Facts about the animal kingdom

The Most Dangerous Animals in New Zealand

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: May 7, 2024
The Most Dangerous Animals in New Zealand

New Zealand and Australia are often confused with each other, with some thinking them as being interchangeable. Despite similarities in location and culture, they have very stark differences in terms of geography and biodiversity. Australia is associated with some very dangerous animals, with many people fearing to travel there due to its reputation. Some may think the animals of New Zealand are equally dangerous, but this is not the case. Generally speaking, the animals of New Zealand are not as deadly as those of Australia. This is not the same as saying there are no New Zealand deadly animals.

At AnimalWised, we share the 12 most dangerous animals in New Zealand. We explain why they are so deadly and provide photos for you to see them up close, but from a safe distance.

You may also be interested in: The Most Dangerous Animals in Spain
  1. Katipō spider (Latrodectus katipo)
  2. White-tailed spider (Lampona cylindrata)
  3. Kea (Nestor notabilis)
  4. Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen)
  5. New Zealand sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri)
  6. Pacific man o' war (Physalia utriculosa)
  7. Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias)
  8. Other dangerous animals in New Zealand

Katipō spider (Latrodectus katipo)

The first in our list of the most dangerous New Zealand animals, we have the katipō. It is from the genus Latrodectus, the spiders of which are known as true widows. For this reason, the katipō is also sometimes known as the New Zealand black widow spider. Despite being relatively small, spiders of this genus can envenomate with a highly potent neurotoxin. The bite of the katipō is similarly dangerous.

Fortunately, despite their potential lethality, the katipō has not been responsible for many deaths in the past century. This is because they will usually only bite as a last resort and it is rare for humans to encounter them in the wild. Females are larger, meaning they have a greater ability to bite. Bites from males are rare. The sexual dimorphism in this animal is not limited to size since females are darker and have a characteristics red stripe which males lack.

The venom of katipō contains neurotoxins that can cause latrodectism, a condition characterized by muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, intense abdominal pain and sweating. Envenomation is most dangerous in children and older adults, as well as those with preexisting health conditions. Another reason bites are rare is due to their declining population numbers in the wild.

The Most Dangerous Animals in New Zealand - Katipō spider (Latrodectus katipo)

White-tailed spider (Lampona cylindrata)

The next animal on our list is another of the most dangerous spiders in New Zealand. Although not as poisonous as the katipō, a bite can cause swelling, redness and muscle pain. It cannot directly cause necrosis, although there is a possibility of secondary bacterial infection.

The female white-tailed spider is larger than the male, showing a similar sexual dimorphism. Females reach 25 mm in body size and can reach 60 mm when we include their leg span. As their name suggests, they have white hairs over their body, but are brown and black on the legs and abdomen. This is seen in the photo below where they look lighter due to the white hairs.

Finally, these dangerous New Zealand animals usually live in damp, dark corners such as under logs or in basements of human settlements. In addition, they are solitary animals.

The Most Dangerous Animals in New Zealand - White-tailed spider (Lampona cylindrata)
Image: Research Gate

Kea (Nestor notabilis)

We might not think of parrots as being particularly dangerous, but the kea is one of the most pesky birds we can think of. They are very intelligent animals with a history of interacting with humans. Native to New Zealand, they are a beloved type of mountain parrot which is unique to the South Island of New Zealand. Their mischievous nature has led them to being known as the ‘clown of the mountains’.

Although they are not going to directly kill a human, they are known to attack when people get a little too friendly. They are more commonly known for their propensity for stealing items and damaging property. They have been known to kill animals much larger then themselves, with evidence pointing toward the killing of sheep and, potentially, even attacking animals as large as horses.

Learn about the different types of wild and domestic parrots in our related guide.

The Most Dangerous Animals in New Zealand - Kea (Nestor notabilis)

Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen)

Although native to Australia, the Australian magpie has been introduced to New Zealand where it is considered a dangerous animal. This is especially during mating season between July and November when this bird becomes very aggressive. Their introduction to the island nation has caused consternation because they have become a pest to humans and a threat to native animal populations.

If they notice there is a person or other animal near their nest, they will not hesitate to attack. On rare occasions they have caused serious damage to the ears and eyes, but they will not directly kill a person. However, their fondness for swooping down on humans poses significant danger. This could be due to the person being infirmed or because they may attack a cyclist and knock them off their bike.

The Most Dangerous Animals in New Zealand - Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen)

New Zealand sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri)

Also known as the Hooker's sea lion, this NZ dangerous mammal is one of the largest of animals in New Zealand. They are pinniped mammals that live mainly on the country's subantarctic islands. They can weigh almost half a ton, being very robust and burly creatures. You can see their impressive size in the photo below.

The New Zealand sea lion is not aggressive by nature, but they are very territorial. During the breeding season, attacks on humans are known to occur when they feel the need to defend their territory. Due to sharp teeth and strong jaws, it is not a good idea to get close to a New Zealand sea lion. They can also transmit diseases if we receive a bite.

Discover the differences between sea lions, seals and walruses in our related guide.

The Most Dangerous Animals in New Zealand - New Zealand sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri)

Pacific man o' war (Physalia utriculosa)

The Pacific man o' war is a species closely related to the Portuguese man o' war. Also known as the bluebottle jellyfish, they are not only one of the most dangerous animals in New Zealand, they are one of the most venomous animals in the world. Despite the serious risk they pose to our health, they are very beautiful creatures to witness. They have a bulbous float and hanging tendrils which make it look like its from another world.

As seen in the photo, they have an oval transparent shape with beautiful blue markings along the ridges of their float. Their tentacles can measure as long as 98 ft (30 m) in length, making them even more dangerous to swimmers. It is with these tentacles that Pacific man o' war pose their deadly threats. They are lined with thousands of nematocysts, tiny sacs full of toxins. Its sting can cause swelling and redness, nausea, vomiting, severe pain and burning.

Learn about the types of jellyfish and their levels of danger in our related guide.

The Most Dangerous Animals in New Zealand - Pacific man o' war (Physalia utriculosa)

Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias)

As we can see, the level of lethality to humans is relatively low in New Zealand animals as a whole. However, the waters of New Zealand are home to one of the most deadly predators on our planet, the great white shark. This is perhaps the animal that instills the most fear into humans, especially those with a fear of water. Apex predators in their marine environment, the only animal that provides them significan threat is the orca.

Despite the fears implemented in our global consciousness by the film Jaws, attacks by great white sharks on humans are generally rare and particularly uncommon in New Zealand. However, if we are attacked by a great white, their razor-sharp teeth, powerful jaws and incredible speed mean our chances are survival can be significantly compromised. The photo below shows them about to launch out of the water for an attack.

Great white sharks are the most deadly shark, but this does not mean they are the biggest. See where they land on our list of the largest sharks in the world.

The Most Dangerous Animals in New Zealand - Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias)

Other dangerous animals in New Zealand

We have seen the most deadly animals of New Zealand which pose threats thanks to their venom, brutality or even close proximity to human settlements. Below, we find some more of the most dangerous New Zealand animals:

  • Yellow Sac Spider (Cheiracanthium spp.)
  • Sea wasp (Chironex fleckeri)
  • Little Barrier giant wētā (Hemideina gigantea)
  • Smooth Stingray (Dasyatis brevicaudata)
  • Sea urchin (Evechinus chloroticus)

Discover more about the threats animals provide to humans with our article asking are otters dangerous animals?

If you want to read similar articles to The Most Dangerous Animals in New Zealand, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

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Image: Research Gate
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The Most Dangerous Animals in New Zealand