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Snakes? Spiders? Australia's deadliest animal will surprise you

Researchers search through hospital records and discover the dangers of a creature not typically thought of as deadly.

Horses can be dangerous.

Amanda Kooser/CNET

Australia may be home to a plentiful selection of dangerously venomous animals, but snakes, jellyfish and insects aren't the country's biggest killers. A study published in the Internal Medicine Journal reviewed injuries and fatalities due to venomous creatures. However, non-venomous animals, notably horses, took a higher toll.

Public health expert Ronelle Welton with the University of Melbourne's Australian Venom Research Unit combed national hospital records spanning from 2000 to 2013 to look into where and why venomous injuries and deaths occur. The data for other animal-related deaths from the same time period provides an interesting contrast.

Perhaps the most surprising comparison, as noted by the University of Melbourne, is that 74 people died from being thrown or trampled by horses, whereas there were 27 snake-related fatalities and none at all due to spiders. Shark attacks caused 26 deaths.

When it comes to venom-related injuries, bees and wasps caused 33 percent of the 42,000 hospitalizations covered by the study. Allergic reactions seemed to be the biggest culprit in the 27 deaths associated with the flying insects.

"Bees are a ubiquitous creature that we are accustomed to seeing. Perhaps it's because bees are so innocuous that most people don't really fear them in the same way they fear snakes," Welton says.

Spider bites caused 30 percent of venom-related hospital admissions while snake bites only accounted for 15 percent.

According to the research, a lot of the danger lurks close to home and in urban areas. More than half of the deaths reviewed in the study occurred at home while 64 percent happened in major cities and other areas with easy access to healthcare facilities.

The study appeared in Royal Australian College of Physicians' Internal Medicine Journal in October, but the University of Melbourne detailed it Tuesday, calling it "the first large-scale audit of death and injury from envenoming ever undertaken in Australia."

The research serves as a stark reminder that while it's OK to have a healthy respect for snakes and insects, sometimes the biggest dangers come from unexpected places.

Update, January 18 at 9:15 p.m. PT: This story has been updated to clarify what information was specifically covered in the study published in the Internal Medicine Journal.

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