Dispelling the Urban Legend that surrounds the Australian Dropbear
Copyright 2002 Ashley Gittins
It is a disturbing trend, but many people seem to take great pleasure in spreading fear and misinformation. Sadly, the Australian Dropbear is another victim of this type of treatment. For many years, visitors to Australia have been warned of this almost mythical sounding creature which stalks the forest canopy, waiting for a meal to pass by below. Whilst wide-eyed newcomers are listening intently to this new information, the informant-turned-storyteller may stoop to embellishment. This is unacceptable, as the threat posed to humans by the Dropbear is very real, and should be treated with the utmost seriousness.
I think it's safe to say that most people understand that Aussies love a good yarn. Indeed, competitions for the telling of tall stories are held at many folk and music festivals around the country. While I think that these in themselves are a great thing, perhaps we should be wary of how we allow our storytelling to alter what in effect should be public service announcements. Some of the un-truths I have heard about the Australian Dropbear include:
This embellishment claims that the Dropbear resulted from a chance mating between a native Koala and a Pro Wrestler in the mid to late 1970's. Please! This type of rubbish only serves to dilute the credibility of the Dropbear threat. Goodness knows we have enough trouble with the Government in our Country doing everything they can to conceal the Dropbear's very existence without resorting to blatant jests (look how well they did at hiding the fact that Tasmania has Tigers roamingfreely about). It is well understood that the dropbear has evolved over thousands of years. It's diminutive cousin the Koala was more often found in dryer areas of Australia where it's herbivorous lifestyle was a natural adaptation to scarce food supplies.
Conversely, Dropbear prides were morecommon in sub-tropical forests, where larger mammals (a primary food source) were more prevelant. The population density along coastal areas accounts for the less than comfortable relationship shared over the years by humans and Dropbears. Due to habitat destruction, many Dropbear prides have divided over the years, some of which head further inland in search of more plentiful food sources, and safer environments in which to raise cubs. This in turn has displaced some koala populations. This in fact serves to provide the Australian government with a convenient cover story. They (and others) claim that coastal Koala habitats are being destroyed, thereby lowering the count of koala's typically seen around urban Australia.
This is a fallacy, as koala's never inhabited coastal areas in any great numbers due to the Dropbear not being particularly concerned with matters of ettiquette regarding feeding on relatives. However, since many tourists tend to be dissapointed that they do not see a koala in every eucalytpus tree, the government perpetuates this story of an endagered species in a shrinking habitat. As horrible as it is, it sounds a lot better than saying "Oh, those cuddly things? Yeah, the dropbears ate them all".
A particularly amusing anectdote sometimes linked with Dropbear's is that the german infantry helmets were designed with a spike on the top in order to protect the wearer's from dropbears as they fell from the trees to gouge their throats. Obviously, this story would be a little more credible if the German's had ever actually invaded Australia, but they did not.
There is an interesting adjunct to the military story though. It is not widely known, but during WW-II, the Japanese did in fact land on the northern Australia coast. However, very little combat ensued, as the Japanese were ill prepared for an Australian land invasion. While a number of their forces would have been claimed to snake bites, crocodile attacks and tropical diseases carried by our impressive army of mosquitoes, it is generally beleived that the vast majority of the Japanese forces were defeated by our very own Dropbears, before they even saw Australian troops. Of course, the government (and tourism agencies) deny this, and in fact have made it generally unknown that the Japanese ever invaded Australian soil.
Back to the helmets though, this may explain the stereotypical image of the bikie gang-member donning a German helmet. Bikie gangs are a nature loving group of individuals, so naturally spend a fair amount of time riding the winding roads that criss-cross much of Australia's forestry areas. Perhaps there is some credence to the claim that such a helmet would provide some protection from Dropbear attack, however it remains very unlikely that the helmet was ever designed with this purpose in mind.
I have heard it claimed that Vegemite (a black foodstuff, high in vitamin B, manufactured as a joke to play on tourists) is a good Dropbear repellent when applied to the face and neck. I find this very difficult to believe, but cannot in truth disprove it. The fact is that the only true Dropbear repellent is Aeroguard. It is 100% effective, and not a single confirmed dropbear killing has been recorded against a person protected with Aeroguard (not to mention the fact that smearing Vegemite over your body is far less pleasant than a few sprays of Aeroguard). Due to political pressure Aeroguard is marketed as an insect repellent (a task it also performs rather well). We all have our strange marketing laws, and just as in the USA it is illegal to advertise the health benefits of a non-drug product, in Oz it is illegal to market protection products against "Creatures of plausible deniability". Go figure.
The existance of several species of the Terrestrial Australian Dropbear are well known. However, some reports circulate of a recently evolved genus, the "Aquatic Dropbear". Australia loses a large number of citizens and visitors in our waters, which are well populated with crocodiles, blue-ringed octopi, deadly stonefish, sea snakes, box jellyfish and of course, many species of shark. Not to mention dangerous surf conditions, rip-tides and poorly managed dive trips.
Personally, I do find it difficult to believe that a tree-dwelling mammal could rapidly evolve to the point where it can enter an aquatic environment as a formidable predator.
If there is such a creature, it is much more likely that it is in fact the ancient ancestor of our terrestrial friend we know as the dropbear. Most evolutionary scales hold to the theory that life came from the oceans, with creatures evolving to allow them to function on land, certainly not the other way around. While I personally am not convinced of the existence of an aquatic dropbear, I cannot discount it. I will however point out that the evolutionary process is almost certainly the reverse of what some have claimed.
Many texts dealing with dropbear attacks describe the claws as "great talons of amazing strength and size, usually several inches long, are used to tear the flesh from hapless victims".
The claws are NOT used to tear flesh per se. During the early days of colonisation in Australia (where we spell colonisation with an "s"), medical examinations of victims revealed that it is more of a strike, rip action. The claws of the dropbear are indeed long and strong, but they do not have a sharp edge along their length. An evolutionary viewpoint on this may suggest that the claws are smooth along their length in order to avoid scraping on branches while moving through the cover of the forest canopy. Any excess noise, or falling bark from sharp, scratching claws would likely alert any prey on the forest floor to the danger that awaits them from above. Considering that Dropbears will often hunt as a group, this is a reasonable theory - you could imagine the noise created by a pride of 30 dropbears preparing to strike if they had claws that scraped on the branches they crouched upon. Only the tips of their claws are sharp. The dropbear attacks by driving it's claws deep into the neck of a victim, then using a sideways tearing motion as the slightly curved claw is withdrawn. This method usually results in the veins and arteries of the neck being stretched and torn as opposed to sliced, as some texts may suggest.
The shaping of the Dropbear claw has had an interesting effect on Australian architecture, of all things. If you are a visitor to Oz, no doubt you will have noticed the great attraction we seem to have toward a product known as "corrugated iron". This is a steel sheeting, rolled during manufacture to present an undulating surface. It has been in use since the early days of settlement here, the primary reson for which is that it is difficult for dropbear's to penetrate. It is often said that a dropbear's claws can easily tear into a piece of sheetmetal several millimeters thick. However, a dropbear can only do this by first driving the claw into the metal, and then tearing a rift after puncturing it. The continually curving surface of corrugated iron makes it difficult for the claw to initially penetrate the metal (it's like trying to stab a pea with a fork), which is why it has become such a popular building material. Indeed, in areas of high dropbear density (such as national parks, and outback cattle stations), almost all buildings are entirely sheeted with corrugated iron in order to provide protection (or at least, some time) in the event of a dropbear attack.
I hope that this short work has given you some insight into the dropbear itself, as well as the types of myths and tales perpetuated on the 'net. It's important to verify your sources to ensure that you receive an accurate picture - Never beleive everything you read on the 'net.
Anon. (not verified)
Thu, 04/07/2011 - 16:15
A dropbear is a Koala it is completley innocent and it wont harm you unless u harm them, they eat leaves for cryin out loud. You lot are being idiots there harmless.
Sun, 02/17/2013 - 16:01
are you really the stupid drop bear is another name for a koala because they fall out of trees in there sleep alot and they shit on everything
Aussie (not verified)
Tue, 10/11/2011 - 13:44
Dropbears, The real Deal.
I'm from Australia and I'll gladly clear this up.
Dropbears ARE real, and they can be very dangerous. Aerogaurd and vegemite are proven to ward away Dropbears, as is a genreous amount of Tooth pastse spread behind the ears, or in eastern Australia, forks in the hair has shown remarkable results. A dropbear is strikingly similar to The Koala but is usually bigger and much more ferocious.
If you go out in the scrub (Forrest) in Australia, be sure to have atleast one of these safeguards and ALWAYS have a friend with you, you should be fine.
shane lewis (not verified)
Fri, 02/10/2017 - 12:07
drop bears are real and very dangouros like look up drop bear attaces on you tube GOSH
Anonymous (not verified)
Fri, 07/29/2005 - 06:04
I went on a trip to hastings for a long weekend with my school and they told us that in an activity site called the pgl there was such an animal as a drop bear, but noone believed them, it all sounded like a load of rubbish! But after reading this i am amazed to find that there is such an animal as 'the drop bear' I really didnt have any idea.
Anon. (not verified)
Fri, 09/23/2005 - 12:08
we are producing a high
we are producing a high budget blockbuster based on the drop bear legend. We had no idea when we started this film that the drop bear actualyl existed... do you have any proof for us to use?
Sat, 09/24/2005 - 10:18
Unfortunately tourism plays such an important role in Australia's economy that our Government goes to great lengths to cover up or otherwise obscure any definitive proof of Dropbear existence. As a result, there is no verifiable evidence that I can point you toward in a public fora such as this.
You may do well to continue the google search you used to find this page, as others can provide more factual information that I am willing to risk showing here.
Alternatively you can email me (look on the Business Services page) to discuss the issue - I'm also quite interested in the Tasmanian angle of the production - any tigers?
bwhitecr (not verified)
Tue, 01/10/2006 - 00:07
Perfect example - the recent high profile case of an English backpacker "murdered", his body never found. And recently the news of animal blood in one of the samples sent for DNA testing.
Was he actually murdered or eaten by drop bears?
Anon. (not verified)
Fri, 12/30/2005 - 09:45
i've seen one
as a visitor here i was warned, i didn't believe...i wish i had listened to the advice and carried my vegimite.
it was just terrible and my friend is scarred for life.
why don't the government tell tourists, it's just not fair. we felt so unprepared and people make a joke of it.
i am not laughing now.
Travis (not verified)
Sun, 07/02/2006 - 11:18
i know well of the dropbear. they are very real and very frightening
Anon. (not verified)
Thu, 08/31/2006 - 05:25
Once i went on a school trip
Once i went on a school trip and this aussie lady sed that wen we went on a night walk there was these drop bears and she saw one so she yelled DROP!! and we all dropped and she sed that it was real and now my friend has seen and heard a giant one about 4 meteres tall it was black with red eyes and its right and our local community center which is just across the road so HHHHEEEEEEEELLLPPP MEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!
Alan (not verified)
Fri, 10/20/2006 - 13:54
For the sake of all tourists and uneducated Australians. The best test for a Dropbear infestation is to lay on your back and spit up into a tree. If something spits back, your know you are in Dropbear Country!
Timothiess (not verified)
Thu, 10/26/2006 - 15:30
there are such thing as drop bears. just look it up on google, they are very real and are attracted to singular people or animals strayed for there familys!
so dont go ALONE
You HAVE been warned
sceptic (not verified)
Sun, 03/11/2007 - 01:14
I am a austrailian and prowd of it i grow up in the country and have spent many hours doing servival trips into the bushland and native forests. The first time i heard of the legend of the drop bear was by an old aboriginal who tought me how to track wild game ect... But i have never seen or heard them personaly. I am prowed of my country and the native bush land, that is why it really upsets me to hear about these con-sites. Realy people do you beleive this crap????? where is the proof ???? have there ever been any photos or even dead remains of a so called drop bear or do they simply vanish when they die like the mystical unicorn or the dragon ?????? i know that this post will be wiped off this site as soon as the web master see's it and i am hopeing that it wont because i am posting a chalenge here for some reall proof not just hyped up stories of suposid sitings. i do beleive that there are things out there that cant be explained but even big foot siting have some sort of proof like foot prints of blury photos.
i supose what i am asking here is can anyone show any kind of proof like mayby a photo of dropbear skelitons or a scrap of fur, even a photo of its dropings would be good enough for me.
as i have spent many many hours out in the bush and have never seen or heard them it could be that i may have found anouther repelent for drop bears, this would be my hunting knife and my coumpound bow lol.
thanks for letting me have a say
Greg (not verified)
Tue, 05/01/2007 - 13:47
I served in the army and was based in Queensland in Townsville. I HAVE seen the remains. It was when we were doing a survival course near a place called Weipa. We were being shown different survival skills by an Aboriginal elder when we happened across the carcass. We were told that we had to get out of the area quickly as it would not be long before quite a number of them arrived. Not only are Drop Bears (not really a Bear as such) carnivores, they are also cannabalistic. Which is why you will rarely if ever see a dead one. By the way I am proud of my country as well, but I am ashamed that the truth about some of its realities are kept in the dark.
Goldie (not verified)
Sun, 05/13/2007 - 18:34
You Want Proof???
How's this photo I managed to snap one morning at me Uncle Bazzas farm up the Mallee. One of these savage creatures who was gorging himself on a helpless goat that wandered too far. It was a very lucky and rare encounter & I'm sure the only reason he didn't attack me was that he hadn't finished with the poor goat yet.
Take care out there! Remember the Aerogard, & Aveagoodweekend.
Anon. (not verified)
Thu, 12/06/2007 - 20:17
I think I love you!
I think I love you!
Anon. (not verified)
Thu, 04/07/2011 - 16:18
this is a photo of a koala that has been photo shopped, seriosly u believe all this shit !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anon. (not verified)
Tue, 02/28/2012 - 12:58
that photo is photoshopped
that photo is photoshopped to the max. mate get a life and a shave i think that youll have to wake up to your self
for goodness sake
Slartibartfast (not verified)
Thu, 06/23/2011 - 14:35
How can you be Australian and not have heard of leg-pulling? We are the world champions at it!
Ray (not verified)
Wed, 06/29/2011 - 18:35
Mate take a joke, as someone else wrote the Drop-Bear is our countries best joke.
The joke began when some genius of a practical joker tricked some tourists I am guessing.
I also here that it fooled the US Army when they first setup a base here.
The Drop Bear is nothing like Big Foot etc which Americans seem to actually take seriously, the drop bear is something that we pretend to believe in for fun and then scare the pants off tourists with. But then again maybe there is some truth to it all.
Be proud of being a part of the country with the worlds best and oldest Tourist Prank. :)
caitlin (not verified)
Wed, 09/05/2007 - 14:45
ive been and done that at the time i didnt know what drop bears where but now i know its scary lol
Anon. (not verified)
Thu, 11/29/2007 - 10:29
Please, please, PLEASE learn how to use apostrophes properly. "Aussies", not "Aussie's". If there is something belonging to "it", write "its". If you mean "it is", write "it's". The plural of koala is "koalas", not "koala's".
Anon. (not verified)
Sun, 01/06/2008 - 09:25
This article gives a whole new twist to the "Bundy" (Drop bear ads) that ran on tv a few years back. HA HA HA!!!
Lawrence of Aus... (not verified)
Fri, 08/22/2008 - 22:16
In reply to lay on your back
In reply to lay on your back and spit up - I too have been told this and know this to be true from my own experience by watching fellow humanity.
I had heard (then glimpsed) drop bears in the canopies above and felt the eucalyptus oil dripping down on my skin. This is when I (now) back slowly away and reach for my vegemite sambo and nonchalantly munch on it. If you act innocuous enough you can escape unharmed. I know this now because I have significant scars and three years of surgery (and recovery) when one latched on to my elbow .
Depending on where you are in Australia, rubbing vegemite behind the ears attracts Kindy bees and whilst Vegemite was previously rated as the best way to deter Drop Bears it is now considered only part of the solution (due to the bees).
Kindy bees need to be dealt with as separate issue. I can't remember the exact recipe my Nan gave to us but I think it contained a combination of bread, bananas, milk, accelerant and mud. You then envelope the mix in Gladwrap, squash it and leave it in the sun for three to five days. After it has fermented you then 'peg' (read: throw, toss, launch) at your own head - if the bees are present- and/or in the general location of the Drop Bear. WARNING: DO NOT IGNITE!
I live now in an area where I have no native trees, therefore no Drop Bears. I have nightmares but they are subsiding and I sleep.....and dream of Bears..
OlFarts (not verified)
Wed, 10/21/2009 - 04:00
Anti Drop Bear nets now available
A Chinese company now make "Anti Drop Bear" nets.
When we were up in Katherine in the NT a local Aboriginal lady was hospitalized for 5 weeks from a sever mauling from a Drop Bear,even with her bush skill's,she was still attacked.Believe me it wasnt a pretty sight.
I would strongly suggest any one entering the bush and is not aware of the Drop Bears mating call or can instantly recognize Drop Bears claw prints purchase an approved Australian standards (Code No 0410e) Drop Bear net.
They can be purchased at any good camping store,Tourist information center's all around Australia now stock them.
Tourist information centers stock APPROVED Drop Bear nets which are "not" to be put on public display (a Government cover up??) As having them on display may frighten small children.
So PLEASE as a concerned Aussie not wanting to see our welcome tourists harmed,i beg you to ask for a Drop Bear net at any camping store or Tourist Information Center before you venture into the Australian bush.
Dave and Cookie
Al Dundee (not verified)
Fri, 05/07/2010 - 16:47
Anti Drop Bear Nets
Dave and Cookie,
If only Anti Drop Bear Nets had been around 18 years ago, my Auntie Elle would still be with us today.
They should be mandatory for anyone going bush between about October and May.
Fri, 07/23/2010 - 14:33
Drop Bear Sanctuary
A couple of comments, there is a distinct difference between the Northern Drop Bear and the furrier Southern Drop Bear, the Northern species is larger, weighing up to 100kg and is identified by it's short hair and longer claws, they kill their prey by lacerating with the claws.
The Southern species weighs up to about 60kg and has shorter legs and small claws but does have very large canine type teeth which it uses to attack it's victims, it also has a long furry coat as it can be found in the alpine regions of Victoria and NSW.
We have a Drop Bear Sanctuary in Gippsland as we felt that these creatures are becoming endangered, we are not open to the public and we only have Southern Drop Bears, at present we have about 75 and are running a successful breeding programme, what we do ask is that if anyone has a Northern Drop Bear we would like to try and breed these too.
Please contact us if you can help.
Sat, 10/16/2010 - 09:52
Re: Drop Bear Sanctuary
Wow BH, that's quite a pride you have running there! Do you mainly sustain them with 'roo meat or do you have some other source?
I wasn't aware of the distinction between northern and southern species - it makes sense though I guess, with the colder climates it would be an evolutionary advantage to be shorter and more energy-efficient. A lot of lower-lying scrub would give them a camouflage advantage too.
Big props for establishing a sanctuary - I don't know that I'd have the guts to do that. Must be quite a rush when the pride moves between their killing fields. Just imagining seeing all of them streaming across an opening in the scrub as the morning fog lifts gives me goosebumps! I'd be really interested in visiting some time but I understand the unique position you are in on that respect, so I'll bide my time until the political environment is a bit more... accommodating.
I might pass on your suggestion of trying to raise some northern dropbears in captivity! I do hope someone takes up the mantle for them though, as vicious as they are they do deserve our protection - would be a shame for them to go the way of the Thylacine or the victorian scrub panther.
Thanks for your comments!
Northern Sanctuary (not verified)
Fri, 02/24/2012 - 12:47
Its great to hear we are not alone! We have just completed setting up our new dropbear sanctuary, just south of Cairns, in Queensland, giving our beloved Northern Drop Bears a place to live and recouperate.
Here are a few interesting facts that you may be unaware of :
1. The northern drop bear (in our experience) usually grows to a maximum of 120Kg. only juveniles are usually under the 100Kg mark.
2. The Tilt trains (not the queenslander - its too slow) has been responsible for a dramatic decline in wild drop bear populations. Its top speed makes it impossible for the drop bears to make it away in time (often it seems the drop bears try to follow the tracks to safety.....) from records we obtained recently (FOI investigation), we found that as many as five drop bears fall victim to this cruel fate. in fact, there is a railways workshop in Rockhampton with literally dozens of the front ends of the tilt trains in stock to repair the trains if the damage is too bad from the impact!
3. The northern drop bears dont often hunt in packs. from our experience they tend to be lazy, carefree individuals. From our observations, most drop bear attacks happen when (usually tourists and city folk) walk noisily underneath trees. This often causes them to wake up with a start, and fall out of their tree. this generally results in a vicious beating for the unexpecting tourist.
4. drop bears dont feast on "road kill". Their normal prey (and indeed what we feed them) is wild (bush) pigs. it would appear that they eat only living animals.
5. Drop bears seem to try to revive their prey, often at the waters edge. This often results in the dead drop bear being left there, and within hours being devoured by the crocodiles. Once again experience tells us that as few as 10% are canabalistic.
6. The northern drop bear is often almost golden-brown in colour, and often have black fur around or near the muzzle or head. this may have something to do with various flora in the region. Their fur is similar in appearance, length and feel to to that of an english staffy.
We are considering opening to the public in the near future, as a tourist attraction. our problem is public liability insurance, for which the government has black-listed anything drop bear. We are hoping that this may be adressed at the upcoming elections. We too are considering a breeding program, but being the only norther sanctuary its quite difficult! We have approached several zoo's, both local and international, but always get met with the "sorry - its prohibited by government regulation........".
Alan Hombos (not verified)
Wed, 09/22/2010 - 14:37
Re: drop bear nets?
Do you know where I can buy these drop bear nets?
I have been to 3 stores recently but none of the idiots knew what they were. One of them was a real smart @rse and wouldn't believe me about dropbears, as I walked away I saw him laughing with his mate. I really hope that moron goes bush one day and for that 1 second before the bear kills him - will realise that I WAS RIGHT.
Alisa (not verified)
Fri, 05/20/2011 - 20:39
Get the facts. There is too much myth and nonsense.
All these mistruths and myths just confuse tourists. It may put their safety at risk.
The Australian Museum has some very good factual information on drop bears, their habitat and distribution:
The Drop Bear, Thylarctos plummetus, is a large, arboreal, predatory marsupial related to the Koala.
Anon. (not verified)
Tue, 02/28/2012 - 12:55
drop bears are not real
do you seriously believe that drop bears are real??????
they are a made up thing made to scare tourists
get a life.
BrumbyBob (not verified)
Fri, 05/18/2012 - 09:55
Drop bears mating season
Has anybody noticed that the deniers never sign their names. It's always Anon>
There is something that nobody here seems to be willing to speak about & those who have suffered it are seldom willing to speak about for fear of ridicule & persecution, is the sexual habits of Dropbears. The male Dropbear (known as a bull) has an uncontrollable sexual desire during the mating season. I'm speaking here about the Northern species. I'm not familiar with the southern variety at all.
It is thought that heart attacks brought on by too much sex is highest killer of Bull Dropbears, same as with antechinuses (marsupial "mice"). It was thought that the bulls were fighting each other for the females but according to some observers in the Kuranda region apparently there aren't enough females to go around & the loser in a male-on-male fight suffers the humiliation of being raped!
Now one day if you're alone in the bush, during the Dropbear rutting season, and you happen upon a bull dropbear in rut you will quickly realise, as you are being thoroughly humiliated, just how real Dropbears are.
sexy man 21 (not verified)
Fri, 02/10/2017 - 12:18
drop bears are real ive lost
drop bears are real ive lost my leg left arm and my right eyes from a drop bear and i have a scare mark on my ass
Aussie (not verified)
Fri, 11/15/2019 - 12:19
proof of dropbears
in case you don't believe this website, there are many reliable websites separate from government control that verify dropbears existence. Eg. the Australian Museum, and Australian Geographic, a popular nature magazine in Australia who posted the findings of an experiment on Tasmanian Drop Bears
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