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Death World / Real Life

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There are plenty of environments here on our own planet that can and will kill those who fail to prepare for them or take the appropriate precautions around their hazards. Even the most fantastic fictional examples are often extrapolations of dangers present here on Earth — and that's before we get into the fact that we still haven't found any worlds outside our own that are particularly inviting for human life.


So yeah, we are NOT living in a perfectly safe world, all right.

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"Every creature [in Australia] is bigger and angrier than anywhere else in the world... Spiders and snakes and the like normally hide under rocks. The Earth is one big rock, Australia is at the bottom of the big rock, and so they're trying to hide under it."
Karl Pilkington, Happyslapped by a Jellyfish

Australia is so dangerous, we had to give it its own section.
  • The variety of dangerous Australian Wildlife epitomizes the continent's reputation as a Death World. The following things will kill you: common spiders, most common snakesnote , ticks, crocodiles, sharks, and jellyfish. And that's just the obvious stuff; about the only things that aren't usually dangerous and poisonous are some of the sheep (which aren't even native to Australia). Among the more unusually dangerous animals are:
    • Platypodes (or at least the males), which have some of the most terrifying venom in nature. While many animals in Australia are lethal, the platypus will make you wish it was. The venom attacks the victim's pain receptors, causing pain so horrible that even the highest non-lethal dose of morphine isn't enough to stop it. The only thing that can stop the pain is for the doctor to physically sever the nerve from the affected area to the brain.
    • Wombats — they really can maul you. As they're burrowing animals, they have huge, sharp claws, and a very tough bum made of multiple fused plates, complete with short tail to prevent predators from grabbing hold and dragging them out. A wombat's main defense against predators (chiefly, dingoes) is to run for its burrow and present their ass. If the dingo decides to stick its snout in, they either kick upward with enough force to crack the dingo's skull, or crush the dingo's skull against a wall. So now you can say getting mauled by a wombat is not the most humiliating thing to happen to you.
    • Kangaroos, whose hind legs are strong enough to disembowel a person with a single kick. Makes sense, given how adept they are at hopping around. The kangaroo derives its boxing reputation from its habit of using its arms to hold its victims in place while it wrecks them with its legs. Even its smaller cousin the wallaby can kick you hard enough to break a few ribs.
    • The blue-ringed octopus, the only lethal species of octopus in the world. Its venom causes total paralysis, including involuntary muscle movement — such as your heart and lungs. But not your brain, leaving you conscious for the whole ordeal. And there's no antidote for its venom — the only way to treat it is to start CPR and get the victim on life support long enough for the body to flush the venom out of its system naturally. While it doesn't attack unless provoked, octopi are some of the most intelligent animals in the world, so it does make you wonder.
    • Box jellyfish, which drift through the ocean by the thousands, but which are so small as to be invisible to the naked eye — and which can also kill you. The most infamous variety is the Irukandji, which will actively seek out its prey, can swim through anti-jellyfish nets on beaches, and pack a sting so horrifyingly painful that The Other Wiki includes among its symptoms as "a sense of impending doom." But the most lethal is the Chironex Fleckeri, of which a single specimen contains enough venom to kill 60 adult humans.
    • Also really big jellyfish, like a variant of the Lion's Mane jellyfish that can grow up to 120 feet long and 8 feet across, making it big enough to devour a human whole (although there aren't any recorded cases of that happening). Its stingers can remain dangerous even after detached.
    • Cone snails, packing what amounts to an inbuilt harpoon that's super sharp and venomous. They're a big reason why you should wear reef shoes when you go into the ocean in Australia. You know it's a Death World when the snails can kill.
    • Stingrays, which are usually non-lethal — except they have electroreceptors that detect nearby nervous systems, which means that if one does feel threatened, it's usually going to aim a barb at a vital organ, like your heart. This is how a stingray famously killed Steve Irwin, known to the world as an adventurous animal lover and to knowledgeable Australians as a complete maniac.
    • Emus, which are basically really big beaked velociraptors, and cassowaries, which are like emus, but larger, a lot more aggressive and with a bone outgrowth that's basically an axe attached to its head, as well as three large claws (which are basically very sharp knives) on their feet. Cracked has a video about why cassowaries are so terrifying. The emu and cassowary were even used as models to make the velociraptors of Jurassic Park. Emus are so tough and hard to kill that the Australian Army waged a war against them in 1932...and lost.
    • Koalas, who have razor-sharp claws that are also designed to be habitats for all sorts of nasty organisms (including chlamydia), making them Australia's biological warfare experts. If you try to hug a koala, it'll try to hug you back — with said claws. And its growl sounds like it's from a much bigger animal. Beware the Cute Ones indeed.
    • Cane toads provide an odd case, because they're not native to Australia. They were brought in from the South American jungle as a means to kill predators who weren't used to their venom, and to protect local crops. They were very good at the former; not so much at the latter, and they became an invasive species. This was a major impetus for Australia having strict biosecurity rules that prevent you from importing any non-native plant or animal species that can destroy the local environment — even if the local environment is already trying to kill you.
  • Australian trees can also kill you:
    • Eucalyptus trees have a tendency to explode in the proper conditions. Their dry, waxy leaves and loose bark are very responsive to the country's frequent bushfires. They're known to produce flammable, toxic oils and the fires they start are hot enough to kill basically everything in the general vicinity, which is a very good evolutionary tool for staving off competition (and since it's Australia, the competition is probably deadly, too). Unfortunately they're known to have been at least partially responsible for fires in countries that have imported them, such as the United Statesnote  and Portugal.
    • Gum trees are notorious for dropping limbs with absolutely no warning. Falling gum tree limbs cause serious property damage and deaths, enough that it's a common lesson for Australian children not to stand under gum trees for any appreciable length of time. The legend of the "Drop Bear", an animal that hangs out in gum trees and drops down on passersby, developed as a way to impress upon children how dangerous the trees are (and also to prank the tourists). And yes, gum trees are flammable, too. Some even explode during bushfires.
    • The aptly-named Stinging Tree (also known as the gympie-gympie) and its brethren, which are basically the larger, meaner cousins of nettles. They have very fine hairs which will end up embedded in your skin or otherwise in your body if you walk too close — but since these hairs shed and stay suspended in the air, "too close" generally means "about five kilometers". The hairs are actually poisonous stingers which have been known to kill horses, dogs, and yes, people. Even if it doesn't kill you, it's quite painful — it's called the Stinging Tree for a reason — and the pain tends to last several years, because the hairs are too fine to remove but don't break down in your body, and they'll release toxins every time they're triggered (e.g. touching the stung area, temperature changes, contact with water). The worst bit, however, is that the toxins in the stingers are incredibly stable, to the point where dead leaves found on the forest floor and even decades-old laboratory specimens can still inflict the sting.
  • Even the geography itself is trying to kill you:
    • The Great Australian Bight is a region of South Australia where the ground is very brittle and conceals deep abysses leading to underground caverns filled with seawater, which will happily drown you if it isn't soft enough to prevent you from splatting.
    • Much of the central part of the continent is covered by an immense, red desert where the temperature typically rises up to 50 degrees Celsiusnote . It's so dry that you'll basically die of thirst if you try wandering around in it and you don't know how to access the very deep groundwater.
    • The city of Darwin, on Australia's northern coast and almost right up against Indonesia, is already infamous for its nasty cyclones and isolation, but its soil also contains a bacterium known as Burkholderia pseudomallei, which causes a disease medically known as melioidosis and popularly as Nightcliff Gardener's Disease. The bacterium usually lives deep in the soil but emerges unexpectedly in the wet season. While many people who are exposed to the bacterium do not develop the disease, for those who do, the mortality rate if untreated is nearly 90%, and there's no known vaccine. It's so rare and deadly that even when featured on House, a series famous defined by its rare and deadly diseases, the patient who has it has to resort to taking hostages to get a proper diagnosis.
    • Australian soil is notoriously difficult to plants that aren't already lethal or combustible, as the Europeans found out the hard way when they tried to establish agriculture on the continent. There has been no crustal overturn in most of the continent since the time of the dinosaurs, so Australian soil tends to be very thin and nutrient-poor, and in many places (especially in the southwest), it's also been sprayed with ocean salt for tens of millions of years. Plants have a strong tendency to stay alive by catching fire, and the local humans had to farm by setting everything on fire periodically. The first Europeans to discover Australia were the Dutch, who decided not to bother. When the English landed in 1770, they landed in the middle of the wet season and figured the extreme weather was as bad as it would get; it turned out to be as good as it would get, and they got stuck trying to make it work ever since. Their first attempt at European-style agriculture led to the entire colony catching fire at once because they ignored the Aboriginal method — the event, known as Black Thursday, is still believed to be the worst wildfire in recorded Australian history, which means it was pretty bad.
  • During first quarter of 2020, the situation in Australia has become akin to a Trauma Conga Line, especially in the New South Wales area. It experienced one of the worst bushfire seasons it has had in a long time, then dust storms, hail, and flash floods started to hit in late January that didn't necessarily cancel out the fires. Unfortunately, the harsh weather hitting the country since the latter half of 2019 also didn't render them immune to the COVID-19 Pandemic, either, which began hitting hardest just as the fires calmed down.

    The Rest 
  • The Amazon Rainforest is the world's other default Death World, as everything in it — from the plants, to the insects, to the water itself — is trying to kill you, too. It's massive, impenetrable, full of mosquitoes carrying all manner of diseases, and the water has everything from parasites to piranhas to the infamous candirú, which is the size and shape of a toothpick and follows ammonia trails – which is why you should never urinate in the Amazon.
  • New Guinea is Australia's neighbor (half of it, Papua New Guinea, was even part of Australia until 1975), and it shares Australia's Death World tendencies — but in its own unique way. It's covered in mountains and jungles which are so impassable that the smallest tribes are cut off from each other. Half of the languages spoken on the planet are spoken in New Guinea, many tribes had to resort to cannibalism to survive, and some highland tribes weren't discovered until planes flew over them in the 1930s. The Japanese found this out the hard way when they tried to invade it during World War II, and about 75% of their fighting troops ended up dead, wounded, or sick with some exotic disease or other.
  • The American Midwest and adjacent bits of Canada are known as "Tornado Alley" for a reason. The area is a meeting point for cold air from the Arctic, desert air from the Southwest, and moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, which makes it absolutely perfect for tornadoes. As such, every 10,000 square miles of Tornado Alley gets an average of one tornado every 45-odd days.
  • Siberia was thought of as a penal colony for a reason. It contains Oymyakon, the coldest place in the Northern Hemisphere. It has swarms of literally man-eating vampiric gnats, several varieties of large and aggressive bears, and swamps full of practically every kind of mosquito there is. The ubiquitous permafrost means that agriculture is not possible there. And although the winters are indeed very very cold, the summers are also perversely very very hot, so Siberia gets both extremes. Oh, and much of the ground is muskeg, bogland composed of water and rotten plant material. It's acidic, wet, looks like regular grassland at first glance, and has a nasty habit of swallowing heavy construction equipment, locomotives, and main battle tanks whole. Trapped moose are a common sight in muskeg country in North America. And did we mention the peat can be 100 feet deep in places? So much like in Australia, even the ground is trying to kill you.
  • Also in Russia we have the peculiar Death Valley of Kamchatka. A mysterious small area, no longer than 2 km and no wider than 100-500 meters, regularly kills every animal that searches for food there. The Valley is located on the way of concentrated gas emissions that fill the basin with hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, carbon sulfide and other poisonous fumes. All poisonous elements that kill everyone who stays there long enough for the poison to work. Also, the area is full of thick layers of sulfur and that's why the bodies of animals do not decay for so long: even bacterial activity is suppressed due to the poisonous atmosphere.
  • Very tall mountains are Death Worlds by virtue of the extreme environments at high altitude. The "Death Zone" is defined as any altitude above 8000 meters, as the atmosphere is so thin that it cannot permanently support human life. Even the toughest-lunged mountain climbers need supplemental oxygen to avoid losing their minds and falling off a cliff. Mount Everest, the world's tallest mountain, has very unpredictable snowstorms, so the frostbite will get you if the altitude doesn't. Climbers need to spend several weeks acclimating themselves to the environment by spending time at progressively higher camps, and they still need the extra oxygen. K2, the world's second-tallest mountain, is actually harder to climb than Everest because it's steeper and more technically difficult.
  • Africa has the distinction of hosting both natural and man-made varieties of Death World. It's home to some of the most dangerous animals on Earth, including big cats, hyenas, all manner of deadly snakes, and the world's single most aggressive and dangerous animal, the hippopotamus. Its mosquitoes contain all sorts of exotic and deadly diseases. It's got vast deserts and dense jungles, both of which are oppressively hot. It's got places like Lake Kivu, where volcanic activity could cause it to belch lethal amounts of carbon dioxide at any time. And on top of that, it's home to some of the worst violence and political instability in the world; Somalia takes the cake with its Forever War that has left the government in control of only small portions of the country.
  • Arizona is like "Australia-lite". Although it's not quite as obscenely lethal, and it's certainly not as empty with its famous cacti, it still gives Oz a run for its money. It's still obscenely hot and the sunstroke can kill you (except in the north, where the Rocky Mountains start and the frostbite gets you when you least expect it). The local wildlife is still lethal, with not just venomous spiders and rattlesnakes, but also large predators like coyotes, cougars, and jaguars. It's also home to the Gila monster, one of only two venomous lizards in the world (like the platypus, it won't kill you but it will make you wish it had). The famous cacti tend to hide dangerous insects and also have a habit of snagging clothing so tightly, you have either use a knife or Give Them the Strip. Neighboring New Mexico has a stretch of desert called La Jornada del Muerto, or the "Dead Man's Trail", which is so devoid of life and water that the U.S. government used it to test the world's first atomic bomb.
  • Part of the reason some things happen Only in Florida is because it has an absurd number of natural hazards. Various parts of Florida and the nearby ocean feature alligators, coyotes, sharks, rattlesnakes, killer bees, brain-eating amoeba, and now - just because it wasn't dangerous enough already - invasive pythons. It gets hit by hurricanes and tornadoes on a regular basis. It's made up of porous limestone that lends itself very well to sinkholes appearing at random to swallow you whole. South Florida's machineel tree has sap so toxic and acidic that it causes third-degree burns (and the native Arowaks were known to execute people just by tying them to the tree). And that's before you get to its population.
  • The jungles of Vietnam were no cakewalk for the average, unprepared soldier on either side, and continues to kill people to this day. Some of their residents:
    • Giant caterpillars as long as a human hand and wide as a thumb, extremely aggressive with a venomous bite that hurts. Expect everything from unsightly swelling to cell death if you get chomped by one.
    • Scorpions attacking people in bivouacs.
    • Red ants that were immune to U.S. bug spray. Tank crews who accidentally bust down the wrong tree and end up with the ants in their tanks would either leave the tank and run for it (facing enemy gunfire), or man the tank naked.
    • Low-hanging vines that, when touched, would grab the unsuspecting person by the arm or neck.
    • Heartbreak Grass, Flame Lilies, Twisted Cord Flowers, and Bark Cloth Trees are all powerful enough to kill a human or cause blindness upon contact or accidental ingestion.
    • Snakes love hot, humid, shady places, so the place absolutely crawls with venomous snakes. Those that aren't venomous are giant constrictors that will murder people in their sleep.
    • Aggressive tigers, leopards, and bears (Oh my!). Those are just the traditional predators. There are also elephants, water buffaloes, and gaurs, giant cows, who will go on a murder rampage that an M-16 isn't likely to stop.
    • Mosquitoes that carry diseases (malaria, for example).
    • Liver flukes, a slow-moving parasite, continues to kill veterans half a century after the conflicts.
    • Leeches, both underwater and on land. The Vietnamese saying "as persistent as a leech" isn't just a figure of speech. They are vampires that get under shirts, into pants, latches on and does not let go until they're sated (in 20-30 minutes). Cut their head off, and you'll have a leech head still stuck to you, with the other half capable of regrowing the head! Leech victims can get off easy (especially if they just got bitten by one leech), but people have died from blood infection and blood loss - leech bites cause your blood to be unable to coagulate, which means bleeding can continue after the removal of the leech.
    • Disasters of a manmade kind: The U.S.' pesticides, bombs, mines, and such have permanently destroyed local flora, caused soil erosion, poisoned the water supplies, caused fatal illnesses in veterans well after the fact (cancer, for example), leaving their postwar children and grandchildren with varying degrees of intellectual and physical disabilities (do not look up Agent Orange victims if you have a weak constitution), and killing/disabling/maiming people who accidentally detonate an explosive left behind.
  • The Atacama desert in Chile is one of the most hostile environments (and the most arid) on Earth, with extremely little, if any, rainfall and some parts where it was thought until recently not even bacteria could survive. In fact, it's used as a stand-in for Mars for filming and studies about such planet, including to test there technologies that will be put on Martian rovers.
  • The ocean itself is a Death World. More than half the life on the planet lives in the water, and 89% of that is composed of apex predators facing constant starvation unless they get their meat fix. For any given animal, just staying still can mean death, either by being eaten or by starving to death. The deep ocean is utterly devoid of sunlight, can be colder than any place anywhere on the surface, and exerts enough pressure to crush a human body several times over.
  • Any major urban area can turn into a Death World if it's not properly maintained, and most industrial-age cities were Death Worlds before they figured out sanitation and refrigeration. Food and water were contaminated, the streets were covered in filth, conditions were cramped and diseases spread easily, and factories belched all sorts of chemicals in the air. Until the late 19th Century when sanitation methods were finally developed and widely adopted, more people died in cities than were born — the only reason cities survived is that they kept getting more people migrating in from the surrounding countryside.
  • Naturally, most Real Life worlds that are not Earth are Death Worlds, and some are particularly nasty:
    • Venus bucks the trend; while most planets are obscenely cold, Venus is obscenely hot — the super-strong greenhouse effect pushes the surface temperature up to 500 degrees Celsius/932 Fahrenheit. The atmosphere is almost all carbon dioxide and about 90 times as thick as Earth's, but the clouds are made of sulfuric acid. The surface pressure is the equivalent of that several miles below Earth's ocean surface, and the only space probes to even reach the surface lasted at best two hoursnote . Part of the reason it's so hot is that it doesn't have plate tectonics, so it periodically leaks lava from its mantle to cover the entire planet's surface and water vapor expelled by that resurfacing event cause temperatures to soar for a time up to 600 degrees Celsius/1112 Fahrenheitnote . And just to top it all off, not only does it rotate so slowly you could literally outrun a sunset there, but it also spins in the opposite direction of all the other planets. It's more like Dante's vision of Hell than the planet next door.
      "Venus is a terrible place."
      Randall Munroe, What If? #30
      • Ironically, Venus, of all planets, may also be the only other planet in the solar system to harbor life, albeit unicellular and in the clouds.
    • Io, Jupiter's innermost large moon, is the solar system's most volcanically active body. It spits huge plumes of sulfur compounds and debris into space in spectacular fashion. Much of the surface is covered with frozen sulfur-based chemicals; what isn't is covered with lava lakes. And it gets the brunt of the radiation from Jupiter's radiation belts, enough to kill a person within hours.
    • Europa, the next moon out from Io around Jupiter, has less tidal heating and a liquid water ocean under a thin ice shell. But the surface of the ice shell is so heavily irradiated that it literally glows in the dark.
    • TRAPPIST-1b, the innermost of the seven planets of the faint star TRAPPIST-1, makes Venus look like a pleasant vacation spot by comparison. An extremely water/carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere up to ten thousand times as thick as Earth's is thought to produce a strong runaway greenhouse effect that causes surface temperatures to scram up to 1,500 degrees Celsius, enough to melt rock - in fact, the planet is described as so hot that even sulfuric acid clouds as those present on Venus cannot form.
    • Possibly one of the most simultaneously awesome yet hellish examples is HD 189733 b, a gas giant 64 light-years away and 13% larger than Jupiter. While it does have a beautiful blue color from space, don't expect to find water on this planet. Temperatures exceed 930 Celsius and winds scream around the planet at speeds of 2 kilometers per second, both of which are products of its close proximity to its parent star. Oh, and that stunning blue coloration? It's the product of high concentrations of molten silicate particles in the atmosphere, which are blown around constantly by the intense winds. In other words, it rains molten glass. Sideways. At two kilometers per second.
    • HD 189733 cannot hold a candle to KELT-9b, the hottest gas giant exoplanet known to date. It orbits an unusually hot and luminous star (stars this hot usually don't have planets), causing it to reach temperatures of more than 4000 K, hotter than a significant number of stars.
    • COROT-7b is so hot (with a temperature of 2600 C at day, while being 177 C at night) that it has a rock cycle instead of a water cycle. At the planet's temperatures, rock melts and turns into condensation, then rains molten rock or magma that hardens back into solid rock before it hits the surface.
    • The exoplanet WASP-76b is so hardcore, it rains down iron at night. It's not as hot as some of the other planets on this list, but it has abundant iron in its atmosphere, which takes a gas form in the daytime and condenses into a liquid at night.
  • Super Earths could be this even if the atmosphere is breathable and of a proper temperature. Super Earths are just much bigger rocky planets than Earth or former gas giants the size of Neptune that somehow had the majority of their atmospheres stripped off. At max, some of the strongest people on the planet can walk around a little on planets with 4.5 times Earth's gravity before collapsing. Theoretically, with enough gravity training, humans could survive on these types of planets, but planets with 2 times gravity would probably be the upper limit for comfort. This is to say nothing of how much easier it would be able to hurt yourself in a fall or if something was dropped on you. This isn't to say that life couldn't theoretically exist on a Super Earth, but considering evolution is motivated by selection pressures, who's to say how beastly the denizens of such a planet would be?
  • Our own planet has been a Death World on more than one occasion, and will be it again in the future. In fact, it could be said that we are currently living through one of the rare times when it hasn't been a Death World.
    • Top "Death World" contenders include the Carboniferous, which featured dragonflies the size of eagles and scorpions the size of wolves, the Late Cretaceous, which, along with T. rex and Velociraptor, featured an ocean full of bulldog monster fish and 20-foot sea lizards.
      • What's now Morocco during the Mid Cretaceous had perhaps the greatest concentration of large predators in Earth's history, with crocodilians like Aegisuchus, huge theropod dinosaurs (such as Carcharodontosaurus, Deltadromeus and most famously Spinosaurus) and large pterosaurs like Azhdarchidae. The huge competition among large predators is probably why Spinosaurus (the biggest of all predatory dinosaurs) became aquatic, spending most of its life like a crocodile in the water where it didn't have to compete with the land-bound Carcharodontosaurus (which also rivaled T. rex in size) and the slightly smaller but probably far more agile Deltadromeus for prey.
    • Most mass extinctions involve the Earth turning into a Death World in one form or another. Impact events, extreme volcanism, and disruption of various gas cycles have all been pointed to as causes. But the Great Oxygenation Event, and resulting Huronian Glaciation take the cake. First the new oxygen-rich atmosphere poisoned much of the anaerobic bacterial flora, and the resulting loss of greenhouse gases caused the entire planet to freeze over.
    • The first few waves of Modern Humans, plus their now-extinct closest relatives, the Neanderthals and Denisovans, lived through a Death World, after all, and it's called the last ice age.
    • The best will however begin several hundred million years from now as a brightening Sun will render Earth too hot for land life - to begin with - the evaporation of Earth's surface water causing the dwindling oceans to become increasingly hot, salty, and thus nasty for whatever things still alive exists in them, after its loss (and the death of the remaining lifeforms, ie extremophile bacteria) when Earth will become a Venus-like world or worse, and especially once the Sun goes red giant and Earth's surface temperatures reach more than 1500 Celsius, more than enough to melt rock, before (likely) absorbing our planet.
    • Given how many of the Real Life examples are from Earth, it's arguable that Earth is still a Death World. We're just used to it.