Many animals possess toxins that are harmful to humans to various degrees. But not all of these are what we would call “venomous” but are rather “poisonous”. So what exactly is the difference between a venomous animal and a poisonous one?
Both creatures create a harmful chemical, but a poisonous animal secretes it through their skin, relying on touch to transfer the toxin to it’s enemies, a sort of passive defense mechanism, whereas a venomous animal is using a more aggressive move, either out of defense or predation by physically injecting the toxin into a wound.
When you think of an animal with a venomous bite, the image that comes to mind is probably a spider or snake, maybe a jellyfish. Many might not even conceive of the possibility that animals in our very own class (mammals) might also possess this assassin-like ability.
Without further ado, here are some of our warm-blooded brethren who happen to toxic bite.
This goofy distant cousin of the lemur is a nocturnal creature with eyes big enough to peer into your very soul. It’s dextrous hands and feet have specially-adapted blood vessels that allow it to patiently hang from branches for hours and hours stalking a variety of prey from insects, birds, reptiles, eggs, vegetation, and more, all without losing circulation.
Much like the male construction worker, female slow lorises will whistle at potential mates when in heat. But more interestingly, slow lorises of both sexes secrete a toxic substance from their armpits, kind of like a construction worker again, but even more toxic. This makes the slow loris the only known venomous primate.
The slow loris will lick this secretion from their own armpit—what a beautiful sentence—and it mixes with their saliva, giving their bites a more powerful punch, thus allowing these freaky little lemurs to protect themselves from predators.
On humans the effect of slow loris venom is said to be similar to the allergic reactions cat dander can cause, resulting in painful swelling, and in only one documented case, death by anaphylactic shock.
This Beatrix Potter castoff is odd for a number of reasons. First being, their nipples are located near their butts. Second, their long skinny snouts actually have a ball-and-socket joint to let them poke their nose into small holes to search for prey (mainly worms and insects). Third, much like a bat, the solenodon can echolocate, locating prey with sound waves. And finally, the reason you’re here, these hedgehog-like critters are venomous.
The delivery mechanism of the solenodon’s venom is similar to that of snakes, a neurotoxin injected from the bottom teeth. In high enough doses, the venom of a Solenodon is known to cause difficulty breathing, as well as paralysis, convulsions, and even death in prey. The venom doesn’t usually affect humans so violently, but it still isn’t pleasant, and handlers will wear protective equipment when interacting with them. On top of their poisonous bite, these animals are also easily provoked, seemingly looking for a fight wherever they go. Out of nowhere, solenodons will go into full berserker mode, running, screeching, and biting just because you looked at them funny, or because your general demeanor must have been an implied insult against their nipple-butted mother.
The platypus has never been considered a “normal” animal by any means, let alone a normal mammal. Looking like a bizarre rogue taxidermy experiment come to life, these odd creatures seem to have traits seen in ducks (their bill and webbed feet), sharks (the added sense of electroreception), and beavers (the tail). But even with all those incongruous traits, the platypus apparently borrows from yet another realm of animal kingdom: the scorpion.
While of course it doesn’t actually have any close relationship with arachnids, you can’t blame me for making the comparison when I tell you that male platypuses have a stinger-like stirrup on the backs of their hindfeet. Lethal to smaller animals like cats and dogs, the venom of platypuses is a unique blend that, while not lethal to humans, you might wish it was if you get stung. The venom will cause edema (severe and painful swelling), as well as hyperalgesia (a magnified sense of pain) which may last for months in the affected area.
It’s theorized that male platypuses produce this venom as a weapon to use against other males during the cutthroat world of platypus dating, where males mate with several different females, and must assert dominance over their duck-billed brethren to attract mates.
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Do you know any animals, plants, or creatures with weird super powers? Tell me about them in the comments!