From walking around in the rainforest to prowling around in the desert, the world is full of animals that have developed very interesting attack or defense methods. Some create a fatal toxin that they use to paralyze their prey, while others secrete a poison that sits on their skin, protecting them from predators. Along with the poisonous lethal affects that these toxins have, these animals are often brightly coloured that also tell the predator to stay away. Unfortunately, many people come across these creatures and end up suffering form the deadly affects of their tiny bites.
Who knew that a bird could be poisonous? But it’s true, there are currently six species of Pitohui birds native to Papua New Guinea. The omnivorous, brightly coloured birds are endemic to the island and feed on a certain type of beetle that is believed to be the source of the powerful neurotoxin that the birds excrete. Particularly the skin and feathers of the Hooded and Variable Pitohui are a major source for the toxin. In 1989, American scientist John Dumbacher, came across the Hooded Pitohui bird’s secret quite accidentally. He had been in Papua New Guinea to study Raggiana Birds of Paradise , and had set up nets in order to capture them to study them properly. The nets, however, captured many other birds as well, including a few Hooded Pitohui birds. As he tried to release these birds, he was attacked, scratched and bit, leaving his hands incredibly sore and strangely tingly. He would stick his hands in his mouth to help the sting, but doing this left a tingling sensation on his lips and tongue as well. After realizing what had happened they ventured out to retrieve a feather to test their hypothesis. They discovered that indeed, the feathers excreted a toxin that derived from the Melyrid beetles. Locals would use this toxin for hunting, which given in large enough doses can cause paralysis and even death, especially in small animals.
Poison Dart Frog
As the name suggests, these cute little, brightly coloured amphibians secrete a deadly toxin as a mucus on their skin. This form of defense is incredibly useful against predators who normally find frogs delicious. Also known as Poison Arrow Frogs, this frog is known for their tiny size and their incredible defense. Ranging from less than an inch to two and a half inches in length, there are more than 100 species of dart frogs. Varying in colour and pattern, each species has a unique colouring and pattern, with the shade of colour ranging within the species as well. Over generations of predator vs. prey, these frogs have developed this poison as a self-defense method, as well as their colouring, to warn predators that they are not for eating. Tribesmen have been using this poison on arrow tips to help them during hunting expeditions, as these frogs have enough poison sitting on their skin to kill 10 fully grown humans. The source of this secreted poison is believed to be the same beetle as the Pitohui birds’. They have little pads on their toes that helps them climb vertically up trees and remain there. They also have a special bone in their lower jaw that gives them the appearance of having teeth. Inhabiting the rainforests of South America, mainly Columbia, these frogs have been labeled as endangered due to deforestation.
3 confirmed different species of Blue-Ringed Octopus exist in the world, and each one is highly sought after by naturalists and photographers. The octopus was originally found off the coast of Australia and is the only octopus known to man that is lethal. Both the Lesser Blue-Ringed and Greater Blue-Ringed Octopus are most common, and are named not after their size but the number of rings that they have. This small mollusk creature can easily fit in the palm of your hand, but don’t be mistaken by their cute size, these little guys carry a neurotoxin in their salivary glands that can kill you. Found in shallow waters, when agitated bright blue rings appear on their skin, telling predators that they better stay away. When the beak, which can easily puncture a wetsuit or a glove, stabs you, a host of bacteria that form the toxin enter your body. The effects of the toxin leave you with no feeling, because as it turns out, you become completely paralyzed but conscious of everything that goes on around you, while your lungs stop working. Besides making you panic because you can’t move or breathe, the toxin makes your body head straight for death with you being completely aware that you are dying. Not every bite is fatal, and there is a chance to live if you have some sort of breathing aid. Despite them sounding so horrifically terrifying, only 3 deaths due to the Blue-Ringed Octopus have been recorded in the last century.
Australian Box Jellyfish
Rather than being dome shaped, these bell or cube shaped sea creatures can reach up to 30cm in diameter with the tentacles reaching an impressive length of 3 meters. 15 tentacles stretch down from each corner, with each one having thousands of stinging cells. The cells are activated once they come into contact with certain chemicals that are produced by fish, shellfish and humans. Transparent and a soft pale blue in colour, these guys can move faster than normal jellyfish and are able to maneuver around things quite well. This along with their square shaped heads, make them part of the Cubozoa family, rather than the Scyphozoa family that consist of the ‘true’ jellyfish. Box jellyfish are considered some of the most intriguing of the species due to its anatomy of having 24 eyes. Used for navigation, a few of the sets of eyes resemble something close to what humans have, with the eyes having eyelids. They stick close to sub-tropical waters, and calm waters close to rivers’ mouths, as well as in mangroves. Known as the Sea Wasp, the Box Jellyfish is actually very aggressive, leaving the attacked with red streaks and intense pain. The poison causes cardio-respiratory arrest and necrosis of the affected area. Many people, when stung, go into shock and are not able to make it back onto shore. By providing CPR and pouring vinegar onto the sting site, the person will be fine until the ambulance arrives and they are given antivenin. 64 reported deaths have been reported since 1883.
Geographic Cone Snail
Would be a very beautiful thing to pick up if not for the organism living inside the shell. Unlike a hermit crab, this snail has a harpoon full of toxins that affect your body in numerous ways. Identifiable by its brown, orange, black, and gold colouring that vary in stripes and blotchy patterns, the Cone Snail prefers the warm waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Bombing around reefs, these conical shaped creatures are numerous off the waters of Vietnam, Australia, and the Philippines. When attacking, the Cone Snail extends a barbed tooth some distance from its mouth that is like a small harpoon that injects a paralyzing poison, before consuming their prey. A Cone Snail sting isn’t necessarily fatal, but can lead to respiratory failure, which is. Other symptoms include localized pain, numbness tingling and vomiting, along with muscle paralysis and vision changes. Symptoms may appear immediately or be delayed for even days depending on the person. There have only been 30 deaths recorded around the world caused by this sea creature.
Known as The Silent Assassin, this jellyfish has been reported as one of the most venomous creatures on earth. Almost impossible to see with the naked eye, it leaves no mark on the body, and the sting can go completely undetected by the victim until Irukandji Syndrome kicks in. About the size of your thumbnail, the sting is mild until 30-40 minutes later, when suddenly you are affected by debilitating pain that one victim has said to be 5x more painful than childbirth. 159 stings have been recorded in Broome, Australia in a 5-year stretch, with 3 patients developing life-threatening complications. Only 2 people in total have died from the sting, but the victims all suffer from the Irukandji Syndrome. The syndrome has a delayed effect, but the victim suffers for a long time. The first death took 30 hours, while the second victim was in a coma for 2 weeks before dying.
There are many other animals that use various poisons and toxins to protect themselves and capture prey, and not all of them are creepy crawlies.