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The Gap Year Blog

Top 5 Most Toxic Species

27 Nov 2017 14:15 PM

Sometimes we have to face the fact that the world is a dangerous place. Although all species want to survive, some have developed dramatic defenses to scare off others.

Below are the top 5 species which have a chemical toxin they use at their own advantage; they are ones to avoid at all costs if you don’t wish to be killed in the worst case scenario…

Box Jellyfish

If there was a competition for ‘the most toxic animal in the world’, the Box jellyfish would come in first place. One of the worst things about this jellyfish, besides its capacity to kill, is that it is nearly invisible. For this reason, it has already caused approximately 5,567 deaths since 1954, as people have been surprisingly stung whilst swimming. They belong to the waters of the Indo-Pacific region but are also seen as far as the Mediterranean. In terms of appearance, they can grow up to 20-30cm, while tentacles (usually 15 of them) can measure up to 3 meters, which are strangely long! It is these tentacles that are the gateway to disaster, as they contain nematocysts which are life-threatening toxins.

Image adapted from original by gautsch.

Once stung by the tentacles, the nematocysts target the heart and the central nervous system. Once the toxins reach the blood, blood pressure increases dramatically. Unfortunately survival chances are very slim after you have been stung, unless vinegar is applied immediately. Lucky enough, vinegar’s acidity restricts jellyfish’s nematocysts that are yet to enter the bloodstream and gives an individual more chance of survival. What’s even more horrific is that tentacles can still sting you even if the jellyfish is dead! No wonder Box Jellyfish are more deadly to humans than Sharks.  

King Cobra

This Cobra is not called ‘King’ for no reason, it can literally stand up! What else is it capable of? Although the King Cobra is not the most venomous snake out there, it has the capability of injecting the most venom in a short period of time, resulting in the fastest mortality rate than any other snake. In fact, there is only about half an hour to live after contact with its venom. It is suggested that even 7ml of its venom, in single bite, can kill an elephant... And we thought it couldn’t get worse than the Box Jellyfish! They are found in jungle and forested areas of South-East Asia and India, being quite widespread. Lucky for us humans, they are quite shy and avoid us but once they have been disrupted in their habitat, they will attack with fury!

Image courtesy of Takver

Marbled Cone Snail

As cute and small as the Cone Snail looks, don’t pick it up, it’s fierce. One drop of its venom has the capacity to both paralyze and kill over 20 humans. It lives in the reefs of the Indo-Pacific Ocean where the waters are warm and salty; in fact the same waters as the Box Jellyfish, so it's double trouble! A typical Cone Snail will grow to roughly 6 inches, while its shell is beautifully patterned in orange and brown colours. Like any other venomous animal, it only unleashes its venom to catch its prey, merely an instinct for survival. Once stung, symptoms will start immediately, including inflammation, paralysis and loss of vision. Unfortunately, there is no anti-venom treatment for a Cone Snail sting, so treatment is very rare. This is why it is so dangerous and should not be disturbed in its natural habitat.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Blue-Ringed Octopus

Although they are the size of hamsters, don’t be fooled, they are not as innocent.  Blue-Ringed Octopus’ are recognised as one of the most venomous marine animals. They are indigenous to the Pacific and Indian Oceans in tide pools and coral reefs, circling Australia, Japan, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. They are easily identified by their yellow colour and vibrant blue and black rings (hence their name), which change colour when they are ready to attack. They are only 12 to 25cm and generally passive in behavior but ever so dangerous if disturbed. Their venom contains tetrodoxin which is as bad as it gets on the toxicity scale! To be precise, they carry enough of this toxin to kill about 20 humans in a matter of minutes. The toxin causes blindness and respiratory failure. It is strange enough that the bite itself is not painful.

Image courtesy of Steve Childs

Death Stalker Scorpion

Even from its name, you can tell this scorpion is no friend to humans! This type of scorpion has a distinct yellowish colour and is only about 3-7cm long, typically found in desert environments of Northern Africa and the Middle East. Although they are dangerous species with an exceptionally painful sting, they do not usually cause death to a healthy human adult but do pose fatal risks to young children and those with heart conditions. Believe it or not, a component of their venom (chlorotoxin) has actually been the focus of many scientific studies, with the potential for treating brain tumors and regulating insulin for the treatment of diabetes. If this venom is proven to cure these illnesses, the death stalker may not be so evil after all.

Image courtesy of מינוזיג

These are the top 5 most toxic animals out there but there’s good with the bad. While some of these species are easy to avoid, others might creep up on you when you least expect it! The key is to be vigilant when travelling to new places, especially the areas where you know you might bump into one of these five. As you know, the toxicity of these animals is only a survival instinct for catching their prey; they will only unleash fury if they feel threatened.

By Sophia-Harri Nicholaou - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservation, community, teaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!