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Five cute animals (that are super dangerous)

By Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter
Sunday, July 20, 2014, 12:00 PM

In the age of the Internet, a picture of a cute animal can zip around the world faster than any serious news story. 

We've always had a soft spot for those, but oftentimes, that adorable fuzzy creature might have a very literal sting in its tail.

Here are five cute animals that are actually super dangerous.

The platypus

Australia! Home to wide open spaces, bustling cities and, famously, incredibly dangerous fauna.

When your country boasts a staggering amount of poisonous animals, not to mention the largest crocodiles on Earth, we guess it’s not hard to pick up a certain reputation, but of course it’s exaggerated. After all, Australia is also home to koalas, wallabies and these guys, right?

People who encountered the platypus for the first time probably thought it wasn’t real, with its odd mix of duck, otter and beaver features. And making the whole thing ever weirder is the little-known fact that the platypus is actually poisonous.

In fact, it’s Australia’s only poisonous mammal. We think that’s one too many, ourselves, but nature is funny that way.

As to how potent the venom is, the good news is: It isn’t considered fatal to a healthy human being.

The bad news: “Not fatal” does NOT mean “not excruciatingly painful.”

As it happens, scientists don’t really know as much as they’d like about the venom, although a recent breakthrough describes the sensation as being immediately painful, feeling like “hundreds of hornet stings,” with the effects lasting for weeks.

They do know that only males have these “spurs,” which they likely use against other males during mating season, and also for defense.

It might not be fatal to humans, but it seems when the first European settlers hunted it for its fur, they lost a few dogs, killed by wounded males lashing out, and it can certainly paralyze smaller prey.

Combine the poison with its cuteness, and generally bizarre appearance, and we think the platypus is the strongest contender for weirdest animal on Earth.

The slow loris

The gods must be cruel indeed if they would make something like the slow loris and make it venomous.

Yet, this kitten-sized, lemur-like creature, with those huge and adorable eyes, is poisonous, such that you’d remember it if you were bitten by one.

In smaller mammals, the toxin – produced by a gland in the loris’ arm and activated by its own saliva – can cause death, or at least festering wounds, thanks to an agent in the venom that prevents blood clotting.

In humans, it doesn’t seem to be that bad, although the bite is very painful by reports. Also, the venom can cause the victim to go into anaphylactic shock, although how often this happens is in dispute.

As it happens, it’s not the gods, but humans, who have been cruel to the loris. Its nasty bite hasn’t done much to dissuade deforestation in its southeast Asian home forests, and its ridiculous cuteness has been its worst enemy.

There’s actually a thriving black market for lorises as exotic pets. And, according to first-person accounts by this researcher and others, they are treated with abominable cruelty.

All those cute YouTube videos don’t seem too cute now.

The giant anteater

Your mileage may vary as to how cute you think the giant anteater is. We think it qualifies, not just for its comically long snout but also for how it carries its young:

Image: Meghan Murphy, Smithsonian's National Zoo

Image: Meghan Murphy, Smithsonian's National Zoo

And like most everything else on this list, you’d be forgiven for wondering how in blazes it could be dangerous to anything aside from its daily meal of 35,000 or so ants, slurped out of their colonies by a super-sticky 60 cm long tongue.

And it’s true that there’s nothing in its tiny mouth that could harm a human. Its claws, though, are another matter.

At around 10 cm long, they are formidable. They’re normally used to tear apart ants’ nests when needed (although it’s rare they’ll tap out an entire colony at a time. They’ve learned not to drink the well dry), but they’re also the reason you almost never hear much about the anteater's predators.

It seems our dopey-looking friend can, in fact, kill even jaguars or pumas, big cats not known for being pushovers. When threatened, that big bushy tail actually acts as a counterbalance, allowing the anteater to rear up on its hind legs.

It’s also, as the name suggests, giant. Watch the one below, apparently able to move fast enough to cause some grief to that tapir it’s chasing.

Now, it’s hard to tell from the video above whether it actually means harm against the tapir, or if it’s just playing. But there’s no doubt that one animal at a zoo in Argentina wasn’t fooling around when it mauled a young zookeeper’s abdomen and legs.

Reuters reports the 19-year-old woman later died in hospital. The circumstances around the attack aren’t clear, but whether provoked or not, its clear the giant anteater can absolutely kill a human being in the right circumstances. 

NEXT PAGE: Leopard seals sometimes kill humans

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