When we think of animals that will destroy us, rend us limb from limb, and leave us in a bloody mess, we usually thing of the huge and horrifying. Which means we forget about the real threats: the tiny, the cute, the gorgeous. The animals at which we ooh and aaah over, but are deadly, poisonous and generally all around nasty. And, after writing this list, I’ve come up with two pieces of advice. 1) Never go in the water. 2) Never visit Australia. Combine the two, and it’s even more true: never go in the water in Australia! Seriously, terrifyingly deadly critters everywhere.
15. The Rat
Not everyone’s particular cup of tea, but many people keep rats as pets, and they’re remarkably hygienic. They’re smart, fuzzy, and willing companions. Plus cheap and easy to look after. So why do rats rate enough to enter our list at number 15? Well, like how George W Bush got into Yale, the rat’s a legacy. Humble Rattus rattus, and its unfortunate cargo of fleas, was the bearer of the bubonic plague. That’s right, back in the 1300s, these wee bastards were the cause of a disease so deadly it killed an estimated 2/3 of Europe’s population. That’s a hell of a history for these cute little fuzzballs, and one that we haven’t yet forgiven them for.
14. Puffer Fish
Puffer fish are hilarious and adorable just on general principle. It’s hard see one inflated, and refrain from uncontrollable giggling at it’s cartoonish defense mechanism. But puffer fish don’t just rely on their inflatable belly as a way of dissuading predators, they’re also packed with the deadly neurotoxin tetrodotoxin. Of course, they’re renowned as a delicacy just for this reason. Apparently, when prepared correctly, the minute traces of the toxin give you tingly lips and light-headedness. However, if the sushi chef doesn’t prepare it properly, you’re going to have a rather nasty death. See, tetrodotoxin is a muscle paralyzer, with no known cure. So if you overdose, your muscles no longer move, including your diaphragm. You become paralyzed, and unable to breath, slowly asphyxiating under the weight of your own chest.
Lionfish aren’t so much cute as stunningly beautiful. They’re covered with majestic spines, which float elegantly along with them, as they swim around the ocean, eating their prey whole. So, what’s the problem with this stunning fish, and why wouldn’t you want one in your aquarium? Well, remember the rule of thumb when dealing with any animal: if it’s brightly colored, it’s poisonous. The Lion Fish’s spines are coated with a painful venom, which it will happily spear you with if you piss it off. While this venom won’t kill you, it will cause extreme pain, vomiting and difficulty breathing. Now imagine that happening while you’re scuba diving. Sounds pleasant, doesn’t it?
12. Bottlenose Dolphins
Oh, dolphins, lazy stoners of the sea. They just spend all their time floating around, eating fish, doing flips, and generally living the good life. Yeah, dolphins, they’re awesome. After all, who doesn’t love Flipper? Except, it turns out Dolphins are vicious bastards, when not clicking cutely. Within their own species, they practice gang rape and infanticide, and also periodically beat porpoises to death. Dolphins have also been known to approach divers sexually, and rub into them. Which is just fine and dandy, if that’s your thing, except dolphins are tremendously more powerful and agile than humans underwater, and can do significant damage to the targets of their affection. Not only that, but there’s been at least one reported incident of a swimmer being killed by one of these creature. Raping murderers. Now are you worried that your 9 year old niece has them all over her walls?
11. Coral Snake
These snakes are gorgeous and reclusive animals, that hang around the southern reaches of the United States. Everyone knows that these guys are poisonous, and their toxin is one of the most deadly in North America. If you enrage them to the point where they attack you, the bite itself won’t hurt very much. Just the paralytic agent in it will cause you to collapse and stop breathing. The real problem is that there are a number of snakes that look almost identical to the coral, cashing in on its poisonous nature to avoid being attacked. As kids, many of us learn a rhyme to remember which version is poisonous, which goes…um..something something black….something something jack? Shit…
Stingrays are generally completely fine with humans. If disturbed, they’ll generally just run for it, but sometimes are happy to hang around and play. While shy by nature, they can become accustomed to human contact, and will let you play with them. Hell, many aquariums have touch tanks with rays in them, where you’re free to stroke the fish. The only problem is what happens when you step on them. If you disturb them in almost any other way, they’ll just dash away, but if you step on one while it’s hidden in the sand, there’s a fairly good chance you’ll get a stinger jabbed through you. For most people, this hits their leg, and the stinger remains after the ray swims off, like the lower half of a bee. In addition to being impaled, the sting also injects a hefty dose of poison, which leads to horrible pain, swelling and cramps. Again, not something you want to happen while you’re underwater. And sometimes, just sometimes, it’ll be fatal. Like when Steve Irwin—the Crocodile Hunter—got stabbed through the heart by one, dying soon after.
9. Sea Wasp/Box Jellyfish
Look at this thing. Doesn’t it look like it belongs on Pandora? All glowing and undulating, pulsating with unearthly beauty. It floats aimlessly along the ocean, with only the bare rudiments of a nervous system. It’s also the world’s most deadly jelly fish, and each one packs enough venom to kill 60 adults. They have tentacles up to 3 meters long, and just brushing one is enough to automatically release the microscopic darts, flooding your system with poison. Excruciating pain follows shortly, and if the strike is bad, your expected lifespan is somewhere around, oh I don’t know, 3 or 4 minutes. This wonderful creature from Northern Australia packs neurotoxin that targets the skin, heart and nervous system simultaneously. First treatment for a victim is to get vinegar onto the wound, and then CPR. The nasty thing about trying to help someone who’s been stung is that the stingers continue to be active until naturally broken down, so if you so much as touch the wounded area, you get stung too.
Want to know what’s worse than the Box Jellyfish? Meet the Irukandji, who hangs around the same water. Yup, Australia, where everything wants to kill you. While slightly less deadly than its larger cousin, the Iruakandji (whose name probably means “holy fucking shit, what, why does this thing even exist?) is extremely venomous, potentially fatal, and have bodies that are only 1 cm cubed in size. That’s right, the size of your fingertip. So they slip through protective nets, and give you such fucking horrific stings, they have a syndrome named after them. Their sting itself isn’t too painful, but anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours after, the real trouble kicks in: excruciating muscle cramps in the arms and legs, severe pain in the back and kidneys, a burning sensation of the skin and face, headaches, nausea, restlessness, sweating, vomiting, high heart rate and blood pressure, and the feeling of impending death. Yup, it triggers a psychological response making you think you’re going to die. There is no antidote.
7. Cone Snail
Cone Snails are small aquatic snails that litter the oceans of the world. They have intricately patterned and eye-catching shells, which are exactly the sort of thing little kids like to pick up and eyeball when on the beach, which is when they strike. They have a thing called a “radular tooth” which is like a fleshy ribbon coated with tiny teeth, which are linked to a poison gland. It launches this harpoon of pain out of its mouth at any threat, including you. Now, a small snail will give you a sting like a bee or wasp, enough to hurt but not a major problem. The bigger ones? They shoot with enough force to penetrate gloves. You might not feel the symptoms for days, but when they kick in, you get pain, swelling, numbness, tingling, muscle paralysis, changes in vision, and eventually respiratory failure leading to death. What is with sea life suffocating you? Dang!
The platypus looks, for all intents and purposes, like a joke. A slapped together set of features and parts of other animals, evolving in the island obscurity of Australia. Wait, what country? Oh you know exactly where this is going now…that’s right, even the comically misshapen platypus will do you in. For all their bumbling charms, platypuses have a number of points in their favor. Firstly, they’re damned fast swimmers. They can also hunt their prey by detecting the electrical fields generated by their muscular contractions. That’s right, they can track by telltale signs of your body’s electricity. How badass is that? Not only that, but the Platypus is one of the few venomous mammals to be found. Only the males pack this heat, on the spurs of their hind legs. While it’s powerful enough to kill animals around the size of a dog, it won’t kill you. But you might just wish it had. The pain is so excruciating that it’s completely incapacitating, and can last for months. You also get edema, starting at the site of the wound, and then rapidly spreading. That’s when weird fluids building up beneath your skin, making the effected area all swollen and lumpy.
5. Pfeffer’s Flamboyant Cuttlefish
With a name like Pfeffer’s flamboyant cuttlefish, you half expect this creature to either be a mixed drink of unusual hue, or a rather risque gay bar. How can you be worried about this funny and frilly little guy? Look at him! He’s so flamboyant! He’s shiny, and colorful, and covered with fronds! He’s only a butt implant away from being in a float at Carnival in Rio. imagine how awesome that’d look as a sashimi platter. But remember, bright colors=deadly. This guy might fool you, because no other cuttlefish are poisonous, so maybe he’s just a pretender, but, no such dice. Pfeffer’s flamboyant cuttlefish has an absolutely deadly poison, and it courses through its veins. That’s right, its flesh itself is deadly, unlike every other cuttlefish known to man. So, maybe we’ll skip that sushi roll.
4. Southern Short-Tailed Shrew
Look at this shrew, just look at it! D’aaaawwwww! It’s so freaking cute! It’s got short little fur, and a funny nose, and it’s tiny, and I want to love it and squeeze it and keep it forever! And I’ll put it in a cage, and call her Snuggles, and feed her every day! Wait, what does she eat? Insects, spiders, scorpions, other rodents, reptiles and snails? Okay…and it has a venomous bite? Strong enough to kill an animal it’s own size. Huh…. So yeah, shrews are eat gross other creatures, and are venomous. What happens when one bites you? Here’s an account from C.J. Maynard in 1889:
“I began to experience a burning sensation in the first two bites, followed by a peculiar sensation … in the right hand. I walked to the house, only a few hundred yards away, but by this time, the pain which had been rapidly increasing, had become quite severe, and by the time I had placed the shrew in an improvised cage, I was suffering acutely. The burning sensation, first observed, predominated in the immediate vicinity of the wounds, but was now greatly intensified, accompanied by shooting pains, radiating in all directions from the punctures but more especially running along the arm, and in half an hour, they had reached as high as the elbow. All this time, the parts in the immediate vicinity of the wounds, were swelling, and around the punctures the flesh had become whitish. I bathed the wounds in alcohol and in a kind of liniment, but with little effect. The pain and the swelling reached its maximum development in about an hour, but I could not use my left hand without suffereing great pain for three days, nor did the swelling abate much before that time. At its greates development, the swelling on the left hand caused that member to be nearly twice its ordinary thickness at the wound, but appeared to be confined to the immediate vicinity of the bites, and was not prominent on the right hand; in fact, the first wound was by far the most severe. The burning sensation disappeared that night, but the shooting pains were felt, with less and less severity, upon exertion of the hand, from the elbow downward, for a week, and did not entirely disappear until the total abatement of the swelling, which occured in about a fortnight.”
3. Blue Ringed Octopus
The blue ringed octopus is small, only around 6 inches large, stunningly beautiful, and it hides out in tide pools. The problem is that they have a tendency to bite people, and their mouths are so small that victims tend not to even notice that it happened. You don’t notice until you undergo complete muscle paralysis, but remain awake, trapped inside your own body and vividly aware of what’s going on until you suffocate. So there’s no way for to signal for help, or anything. Since there’s no antidote, the only way to survive is via assisted breathing for around 24 hours, until the poison works its way out of your system. Each of these little octopi carry enough venom to kill 26 adults, in an utterly terrifying manner. Seriously, being trapped in my own body, and not able to do anything? That’s a freaking nightmare.
2. Poison Dart Frogs
Everyone knows about the poison dart frog, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. Tiny, critically endangered, and brightly colored, the poison dart frog is the stuff of a thousand’s Boy’s Adventures and pulpy action stories. The concept of these animals so poisonous, that you could use their blood to make deadly darts to hunt is such an engaging concept, you can see why it grabbed so much of the world’s attention. It turns out the frogs are actually a family of over 175 different species, of wildly divergent potency. Only three of these species were actually used in the way their name suggests, and since their poison comes from their diet, ones raised in captivity are often completely harmless. Still, it stirs the imagination, doesn’t it?
What? Kittens? They’re the worst of the surprisingly deadly but adorable class? Those little fuzzballs who send swathes of the internet into barely coherent speech, and shrieks of girlish glee? Yup, that’s right. Well, not just kittens, but something they carry: Toxiplasmosis. That’s a parasitic disease that lives in many cats, which can get passed from mother cat to kitten, and, that’s right, you guessed it, straight on to humans! You get it from contact with cats’ feces, which is more or less inevitable, as you’re the one cleaning out their crap. If you catch it, you’ll most likely just get flulike symptoms, and feel better after a week. Unless, of course, you’re immuno-compromised. Say, you’re pregnant, HIV+, on chemo, just had an organ transplant, something fun like that. Then you get inflammation of the brain, scarring of the eyes, and—occasionally—horrific skin lesions. If you get through this all okay, scientists are just beginning to realize that Toxiplasmosis plays a part in schizophrenia, so it’ll even drive you mad. And your cat almost certainly has it.