Ouch! Dangerous Animals

I thought of this article when Rebecca talked to her family and asked about her uncle who was bitten last year by a snake. It got me to thinking: What else lives in the Philippines that can hurt you, animal wise? A quick search online revealed very little in terms of real information, so I thought that I would look into what creeps and crawls around these islands.

Disregarding the obvious jokes about poisonous politicians or taxi drivers, there are animals here that are better left alone. Most unfortunate encounters occur when these creatures are stepped on or threatened… Remember, most of the time, you are intruding into their territory and home and not the other way around. I think most people have a fascination with wild animals. I mean, let’s face it… Who watches the idiots on Animal Planet running around picking up snakes and spiders without secretly hoping that they’ll see them get bitten? Obviously, I’m not the only one, since those shows certainly have many viewers. People also have fears of these animals, mostly irrational, including myself, as I’ll describe below.

Survival Cebuano

At one time, prior to Spanish colonization, the entire Philippine Archipelago was nearly completely covered by primeval jungle. Today, as a result of deforestation, only about 5% of the country is virgin rainforest, most of which is protected. That is where most of these animals live, and there is no reason to fear encountering them in Manila, Cebu, or Davao. However, there is always the chance that a Cobra could make its’ nest under your house, or that if you visit the provinces, you’ll have an unwelcome encounter. So, my listing of animals best left alone:

Snakes
There are around 179 species of snakes present in the Philippines, of which, 14 are poisonous or harmful to Man. One of the world’s most venomous snakes, the Philippine Cobra, is native here, and it definitely is not an animal to mess around with. It is described as aggressive, and is very, very common. Shorter and squatter than the King Cobra, it is very common near rice paddies and anywhere there is food (mice, rats). I have seen a couple of these up on the farm, and if you encounter one, give it a wide berth, since these are spitting Cobras. Also native here, are many species of sea snakes, all of which are also highly poisonous, but shy around people. Some species are amphibious (They are a type of Krait if they go on land, a true sea snake if they stay in water), and can travel on land near water. Unless you step on one while swimming or are fishing and it gets caught in your net, you will most likely never encounter this snake, but if you are unlucky enough to be bitten, you have only around two seconds left to live, so worrying about them won’t do you much good. Speaking of Kraits, there is the common Krait, which, unfortunately for humans, likes to seek shelter in places like sleeping bags or boots. If you camp in the Philippines, it is best to check your shoes and gear before jumping in. The venom of a Krait has 15 times the potency of a Cobra. Wagler’s Pit Viper, green and commonly found in trees, is another one to be aware of. While traipsing through the jungle, that vine you are reaching for might not be a vine… Lesson learned the hard way. Additionally, there are several other vipers present in the country… If it has a triangular head, then leave it alone. To keep from getting bitten, shuffle your feet while walking, and be careful picking up logs and such. Finally, wearing shoes and long pants when walking in snake-infested areas is always a good precaution. (As a side note, at the Abulug cemetery before All Soul’s day each year when the graves are being cleared, Becky’s family nearly always encounter several snakes.)

Spiders

First off… I HATE SPIDERS. Yes, I know they eat bugs. Yes, I know they are mostly harmless. If any come across my path, they are instantly squished. They are evil incarnate and should be wiped from the Earth (And yes, I know about, and have watched with a queasy stomach, the “sport” of Spider Fighting in the province… Why can’t some people be content with cock fighting???). Fortunately, the only truly harmful spider in the Philippines is the Red Back spider (The same species as in Australia), and it is not too common. Unfortunately for those like me with arachniphobia, there  are several different species of a different native nasty here, in the form of a tarantula, known as a Bird Eating spider. I haven’t seen one, and if I ever do, I’ll probably die of a heart attack. It lives in the jungles, eats the birds for which it is named, and its’ legs can reach 10 inches in diameter. YUCK! They are supposedly harmless to humans, but I sure as hell am not going to go try and pick one up.

Scorpions

There are several poisonous scorpions found in the Philippines. Though the stings are painful, they won’t most likely won’t kill you like their African cousins. Again, they eat insects and will leave you alone unless you happen to try and step on it or squash it. These are found in foliage, at the beach, and under logs and such.

Centipedes and Millipedes

There are some really big centipedes in the Philippines, and one of only three documented cases of  “death by centipede” in the world occured here, from the Scolopendrida species. These suckers can grow to 8 inches long, and looking at them, you wouldn’t want to necessarily pick one up. Most bites are not harmful, though they are painful. Additionally, many centipedes and millipedes excrete toxic or caustic substances as a self-defense that can cause blisters or rashes. We have seen several good-sized centipedes at our house in Quezon City (But none of the really big ones, as of yet. Again, common in rural and jungle areas.

Caterpillars and Leeches

Leeches are native throughout the Philippines, and if you venture through rice paddies or work in them, you most likely will have more than a few attach themselves to you. Primary harm to humans is infection from the bites. When Rebecca was young and working in the fields, her grandmother used to pour salt on them to make them let go. As to caterpillars, many, many varieties here can sting, and some can be deadly. Same precautions as with spiders, except that a common hiking guidebook recommended with caterpillars: if it looks poisonous, it most likely is poisonous.

Crocodiles

There are two species of native crocodile in the Philippines. The Asian Freshwater Crocodile is very common, can get quite large, and will try to eat you if it thinks you are food. We frequently see them up in Abulug. Riding in a banca up a river with your hand lolling in the water may not be the best of ideas! The second species of crocodile is the Philippine crocodile, which is usually only a meter or so long, is highly endangered (so you probably won’t see one), and is unknown to hurt humans (more accurately, humans tend to eat the crocodile here).

Things that Swim

There are dozens of species of sharks in Philippine waters, though most don’t consider humans as food and will generally leave you alone. There have been shark attacks here, so precautions like not swimming with open wounds would be wise. In addition to the aforementioned sea snakes, there are moray eels, which have been known to bite divers, stingrays that can sting if you step on them, and many, many species of jellyfish (some deadly). There are also many species of octopus, which have a poisonous bite, but generally shy away from people. Additionally, there is one species of cuttlefish that can kill you with a sting, and the Philippines is also famous as the home of the Lionfish, which is familiar to people who keep aquariums (Those spiny fish which look like they are wearing draperies), and stepping on one would be a really painful and potentially fatal experience. Finally, for those who like to collect seashells, the Cone Shell is native here, and if the animal inside is still alive when you pick up the shell, that will probably be the last time you will ever pick up a seashell (The poison has killed people… at the very least, it is painful). Basic precautions while swimming: If you see the beach littered with jellyfish, don’t go in the water, obey shark warnings in places like Boracay where they are issued, and shuffle your feet while wading to shoo away creatures who live nearby.

Other Animals

There are various reports of encounters with the Philippine Bearcat, but they are so endangered that it is highly unlikely a visitor would encounter one (Disregarding that the local lore has evolved into a legend similar to that of the Chupacabra… Don’t believe everything you hear). There are several species of poisonous frogs in jungle areas, but unless you pick one up or eat one, you are unlikely to be bothered by them. Several coral species are poisonous, but those who dive here already know what to look for in most cases.

Actually, the creature that has caused the most deaths of humans in the Philippines is the smallest and most dangerous: The mosquito. Disease from these little buggers is the biggest wildlife threat the casual visitor is likely to encounter. Common sense precautions should keep you safe from the other creatures. The answer is simple: Watch where you step, where you sit or place your hand, and keep calm.

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JohnM

John Miele is a Citizen of the World, having spent time in many locations around the globe. Currently, he finds himself in Manila, but travels throughout the Philippines. John joined the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine in mid-2008.

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Bacolod Barry
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Bacolod Barry

Hi John

Is rabies in dogs still a problem? I was told that many wild dogs have rabies, but maybe this was told to prevent children from touching them and getting bit.
For me, the mosquito is more scary than a big spider 🙂

scott in dipolog
Guest

hi Bob,i am new on this site,its great,it prepared me for my first visit and now i am here in dipolog permeantly,packed my bags and left las vegas with a buyout from work.About the banking account,I walked into BDO with nothing more than a passport and a Nevada drivers license and i opened a dollar account with an atm card which i pick the card up in 10 days at the bank,i dodnt even have a phone yet,so no number and i am staying at a motel,which i didnt even fill in the address on the paperwork.I didnt have the… Read more »

judith candelario
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Yes,, dogs have rabies,, and even humans,, there were some incidents here in batangas where people died because of dog bite,, I myself knew one, the father of my friend died because of dog rabies which entered his wound on his finger while slottering a dog.

Han
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Han

Hi john,

Just an fyi… Bearcats are not dangerous. They are docile and probly why u wont see them often is because they are nocturnal. Their diet consist of fruits and insects. They are just about the size of a dog and suprisingly you can actually approach them. So i dont think they really belong in this article. 🙂

Thanks!

Rusty
Guest

Hi John, I've been waiting and looking forward to this article. (I noticed it in drafts.) I grew up in "the woods." Hunting and fishing are in my blood. Well fishing got to hot when got older and lazier. LOL I have found it very difficult to find out anything about wildlife in the Philippines. Jessie is defiantly a city girl and has no interest in them though she's a bit more interest now that I have asked her questions. She didn't even know they have deer here. You wont find many hunters that are not also conservationist. One of… Read more »

brian
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brian

Just spent a year in the Phils .. mostly Mindanao. As a biologist with a lot of herp and ento experience and study I can tell you first hand that there are many organisms that are not even accurately classified in the Phils. If I were to decide on a doctorate … I’d do it there … because there are so many species that are not even classified … or classified incorrectly. So many errors in what is known … and finding new species/subs all the time .. with little actual research behind any of it. While there, I was… Read more »

Alex
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Alex

Hi Brian, I live in Phils since 2011 and own 5ha. Part of it it’s a jungle/timberland in Leyte province. I feel pretty safe there, even seeing some wildlife, spiders and snakes included, but after reading this article I think I’ll be more carful. Unfortunately, I was a victim of dengue and it took me 4 days in Ormoc hospital to get well. Thanks God my blood plates went up and transfusion was not needed. If you are interested to observe and do some research in the jungle I invite you to my property, maybe you can find something interesting.… Read more »

Dennis
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Dennis

Hello Alex , I am from the USA and have a little over 13,000 sq. meters near Baybay , Leyte just south of Ormoc city. We have a house on that property and rent it to a guy from Texas for the last few years. He said he never seen a Cobra there since he has lived there but we have killed 5 in the last 10 years. We were building a fence and seen one and the others just cutting the grass. I have seen some spiders but not real big in our house in town ( Baybay )… Read more »

Pat
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Pat

You are so lucky to be able to live on a mountain in Philippines. I am an American astronomer and would love to take my telescope there and rent a small house on a mountain and watch stars all year round. But I am not rich so will probably remain only a dream.
Pat

Lex
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Lex

Hi I’m lex I spent many long years in parts of philippines and I can honestly say I have seen only a few snakes rather large pythons , in bohol you have to beware of the spitting cobra because there is no anti venom on the island and it might be too late to get to cebu if you stand a chance of living there is also crocs and scorpions I actually picked up an 18 foot Python a few weeks ago well it’s head that was in Bohol a local there told me there was a few people killed… Read more »

Rusty
Guest

Rabies are still a concern here. My girlfriend was bitten by a dog when she was a child (now 30) and the dog died a few days later from rabies. That kind of got my attention because I've never known anyone that had to have rabies shots before. She did, right into the stomach just as they say. I don't know how serious of a problem it is, I've been wondering the same thing but it is an issue.

Sesaria
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Sesaria

No typhoons? Yes, I remember! That's a big draw for us typhoon-weary Tagalogs. All the more reason to consider Samal, when the time is good for us….

John Miele
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John Miele

Barry and Rusty; Rabies is a big problem here, and is endemic. I should have put stray dogs on my list, since they are so common here. Fortunately, most of the strays LOOK sick, so it usually is common sense. Best to leave strays alone and not feed them. If you take one in, then get it to the vet.

Daryl Lister
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Daryl Lister

I,m still amazed the construction guys in the photo have scaffolding! No bamboo down there? 🙂

John Miele
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John Miele

Rusty: The reason I wrote this is that there is virtually nothing online about wildlife here… very little, and the sites I found were nearly all scientific in nature (I searched on a site with the taxonomic names as the link… went through nearly all of them, for about an hour). I did see some very limited field guides at Amazon and National bookstore for online ordering, though. For tracking wildlife, a printed field guide would be best, I think.

Brian Monaghan
Guest
Brian Monaghan

Hi guys
i have lived here for almost three years now and we live in the mountain area near sierra madre if you know it, anyway i think i have a few pics (not professional standards) that you might be able to use we get big spiders and snakes up here all the time some other wildlife as well where can i email them to John??? if you want them that is.
Cheers and merry xmas to all
Mono

Tommy
Guest

Wow great stuff John. like you I too am arachniphobic. I was bitten in 2006 by a brown recluse and nearly lost my arm.

I was hospitalized for two weeks and had to have home health dress my wound for another month after that.

Good to know what lurks in dark places thanks !

macky
Guest

oh, right. what was i thinking? my wife grew up in a house in juna, now the streets are just parking lots for ateneo (which i think sucks & that ateneo should feel obligated to build their own parking structure).

i'm a lanang guy, so sometimes i forget these things.

scratch that idea then.

John Miele
Guest
John Miele

Tommy: Eons ago, in boot camp at Ft Lost in the Woods, Misery, a guy in my unit was bitten by one on the bum… same thing you described. Not pretty.

Becky squashes the spiders for me, but I think one of the bird spiders would be where she drew the line! Perhaps I'll just introduce it to Mr. Cinder Block!

BrSpiritus
Guest
BrSpiritus

I had an encounter when swimming at Costa Marina on Samal with an Electric Ray… quite a shocking experience to say the least. Just put my hand in the wrong place and paid for it with my arm being numb the rest of the day. The largest spider I have seen in Davao is the Huntsman Spider and they are harmless… very shy and it's rare to seem them out and about in the daytime. We did have a redback take up residence in the office of my old rental… I put paid to her real fast before she could… Read more »

David S.
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David S.

Another great article John. You always put a lot of excellent insight into your writing. I look forward to seeing them!

bilal
Guest

I here you about spiders, let me tell you my little experience, one time we were at the market in Angeles city and I feel something on top of my sunglasses by my nose, I'm looking at shorts to buy, I brush it a way thinking it's just a fly then I still felt it then felt it crawling and i knocked of my sunglasses and a freaking huge hairy spider feel down, I had the heebe-jeepies for days after that think that thing was crawling on my face, YUCK!

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