Compared to other animals, the human body seems surprisingly vulnerable. No claws or horns, no armour plates or thick fur, no poisoned fangs or protruding jaw—it's little wonder we've had to master the creation of tools and weapons!
Of course, other animals have to hunt or defend themselves—and the weaponry they use can be strange indeed. This article gives an overview of the following animals' weird weaponry:
- The Spanish Newt
- The Platypus
- The Shrew
- The Dragonfly/Nymph
- The Electric Eel
- The Slow Loris
- The Cone Snail
- The Chimpanzee
- The Amoured Ground Cricket
- The Horned Lizard
1. The Ribs of the Spanish Newt
Many salamanders use poison as a weapon, secreting it from glands on their skin for both defence and offence. The Spanish ribbed newt takes things to a whole new level, rapidly extruding its ribs and punching them through its skin as defensive spikes. The ribs are coated by poison as they pass through the skin (just like poisoning a spear), and anything attacking or swallowing the newt will be scratched by the envenomed bone.
The newt recovers from this gory attack with no ill effects, despite having just torn through its own skin. It seems to be able to heal very rapidly while being immune to its own poison.
2. The Venom of the Platypus
The platypus is a monotreme, a "mammal" that lays eggs. These strange beasts have several other odd features (including a set of electro-sensors in their bills), but the most dangerous are the spurs found on the male.
The male platypus possesses a bone spur on each ankle, each connected to a venom duct. Though non-lethal to humans, the pain is said to be both severe and long-lasting. Scientists believe these spurs are used to fight other males for mates.
3. The Bite of the Shrew
Shrews are small mammals that resemble rodents, though they are actually closer to moles and hedgehogs. What makes them unusual is that some of them (such as the American short-tailed shrew) have a venomous bite.
Since the shrew preys upon small insects and worms, it typically doesn't need to kill using this toxin. Instead, it paralyses victims and stores them in a larder to help them endure the winter months, staying nice and fresh for when hunger strikes.
4. The Basket of the Dragonfly and Jaws of the Nymph
The dragonfly is an ancient insect—the earliest examples are thought to have evolved over 300 million years ago. They are one of the most agile fliers in the animal kingdom, capturing prey in a "basket" made by their legs.
The aquatic larvae of the dragonfly (nymphs) are equipped with their own weapon, a set of extending jaws. These lash outwards from the nymph and close on insects, fish and even other less-cautious nymphs! It was this creature that inspired the secondary jaws seen in the "Alien" franchise of films.
5. The Charge of the Electric Eel
Electric eels use electricity both as a weapon and for communication, exchanging information with other eels via pulses of charge. When used as a weapon, the eels bump the prey and deliver a high-voltage blast of electricity. They may even leap partially out of the water to concentrate their attack on one small part of a target.
A blast from Electrophorus voltai can hammer the victim with 860 volts of electricity, enough to potentially stop a human heart.
6. The Necrotising Bite of the Slow Loris
The only venomous primates in the world, slow lorises lick a gland located beneath their arm to mix toxins into their saliva and gain a bite that can rot flesh. Interestingly, the venom only becomes "active" when mixed with the saliva!
Some female lorises will use their deadly saliva to coat their pups. This allows them to feed without worrying about looking after their now toxic kid—anything looking to take a bite will get a mouth full of poison.
7. The Harpoon of the Cone Snail
These marine molluscs hunt down worms (and some fish) using a biological harpoon (actually a special tooth) that can be "fired" and reeled back in. The projectile injects a paralytic toxin into anything it strikes, leaving it easy prey for this slow-moving assassin.
Certain cone snails pack enough power in their venom to kill a human! The geography cone snail is the most deadly, and treatment generally involves trying to keep the body alive until the toxins break down. Interestingly researchers are looking at components of the venom as a morphine alternative.
8. The Crafty Chimpanzee
One of the most dangerous combinations in nature is an opposable thumb and an ability to plan - and it's not unique to humans. Certain chimpanzees in Senegal have been observed using primitive spears, both as tools to dip into insect nests for honey and grubs or to hunt bush babies.
Bush babies hide inside logs and trees where a hungry chimpanzee cannot reach them—or if that fails, scamper away while an attacker is busy tearing the tree open. By jabbing spears into the hollows, chimpanzees are able to cripple or kill the diminutive creatures, allowing them to be caught at a leisurely pace.
Interestingly, the younger chimps seem to pick up the spear technique far faster than the adults—obviously, the mature chimps don't want anything to do with this new-fangled technology!
9. The Haemolymph of the Armoured Ground Cricket
The armoured ground cricket is a chunky insect and a decent meal to any passing predator—so it makes sense that they have evolved a number of defensive weapons.
While the cricket can deliver a nasty bite, the real deterrent is chemical warfare. When grabbed, the cricket will "auto-haemorrhage" (or start bleeding) haemolymph, the insect equivalent of blood. According to researchers who have experimented with the beasts, the haemolymph is green, foul smelling and tastes of bitter tobacco. The insect can launch this fluid up to 6cm, and most predators find the taste foul enough to leave the creature alone. The cricket may also vomit recently eaten material to supplement the chemical stew.
Unfortunately, these insects are opportunistic cannibals who will happily feast on a seemingly injured cricket—so they must clean themselves after using these tactics or risk being eaten by their peers!
10. The Bloody-Eyes of the Horned Lizard
The Texas horned lizard lives in the deserts of America and Mexico, eating toxic harvester ants. The lizard is well camouflaged with a low profile and sandy colouration, but it sports a number of defences to turn on anything that spots it.
First, the lizard displays the spikes across its body and puffs itself up, meaning that anything trying to swallow it risks choking to death. If this fails the lizard lowers its horns into a defensive position, meaning it would be like trying to eat a cactus. Finally, if an attacker persists, the lizard sprays blood from its eye sockets. This blood is laced with noxious chemicals (possibly obtained from the ant diet) and can effectively "pepper spray" an attacker while the lizard escapes.
Sources and Further Reading
Bizarre newt uses ribs as weapons - Newts using their own bones as weapons.
Platypus -The Australian Museum - Read about one of the strangest animals.
The Stunning Saliva of Shrews - One of the rare poisonous mammals.
The Electric Eel & Newly discovered eel delivers the strongest electric jolt on record - An eel that can cause a heart attack.
Pygmy Slow Loris & The Cute-but-Deadly Slow Loris Reserves Its Flesh-Rotting Venom for Its Peers - The poisonous primate.
The Geography Cone - A snail that assassins should envy.
Chimpanzees 'hunt using spears' - Our closest relatives are joining the arms race.
Insect defence all blood and guts - Crickets that have mastered the art of deterrence.
Horror lizard squirts tears of blood - Harmless but horrifying.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.