There’s a theory that cuteness in the animal kingdom can be an effective defense mechanism. But when cute fails, these critters have more effective – and often deadly – ways of defending themselves.
#1. The slow loris is one of the cutest animals in existence. What defense mechanism does it have that makes it unique among primates?
There are five species of slow loris found in Southeast Asia. It’s a rare person who can resist saying “awwww” when they see the loris’s round face and huge eyes. But when the loris feels threatened, glands on its elbows release a strong toxin. The loris licks the toxin which is activated by saliva and allows the cute loris to inflict a painful bite which can result in strong allergic reactions and even anaphylactic shock.
#2. This large aquatic bird symbolizes love, grace and purity. Reaching five feet in length and topping 30 pounds, they're capable of fighting off predators like raccoons and foxes. What graceful, long-necked bird can be surprisingly aggressive in defense?
Swans are normally docile, but can be quick to attack if they – or their young – are threatened. Swan bites can cause a lot of damage and if a swan attacks while in the water, it will try to drown the threat.
#3. According to biologists, these are humankind's closest genetic relatives. What are these cute and entertaining animals, which we should still fear?
Both wild and “domesticated” chimpanzees pose a threat to humans. There are numerous examples of pet chimps turning on their owners, neighbors or visitors often with horrifying results. In parts of Africa habitat loss for chimps has sparked conflict between humans and apes in recent years. Chimpanzees raid crops, threaten livelihoods and attack residents.
When chimps attack humans, their raw strength allows them to blitz a victim. They tend to go after appendages, biting off fingers, hands, ears, noses and such. People who have raised a chimp virtually since its infancy have found themselves in danger as the chimp matured into an adult.
#4. Which marsupial, probably the best known animal symbol of Australia, causes injury to humans with some frequency and can be deadly? Stay out of kicking distance!
Although very few fatal kangaroo attacks on humans have been recorded, interaction between ‘roos and humans kill a couple of people every year when kangaroos are struck by cars. Attacks causing injuries are fairly common and appear to be on the rise. As kangaroo environment shrinks due to human encroachment, negative interaction between the animals and humans becomes more frequent. A kangaroo’s kick can break bones and the claws frequently cause severe cuts.
#5. This animal has been made into a stuffed animal and is a frequent advertising icon. Excursions are available for tourists to see them in the wild. Unfortunately which cute beast is also the largest land-dwelling carnivore, an apex predator, and can cause serious injury and death when it comes in contact with humans?
An adult male polar bear can weigh in between 350 and 700 kg. They’re known to stalk humans and exhibit no fear of us. As climate change shrinks the Arctic ice where polar bears normally hunt, they’ve been forced to move onto the land and contact with humans has become more common, often with bad results. In 2020 a polar bear killed a man on Norway’s Arctic Spitsbergen island. A bear attacked three adults near Sanirajak, Canada in Nunavut’s Baffin region in August of 2021.
#6. This genus of mollusks has circular, iridescent markings for which they are named. The markings are beautiful, but beware - they're displayed only when the critter is ready to dispense a deadly poison. Which of these are they
Blue-ringed octopuses are quite small. The bodies are a couple of inches in diameter and their arms only three or four inches long. They eat small crabs, hermit crabs, and shrimp. Blue-ringed octopuses have an extremely toxic venom but they don’t manufacture it themselves. They gather a bacteria from ocean water and store it in their salivary glands. The bacteria produces a toxin called tetrodotoxin. The octopus then uses its beak to make a hole in its prey’s shell and spit the saliva into it. Human deaths due to a blue-ringed octopus bite are extremely rare. There have only been three known deaths at the time of writing but many more people have been bitten and survived.
#7. They're thought to be the first animal domesticated by man as much as 30,000 years ago. They live in our homes, sleep in our beds and perform numerous useful jobs for us. But which close allies also kill about 25,000 humans every year because of a virus that entered the relationship 4,000 years ago?
Rabies seems to have appeared by about 2000 BC. It has been a scourge ever since, largely because the symptoms are so horrific. The rabies lyssavirus attacks the brain and nervous system rendering the victim susceptible to paralysis, confusion, abnormal behavior, paranoia, and hallucinations. These days, in western cultures, most human rabies victims contract the disease from wild animals rather than from dogs. But in parts of Asia and Africa rabies vaccine and treatment drugs are not always readily available so wild and feral dogs transmit the disease to humans who die, lacking treatment.
#8. These tropical and subtropical mollusks belong to the family Conidae. They are venomous and capable of injecting poison into humans if handled. Their shells are attractive and tempt us to pick them up. The poison of the various species varies in strength. Which of these can cause uncomfortable stinging while a few bring on a quick and painful death?
Many species of cone snails live in shells which show very pleasant designs making them attractive to shell collectors and other visitors to the beach. The snail can extend a narrow, needle-like tooth to inject its poison. The snail kills its prey with the poison but it can have serious effects on humans as well. If you see an attractive cone-shaped shell on the beach, look but don’t touch.
#9. Its near relatives are favorites in aquariums and occasionally in show business acts. Which spotted pinniped is a fierce hunter and has frequently attacked humans who ventured too close?
In 2003 a British scientist was killed by a leopard seal while on expedition off the coast of Antarctica. She drowned when the seal struck her, dragged her underwater and held her there for several minutes. Leopard seals are the second largest seal species in the Antarctic and their only predator is the killer whale.
#10. Trash panda, ringtail, Zorro and bandit are all nicknames for these clever scavengers. They often live in close proximity to humans and can carry rabies, leptospirosis, listeriosis, tetanus, and tularemia. They will attack humans if they feel threatened, and they can inflict serious injuries with teeth and claws. Who are these largest members of the procyonid family?
Raccoons themselves generally don’t tend to harm humans but the parasites they carry are another story. These trash-eating mammals carry diseases you’ve heard of (rabies, mites) and other, rarer, diseases such as tularemia, leptospirosis and toxocariasis. Not everyone who comes into contact with a raccoon will get infected, but it’s not worth taking that risk.