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Five cute animals (that are super dangerous)

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

The leopard seal

The leopard seal seems to stalk the icy seas of Antarctica with what appears to be a fixed, smug smile on its face. Then it opens its mouth, and you see a tooth-ringed maw larger than a grizzly’s.

National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen saw that up close when he slipped into the waters off Antarctica, and had one attempt to eat his camera.

Then it, um, attempted to feed him. Not feed him TO anything, just feed him, period.

It makes more sense if you watch the video below.

That’s sweet. A fantastic moment of bonding between a photographer, and the predator that decided to take him under its flipper.

A really, REALLY lucky photographer, we might add, because on another day, in other circumstances, a leopard seal could have decided to attack him.

That’s what happened to a 28-year-old British scientist in 2003. She was snatched while snorkeling and dragged under. Her frantic colleagues scrambled a boat, and retrieved her, but resuscitation failed and she was pronounced dead.

Investigators said the animal may have mistaken her for food, but it’s also possible it deliberately stalked her, as the seals have been known to do.

In 1985, an explorer in Antarctica was bitten by one and almost dragged off the ice. It was so determined to get him, it took several kicks by his

companions’ spiked boots to dislodge the animal. A similar attack was thwarted as early as Ernest Shackleton’s expedition in 1914-1916.

They apparently like boats too. U.S. researchers in Antarctica have had to modify their zodiacs with protective panels to guard against it.

A good reminder that, just because it kind of looks like a dog, it isn’t one, and you can’t expect it to behave like one.

Pfeffer's flamboyant cuttlefish

This little guy is VERY well named. It does, after all, look like a Christmas ornament put together by a colourblind drunkard.

Aside from those beautiful colours, this cuttlefish is known for a few of its odd habits. Unlike most cuttlefish, the Pfeffer actually seems to prefer plodding along the sea floor.

That seems like an odd place for a bite-sized cephalopod to be. While it is known to be a predator (check out its ambush of a mantis shrimp in the video below), it’s still quite small.

So how does it keep from being prey? Well, one of its very usual features is its intense venom, often compared to that of the blue ringed octopus, which is strong enough to kill a human being. And it’s not delivered by a sting or beak; The poison is in its muscles.

One scientist links the sheer toxicity of the cuttlefish to the way they can just wander around exposed like that with little apparent fear of predators.

But its beautiful colours still make it a favourite for marine photographers, although they have to be wary of getting too close (and it seems they’re hard to get into captivity).

[Thumbnail image source]

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