Animals and insects that are dangerous to humans have always excited attention. Once, they were a matter of life and death to many and still are in certain parts of less developed countries. Animals and insects that deliver a venomous bite or sting hold a fascination and horror to mankind. However, this is partly based on ignorance.
Our ancestors accepted stories of the wildest kind about ferocious and poisonous creatures. It was commonplace to exaggerate the size of the creature and its capacity to cause harm.
Because of these stories, even now there are some strange ideas about the dangers posed by some animals and insects. There are many animals that suffer under the stigma of a bad reputation in such countries as Africa.
For instance, the harmless but bizarre Chameleon (left) which eats insects, was feared more than deadly snakes. More recent times have seen the study of dangerous animals develop. However, in some cases, the knowledge that perhaps the spider, scorpion or snake is quite harmless, still does nothing to dispel the fear. The fear is deep-seated, apparently irrational and has been the subject of speculation by some psychologists.
Results have found that in many cases, venomous animals have been found to present far less danger than is popularly believed.
In the case of snakes, it has been observed that the mere sight of an Adder or Viper is likely to provoke an attack from humans with sticks, boots and anything else at hand. However, fear of the Adder has sometimes led to the innocent and harmless Grass snakes, Smooth snakes and Slow-worms (legless lizards – not snakes at all), becoming tarred with the same brush and slaughtered unnecessarily. Yet the bite of the Adder is rarely more severe than a wasp sting.
There has been only a small number of fatalities recorded in England and Wales involving British snakes during the first half of this century. The Adder when approached is most likely to slip away quietly and will only attack if it is concerned or provoked. However, there are some species of venomous animals that are more aggressive and can attack, but this is rare.
An important point to note is that when the animal attacks, it will most likely maim or kill its adversary but it may also get killed itself. It is far safer to retreat. For this reason, venomous animals are usually noticed only when they are forced to fight and have been unable to slip away unseen. Therefore, they get a reputation of attacking on sight, when in most cases it is merely defending itself.
The difference between Venomous and Poisonous
The words ‘venom’ and ‘poison’ should not be confused. Venom is used to describe a toxin that is delivered with specialised organs by stinging or biting using stingers, fangs, hollow fangs, a proboscis or tentacles. Snakes, Scorpions, Spiders and Wasps are Venomous.
Poisonous creatures have a toxin but have no method of delivery. They have to be eaten or touched in the case of the Poison Arrow Frog to be harmful. when another animal eats the poisonous animal, the predator may become ill or even die.
Some venom (neurotoxin), attacks the nervous system, causing pain, paralysis and eventually death by heart or lung failure. Cobras, stonefish, black widow spiders and scorpions use neurotoxins. Other venom (hemotoxin) attacks the circulatory system, causing pain, swelling and changes in the blood. Rattlesnakes, vipers and some spiders use hemotoxins.
Some of the most venomous animals (the ones with the most potent venom) include the yellow-lipped sea krait (a sea snake), box jellyfish, sea wasp jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, reef stonefish, the inland taipan and cone shells. Other venomous animals, like Russell’s viper (Vipera russelii) kill more people because they are more aggressive and live near people.
Only a few mammals are venomous, including the duckbilled platypus (only males), several species of shrews and the Solenodon (a small insectivore).