The 11 Most Poisonous Animals (and 1 Bonus Plant)

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Touch These 11 Animals (and One Plant) at Your Own Risk!

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If there's one thing animals are good at, it's killing other animals—and one of the most sneaky, insidious and effective means of delivering the death blow is via toxic chemical compounds. On the following slides, you'll discover 11 poisonous animals, and one poisonous plant, that could easily kill a full-grown human being. (Technical note: a "poisonous" animal is one that transmits its toxin passively, by being eaten or attacked by other animals; a "venomous" animal actively injects toxin into its victims, via stingers, fangs or other appendages. Bon appetit!)

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Most Poisonous Amphibian: The Golden Dart Frog

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Found only in the dense rain forests of western Colombia, the golden dart frog secretes enough glistening poison from its skin to kill 10 to 20 humans—so imagine the results when this tiny amphibian is gobbled up by a small, furry, unsuspecting mammal. (Only one species of snake, Liophis epinephelus, is resistant to this frog's poison, but it can still be killed by sufficiently large doses.)  Interestingly enough, the golden dart frog derives its poison from its diet of indigenous ants and beetles; specimens raised in captivity, and fed on fruit flies and other common insects, are completely harmless.

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Most Venomous Spider: The Brazilian Wandering Spider

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If you happen to be an arachnophobe, there's good news and bad news about the Brazilian wandering spider. The good news is that this creepy-crawly lives in tropical South America, doesn't necessarily deliver a full dose of venom when it bites, and rarely attacks humans; even better, an effective antivenom (if delivered quickly) makes fatalities very rare. The bad news is that the Brazilian wandering spider secretes a potent neurotoxin that slowly paralyzes and strangulates its victims even in microscopic doses. (You can decide for yourself if this is good news or bad news: human males bitten by Brazilian wandering spiders often experience painful erections.)

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Most Venomous Snake: The Inland Taipan

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It's a good thing the inland taipan has such a gentle disposition: the venom of this Australian snake is the most powerful in the reptile kingdom, a single bite containing enough chemicals to kill a hundred full-grown humans. (For the record, the inland taipan's venom is composed of a rich stew of neurotoxins, hemotoxins, myotoxins and nephrotoxins, which basically means it can dissolve your blood, brain, muscles and kidneys before you hit the ground.) Fortunately, the inland taipan rarely comes into contact human beings, and even then (if you know what you're doing) this snake is fairly meek and easily handled.

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Most Venomous Fish: The Stonefish

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If you're the kind of person who cringes at the thought of stepping on misplaced Legos, you're not going to be happy about the stonefish. True to its name, this southern Pacific fish looks uncannily like a rock or piece of coral (a form of camouflage meant to protect it from predators), and it's easily stepped on by careless beachgoers, at which point it delivers a potent toxin to the underside of the offender's feet. In Australia, the authorities maintain adequate supplies of stonefish antivenom, so it's unlikely you'll be killed by this fish—but you may still spend the rest of your life tromping around in a pair L.L. Bean boots.

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Most Venomous Insect: The Maricopa Harvester Ant

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When discussing venomous insects, it's important to maintain a sense of perspective. The honey bee is technically venomous, but you'd need to get stung about 10,000 times, all at once, to kick the bucket (like Macaulay Culkin's character in My Girl). The Maricopa harvester ant is an order of magnitude more dangerous: you'd need to sustain only about 300 bites from this Arizonan pest to pay a premature visit to the pearly gates, which is well within the realm of possibility for unwary tourists. Fortunately, it's almost impossible to inadvertently flatten a Maricopa colony; these ants have been known to build nests 30 feet in diameter and six feet tall!

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Most Venomous Jellyfish: The Sea Wasp

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Box jellyfish (which possess boxy rather than round bells) are by far the most dangerous invertebrates in the world, and the sea wasp, Chironex fleckeri, is by far the most dangerous box jelly. The tentacles of C. fleckeri are covered with "cnidocytes," cells that literally explode on contact and deliver venom to the intruder's skin. Most humans who come in contact with sea wasps merely experience excruciating pain, but a close encounter with a large specimen can result in death in under five minutes (over the past century, there have been about 100 sea wasp fatalities in Australia alone).

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Most Venomous Mammal: The Platypus

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Granted, death by platypus is a very rare phenomenon (though it does make for a compelling obituary headline). The fact is, though, that there are vanishingly few venomous mammals, and the platypus makes this list thanks to the poison-laden spurs males use to battle each other during mating season. Very occasionally, platypus attacks can be fatal to small pets, but humans are unlikely to experience anything more than extreme pain and an inclination to tell the same dinner-table story for the next 30 or 40 years. (For the record, the only other identified venomous mammals are three species of shrew and the Cuban solenodon.)

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Most Venomous Mollusk: The Marble Cone Snail

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If you've never had the occasion to use the phrase "predatory sea snail," then you clearly don't know enough about the breadth and diversity of marine life that can kill you with one bite. Conus marmoreus, the marbled cone snail, immobilizes its prey (including other cone snails) with a toxic venom that can easily exterminate a careless human. How, you may ask, does this mollusk deliver its poison? Well, intense muscular contractions fire a harpoon-shaped tooth into the prey's skin, at which point the snail retracts its tooth and eats its paralyzed victim at leisure. (Sadly, no one has ever performed calculations on how many marble cone snails it would take to harpoon and reel in a full-sized person.)

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Most Poisonous Bird: The Hooded Pitohui

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One doesn't often think of birds as poisonous, much less venomous, but nature always seems to find a way. The hooded pitohui of New Guinea harbors a neurotoxin called homobatrachotoxin in its skin and feathers, which only causes slight numbness and tingling in humans but can be much more harmful to smaller animals. (Apparently, the pitohui derives this poison from its diet of beetles, which are also the source of the toxins secreted by poison dart frogs.) For the record, the only other known poisonous bird is the common quail, the meat of which (if the bird had been eating a particular kind of plant) can cause a non-fatal human disease called "coturnism."

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Most Venomous Cephalopod: The Blue-Ringed Octopus

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If the phrase "silent but deadly" applies to any animal, it's the blue-ringed octopus of the Indian and Pacific oceans. This modestly sized cephalopod (the largest specimens rarely exceed eight inches) delivers an almost painless bite when agitated, the venom of which can paralyze and kill an adult human in only a few minutes. Appropriately enough, the blue-ringed octopus features in the James Bond flick Octopussy as the tattooed mascot of an order of female assassins, and it also plays a crucial role in the Michael Crichton thriller State of Fear, where its venom is employed by yet another shadowy syndicate of international villains.

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Most Poisonous Testudine: The Hawksbill Turtle

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Unlike some of the other animals on this list, hawksbill turtles aren't exactly petite: full-grown individuals weigh between 150 and 200 pounds, about as much as the average human. These turtles have a worldwide distribution, and populations in southeast Asia occasionally gorge themselves on toxic algae, meaning that any humans who eat their meat are liable to come down with a bad case of marine turtle poisoning (symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and other intestinal maladies). The good/bad news is that hawksbill turtles are endangered, so one imagines that a global outbreak of MTP would make these testudines a bit less desirable at the dinner table.

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Most Poisonous Plant: The Rosary Pea

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Admit it, you were expecting hemlock (the herb that killed the philosopher Socrates) or the death cap mushroom, right? Well, the former has an overblown reputation and the latter is a fungus rather than a plant, so the winner in this category is the rosary pea, abrus precatorius, which lives in tropical regions worldwide. The bright red seeds of the rosary pea contain a chemical called abrin, which is literally 100 times more toxic than ricin, a compound, obtained from castor beans, that was once used in chemical warfare. Fortunately for curious toddlers worldwide, rosary pea seeds are very hard to digest; a swallowed seed can travel all the way through the intestinal tract without releasing its poison.

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Strauss, Bob. "The 11 Most Poisonous Animals (and 1 Bonus Plant)." ThoughtCo, Oct. 12, 2017, thoughtco.com/most-poisonous-animals-and-bonus-plant-4121359. Strauss, Bob. (2017, October 12). The 11 Most Poisonous Animals (and 1 Bonus Plant). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/most-poisonous-animals-and-bonus-plant-4121359 Strauss, Bob. "The 11 Most Poisonous Animals (and 1 Bonus Plant)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/most-poisonous-animals-and-bonus-plant-4121359 (accessed January 19, 2018).