Travelers Beware: Six Small Animals to Avoid
Imagine concealing something small enough to fit in your pocket that is capable of killing every player in a football match. Something made not by man, but by Mother Nature herself. As the saying goes, the greatest things come in the smallest packages, especially in the animal kingdom. We’re not sure about you, but up until now we were blissfully unaware of these tiny killers lurking out in the world.
As animals that you would have immense trouble spotting until it was too late, the power in each of their respective punches, bites and stings will literally leave you reeling, and in most cases, fighting for your life. So next time you plan a trip out to the Australian Bush or your favourite Brazilian rainforest, have a read through your health plan and make sure you are covered for the right range of antidotes, antivenoms and procedures you may need after facing any of these six small killers.
Probably worthy of the No.1 spot for coolest name ever, this little arthropod is responsible for over 75% of scorpion related deaths every year. Residing primarily in North Africa and the Middle East, the Deathstalker can cause unbearable pain with its venomous sting; and that’s just for fully grown adults. Unwary children who are stung will find themselves in some serious trouble and can suffer from fever, coma, convulsions and even paralysis. Without treatment, the victim’s lungs will fill up with their own fluids to the point of drowning.
There are pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the appropriate antivenoms, but suffering a strike from a Deathstalker should still be considered a serious emergency, as the venom can be resistant to the treatment or require very large doses before it can work its magic.
The Bullet Ant
Awarded on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index (which rates relative pain) as the most painful sting ever from any animal, the Bullet Ant takes the No. 5 spot on our list of small serial killers.
Capable of giving you a chomp that feels like being shot, (hence Bullet ant) the pain is reportedly all consuming, with burning and throbbing sensations lasting for up to twenty four hours. We don’t exactly know (or have any desire to find out) what this might feel like, but this is the internet so the curious can head over to YouTube for further research on what happens.
Indigenous people near the Bullet Ant’s natural habitat have cultured a coming-of-age tradition, where soon to be men are required to wear special arm sleeves crawling with Bullet Ants for ten minutes. This process results in an immeasurable amount of pain for several days, and has to be repeated twenty times before manhood is well and truly earned. As severe as the sting is, there aren’t actually any long lasting effects to the body or your health (Apart from days of agonising pain), which is why this South American legend ranks slightly behind our fourth tiny terror.
The Poison Dart Frog
Stretching from Costa Rica to Brazil is an area where you have a high chance of stumbling across what is possibly the prettiest amphibian species on earth. The Poison Dart Frog is called so due to the poison secreted through its skin. The toxin found on the backs of the frogs is a lipophilic alkaloid, and is largely used as a defensive method to ensure protection from predators. The ‘dart’ in the name derives from an Amerindian tribal method of poisoning their darts with the frog’s lethal secretions.
One species in particular, the golden poison frog, carries toxin potent enough to kill up to twenty men at once. However, the venom is not used to incapacitate prey hence the frogs entire reason for looking so very striking; a warning to other animals that they are unpalatable.
Studies have found that the frogs never develop venom when isolated from their natural habitat. Researchers are unsure as to exactly why this is, but so far have concluded that the frogs need to assimilate plant poisons carried by their natural prey: ants, termites, spiders and beetles, in order to become venomous.
One particular species of snake, Leimadophis epinephelus, is the only predator to have developed a total resistance to the Poison Dart Frog’s venom. A remarkable feature of mother nature, but also why this little frog ranks lower on our list of animal assassins.
The Box Jellyfish
Supposedly the deadliest creature ever to grace our oceans, the Box jellyfish has some pretty tenacious tentacles. One particular species of Box jellyfish, Chironex fleckeri, is more than capable of delivering a lethal dose of venom and is responsible for at least one death every year in Australia. Fatalities are common in Malaysia and the Philippines as well, but this is more likely to do with the fact that the necessary antivenoms are usually unavailable. Chironex venom is potent enough to cause cells to start leaking potassium, leading to cardiovascular collapse within 2-5 minutes.
The only reason the Box Jellyfish failed to snatch the top spot is because somebody found an antidote for the Chironex venom (even if you do only have about four minutes to use it). The final two contenders for deadliest-animal-smaller-than-your-Smartphone have venom so powerful that we haven’t even developed a cure for them yet.
The Blue-ringed Octopus
Back to Australia, where apparently every living thing is out to get you no matter where you go. Disarming and deceptively dangerous, the Blue-ringed octopus boasts a venomous beak wielding ten toxins, all designed specially to paralyse victims while keeping them totally conscious. The main neurotoxin at work is tetrodotoxin, and at a toxicity 10,000 times that of cyanide, the fact that there is no known antidote is terrifying. Victims have to hope somebody close by has the capacity to administer artificial respiration, as the venom contains neurotoxins that paralyse the body and shutdown respiratory muscles. Assisted breathing must continue until a medical ventilator can be used, or the neurotoxins are naturally neutralised.
Bacteria gathers in air sacs (or salivary glands) and this is where the venom is cultivated. Exposure to humans can cause nausea, respiratory arrest, heart failure, paralysis, blindness and of course, death. They may display themselves wonderfully, but each of these Cephalopods stores enough super-venom to incapacitate twenty six adult humans at any one time.
The Cone Snail
And we reach the final spot in our list of real life pocket monsters. Yes, a snail has made our number one spot, but this is obviously no ordinary snail.
Though they may look innocuous enough, cone snails fire off a toxic harpoon to paralyse passer-by fish before sliding over to eat them while they are still alive. The neurotoxins can cause intense pain, swelling, paresthesia (pins and needles) and vomiting. Not all Cone Snails carry life threatening venom, but with the larger species and in severe instances, paralysis is a risk that can lead to respiratory failure. As we’ve mentioned, there is no antivenom, so the only thing that will save you after a kiss from one of these is a quick-thinking bystander, as assisted ventilation may be the only chance for survival.
As the Cone Snail doesn’t have the deadliest toxin, nor the highest number of human fatalities under its belt, you may be wondering why it snatched the prestigious place of number one on our list. The reason lies in the beauty of its design as the most subtle of all our miniature killers. Most people tend to avoid ants, run from scorpions, leave frogs alone and have nightmares about creatures lurking in the ocean; but it takes a certain grace to remain unassuming and yet so perfectly poisonous. Anyone who has walked along a shoreline paddling in shallow wakes has picked up a shell or two; but try it with one of these intricate cones and you might just be unlucky enough to witness true ocean espionage. Just like little ninjas of the sea.
As fascinating as that list was to read, actually being attacked or poisoned by one of these animals becomes less entertaining and very rapidly involves a race against time. The access to emergency air evacuation is sometimes the difference between life and death, so if you really do intend on exploring the miniature worlds these animals reside in, make sure you have taken the appropriate measures to cover yourself.