’s a very emotional experience, and it can become quite addictive. Unfortunately, the cane toad excretes bufotenin in very small amounts and other toxins in relatively large quantities, which is why toad licking sometimes results in serious illness, or even death.
7. Fire Coral (Millepora alcicornis)
It’s not really coral, and it can’t start a fire. But its sting can really burn!
Corals are one of the most misunderstood creatures anywhere on the planet. A lot of people think they’re plants, because they look like plants, but in fact they’re massive colonies of tiny creatures called polyps.
Fire coral, which has about 80 different species, is not real coral, even though it looks like it should be (and attaching itself to a reef just adds to the confusion!). Instead, it’s part of the hydrozoa classification — meaning it has more in common with a jellyfish than with real coral.
In keeping with its jellyfish family tree, fire coral injects tiny toxic darts into its prey. These are stored on microscopic stinging threads, which do the same job as jellyfish tentacles.
In addition, fire corals have a very sharp external skeleton that can scrape the skin, so if you’re venturing out to the reefs it’s a good idea to wear purpose-designed wet shoes.
Most divers have brushed up against fire coral in the past, so they will have ‘felt the burn’ (pun intended!) They’ll tell you to expect a slightly-delayed stinging or burning sensation, followed by a red rash which is both extremely painful and very itchy. Some people have reported nausea and vomiting, although this is rare.
The best treatment for a fire coral sting is, yet again, a vinegar rinse. After that, it’s just a matter of keeping the area clean, dry and open to the air — time will do the rest.
One positive message about fire coral is that experienced divers are aware of it and so give it a wide berth. This in turn means less physical human contact with the real coral. Such contact is very harmful to the reef, and so anything that can reduce it is helping to conserve the few remaining reefs we have left.
In that sense, fire coral is great for the underwater environment: so that’s a good thing!
8. Stonefish (Synanceia verrucosa)
A master of camouflage, the stonefish is the world’s most venomous fish, with a toxin capable of killing an adult human in less than an hour.
Reaching up to 13 inches in length, the stonefish can usually be found hiding on the sea bed, perfectly camouflaged as a rock or stone. Lying patiently, often for many hours, stonefish wait for a smaller fish or shrimp to swim past.
Although their venom is the most toxic of any fish, stonefish don’t use it to paralyse their prey. Instead, they grab at passing fish with powerful jaws and use the suction created by their large mouths to suck down their prey whole. The entire process is blindingly quick, often lasting less than a tenth of a second.
Stonefish will not actively attack predators, instead relying on their venom to disparage any hunters. However, their excellent camouflage and ability to lie motionless is a problem for humans, as it’s very easy to step on a stonefish by accident.
Their potent venom is delivered through a set of 13 needle-like dorsal fin spines, which extend upwards when the fish feels threatened. These spines will also deliver toxin when any pressure is applied to the fish’s body, including putting bare feet on it by accident. The more pressure, the more venom that’s injected — and less than half of a stonefish’s toxin is all that’s needed to kill a human.
A stonefish sting causes excruciating pain which can last for many hours. Further symptoms include swelling, temporary paralysis and shock, and the toxin is potentially lethal if not treated immediately with anti-venom.
The recommended first aid treatment is to soak the affected limb (usually the foot) in hot water. In the case of stonefish venom, using a tourniquet or pressure bandage is no longer best practice.
Although many victims have been treated for stonefish stings, in the last 40 years only one resulted in a fatality, and that was in Nago Beach, Japan. No deaths from stonefish have ever been recorded in Fiji.
Are There Any Poisonous Snakes in Fiji?
The short answer is ‘no’, but that’s because it’s the wrong question. There’s a difference between the terms ‘poisonous’ and ‘venomous’ that confuses some people. Basically, poison has to be ingested for it to have any effect, whereas venom gets injected into the bloodstream by a bite or sting.
So now that we know the difference between poisonous and venomous, let’s ask the question again…
Are There Any Venomous Snakes in Fiji?
Yes, there are (see what a difference the right question makes!) Fiji has two terrestrial snakes: the small, nonvenomous Pacific Boa (‘gata’) and the Fijian Burrowing Snake (‘bolo’), which is venomous but extremely.
However, Fiji’s most venomous snakes live in the sea, and one of them definitely belongs on our list.
Well, that brings our list of to a close. We hope this article has been interesting and informative – if we can help any further just get in touch using our social media links.
And please remember: some of the animals we’ve looked at can be very dangerous, but if you respect them and don’t pose a threat, they’ll treat you the same way.
Are there poisonous spiders in Fiji?
No. Fiji has at least 45 species of spider, including some scary-looking giants such as the Huntsman, but none of them are fatal to humans.
Are there crocodiles in Fiji?
There’s only one crocodile that visits Fiji, which is the Saltwater Croc that we’ve looked at above. Apart from this species, no other crocodile has been seen in Fiji.
Are there sharks around Fiji?
Yes, there are eight species of shark that you can find in Fijian waters. In no particular order, they are Blacktip Reef Sharks, Sicklefin Lemon Sharks, Whitetip Reef Sharks, Silvertip Sharks, Grey Reef Sharks, Tawny Nurse Sharks, Bull Sharks and the occasional Tiger Shark.
Are there mosquitoes in Fiji?
Yes, there are — in fact, it’s hard to find a country without mozzies. (Don’t forget your insect repellent!) The mosquitoes in Fiji are irritating, but totally free from malaria, yellow fever and Zika virus.
What is the most dangerous animal in Fiji?
On land, that title easily goes to the Saltwater Crocodile who’s not only dangerous but downright aggressive as well! In the water, the decision is more difficult as there are so many threats, but we’d have to say the box jellyfish is the most dangerous overall.