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Discovery Magazine 10/1/2000

What is the Most poisonous Animal?

by  Digger Doug

Dear Geoffrey,

It is hard to say which animal would get this prize. A poisonous animal carries harmful chemicals called toxins. Usually, these toxins are used for defense, and are stored in the skin or in special glands. Compare these creatures to venomous animals, which deliver their toxins by stinging, stabbing, or biting.

Poisonous creatures don't intend to hurt other creatures, which is why they have bright colors and markings that send a clear message: "Don't touch!" If a predator ignores that warning, he might not get a second chance. One swallow, or even a little taste testing, and it's all over. The toxin will stop the heart or lungs from working, and death will follow.

The poison arrow frog and certain salamanders would have to top most people's list of "The World's Most Poisonous Animals." Just two micrograms of toxin from the poison arrow frog is enough to kill a human. A "microgram" is a very small amount. The ink in the period at the end of this sentence will weigh around six micrograms.

What about venomous animals? A good example of defense can be found in stonefish. They store their toxin in gruesome-looking spines that are designed to hurt would-be predators. This homely creature will win no beauty prize, but deserves honor and respect for being "The World's Most Venomous Fish."

Toxins also are designed to kill prey or, at least, slow them down. This is the tactic used by many snakes. The prize for "The World's Most Venomous Snake" goes to the inland taipan of Australia. But the top prize, "The World Most Venomous Animal," should go to the box jellyfish, which is found in the waters around Asia and Australia. They have long tentacles with stings at the very ends.

Hospitals often carry medicines that work against venom, but treatment has to be very fast to counteract the toxins of these prize-winning creatures.

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